Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital

Audiences will have the chance to feel part of a new opera inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems with an innovative 360-degree simulated experience of Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital from midday, Wednesday 8th November.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Rodelinda</em>, English National Opera
29 Oct 2017

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Rodelinda, English National Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Matt Casey, Rebecca Evans, Tim Mead and Juan Sancho

Photo credit: Jane Hobson

 

An indignant sense of unjust usurpation was probably just as prevalent in Hanoverian London - that is, among those Jacobites who sought to re-establish a Stuart monarchy. But, despite the large map of Milan which looms from the wall of the political headquarters in Jones’s production, there is little sense of ‘specificity’ of geography or ideology. Instead, we find ourselves in a mid-twentieth-century mobster-land - dimly lit, ugly, bleak. Characters - a steadfast but resourceful wife; a conflicted villain; a noble, self-knowing ‘deliverer’ - take precedence over locale or period which, given the striking musical portraits created by Handel, is fitting.

For Acts 1 and 2, Jeremy Herbert’s set divides the wide Coliseum stage in two. Stage left is a dingy incarceration cell where Rodelina - whose husband Bertarido, King of Milan, has been ousted from the throne by the iniquitous Grimoaldo who nurtures amorous aims and claims upon his rival’s wife - languishes in grief, with her son Flavio. The grimy prison houses an array of surveillance cameras and telescreens worthy of an Orwellian dystopia. In the panelled office of state, stage right, the supplanting despots pour over the transmitted images of their captives with voyeuristic slathering; when, that is, they are not eagerly destroying iconic images of the rightful King and decorating the walls with their own visual propaganda. The split stage is most powerfully deployed at the close of Act 2, when the reunited beloveds are forced to sing to each other, first through a dividing wall, then separated by a central corridor, before the rooms left and right slide torturously away from each other, cruelly entrenching their severance. The emotional segregation of the characters is further exacerbated in the final act, when horizontal partitions isolate individuals with only their own emotional crises and inadequacies for company.

R ENO Act 2 end jpg.jpgRodelinda end of Act 2. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Rodelinda has one of Handel’s least convoluted plots. Nicholas Haym’s libretto, adapted from a text by Antonio Salvi, presents Rodelinda’s fidelity to her ‘dead’ husband (he has faked his own demise to both spy on his grieving wife and surprise his usurpers), Grimoaldo’s inner conflict (he is torn between genuine desire for Rodelinda and a lust for absolute power), and Bertarido’s honour. There are a couple of ‘grotesques’: Eduige, Bertarido’s sister, who is rejected by Grimoaldo, and the brutish thug Garibaldo who makes overtures to Eduige in the hope of gaining the throne for himself. In the end, ‘right’ triumphs over rapacity.

Jones (as revived by Donna Stirrup) and Herbert offer plentiful visual, aural and choreographic details, with varying degrees of relevance and effectiveness. Some will welcome and others lament the aural verisimilitude: the door slamming, foot stamping, pained wailing that punctures the exquisite music. The notion of fidelity which is at the heart of the opera is represented visually by a recurring tattooing motif and some blood-letting: one of the closing images of Act 3 is of a huge forearm, tattooed in gilt with the name ‘Rodelina’, lying askew in the sand beside a giant fist clutching a broken-off sword hilt: ‘Ozymandias’ meets Planet of the Apes.

Jones essays some humorous counterpoints to the prevailing tragic gloom, but they don’t all hit the mark. During the overture, three turning treadmills propel the characters into the dramatic maelstrom, but it’s not so far from such cartoon capers to the farce of Keystone Kops. Indeed, subsequently, when the loyal but ineffectual Unulfo (beautifully sung by Christopher Lowrey), fleeing from his aggressors, spins and swirls along and off the treadmill with the grace of a ballerina, one wonders if he’s auditioning for English National Ballet.

