Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Halévy’s Magnificent La reine de Chypre (1841) Gets Its Long-Awaited World Premiere Recording

Halévy’s La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is the 17th opera to be released in the impressively prolific “French Opera” series of recordings produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, a scholarly organization located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. (Other recent offerings have included Saint-Saëns’s richly characterized Proserpine, Benjamin Godard’s fascinating Dante--which contains scenes set in Heaven and Hell--and Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, an opéra-comique that had a particularly long life in the international operatic repertoire.)

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</em>, Royal College of Music
07 Mar 2018

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal College of Music

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: George Longworth: Puck

Photo courtesy of Royal College of Music

 

In his new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal College of Music, director Liam Steel seems to want to seek out the play’s, and the opera’s, darker purposes - to ‘re-instate the seminal strand of sexuality and abandonment at the heart of Shakespeare’s original creation’. So far, so good. But, when Steel decides that Shakespeare’s depiction of Midsummer Eve licentiousness was ‘a reaction to a fundamentalist society in the grip of Puritanism’ (when the play was written in 1595/96?) and that therefore it would be a good