Christopher-Lowrey-c-Jane-Hobson.jpg Christopher Lowrey. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Sometimes, mockery undermines a strong dramatic point, as when Flavio’s rabid gesticulations present a violent charade to Grimoaldo which swerves our attention from the fact that, in daring the tyrant to kill her son - an act which will confirm his dastardliness but which she believes him too cowardly to fulfil - Rodelinda proves herself an equal Machiavellian. Similarly, when she dances a tense tango with Grimoaldo and then taunts him, ‘I loathe you’, the bathos prompted a (surely unintended) chuckle. By Act 3, when Unulfo is accidentally wounded by the imprisoned Bertarido and staggers through the final act - ‘Don’t worry, it won’t be fatal’ - the comic drollery has the upper hand over potentially tragic conflict. One wishes that Jones had had faith that Handel’s own penchant for irony would be sufficient.

The cast are, fortunately, superb, many reprising their roles from the first run. Rebecca Evans captures all of Rodelinda’s dolorous grief and self-examination, untroubled by the heights from which so many of Handel’s phrases start, then fall lamentingly. She imbues her soprano with freshness and warmth to convey the depth of her love for Bertarido, and their Act 2 duet is a musical and emotional peak of the performance.

Rebecca-Evans-1-c-Jane-Hobson.jpgRebecca Evans. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Tim Mead surprised me with the impact and strength of his performance as the exiled King; his always expressive countertenor seems to have found new fullness and depth, and he persuasively communicated Bertarido’s sincerity and self-belief. Bertarido’s aria of despair when he believes that Rodelinda has forsaken him was utterly compelling, sung beneath the fluorescent illuminations of a cocktail bar - the motif was perhaps a nod towards David Alden’s 2004/05 Munich/San Francisco 1930s film noir infused production which presented a similar neon sign, ‘Bar’, at the start of Act 2, above seedy backstreets.

Tim-Mead-c-Jane-Hobson.jpgJuan Sancho and Tim Mead. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Juan Sancho was striking as Grimoaldo; though his tenor is quite light, he made genuine the villain’s inner conflict - between his desire for power and his desire for Rodelinda. The aria in which he reflects on his dilemma - if he has Bertarido killed, he will retain his power but will lose all hope of persuading Rodelinda to marry him; if he frees Bertarido, he will lose both Rodelinda and, most probably, the throne - achieved the seemingly impossible task of arousing some small sympathy for the rogue. Here, though, one problem of Amanda Holden’s crisp translation was emphasised; the English text is sometimes too sparse to convey the inferences of the original Italian. In his self-doubt, Grimoaldo compares his complicated torment to the simple life he imagines a shepherd to lead; the comparison, and the lilting rhythms of the aria which suggest the peace offered by the pastoral, are entirely authentic within an eighteenth-century context, but the rather blunt translation raised an awkward laugh.

Juan-Sancho-2-c-Jane-Hobson.jpgJuan Sancho. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Susan Bickley’s Eduige was sparky and larger-than-life - a bit too Mrs Slocombe (Are You Being Served) for my liking, but the role was well sung. Neal Davies was a terrifically rough-edged Garibaldo without ever sinking into pantomime mode. Actor Matt Casey is given a lot to do, more than Handel probably intended, in the silent role of Flavio, and almost suggested psychopathic tendencies equal to those of his captor.

Susan-Bickley c-Jane-Hobson.jpgSusan Bickley and Rebecca Evans. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Conductor Christian Curnyn guided his instrumentalists through an elegant, attentive reading of the score - there was some lovely, prominent woodwind playing - but it felt at little sedate at times; Act 2, in particular, needed more dramatic impetus.

Handel provides the expected lieto fine, as all sing in praise of the sun which warms the land and brings peace and harmony; but Jones, characteristically, has one final twist up his sleeve. Whether you like this production may well depend on whether you delight in such pouting and piquancy; but, if you enjoy superb Handelian singing then you should get yourself along to the Coliseum before the run finishes on 15th November .

Claire Seymour

Handel: Rodelinda

Rodelinda - Rebecca Evans, Bertarido - Tim Mead, Flavio - Matt Casey, Grimoaldo - Juan Sancho, Eduige - Susan Bickley, Garibaldo - Neal Davies, Unulfo - Christopher Lowrey; director - Richard Jones, revival director - Donna Stirrup, conductor - Christian Curnyn, set designer - Jeremy Herbert, costume designer - Nicky Gillibrand, lighting designer - Mimi Jordan Sherin, choreographer - Sarah Fahie, video designer - Steven Williams, fight director - Bret Yount.

English National Opera, London Coliseum; Thursday 26th October 2017.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):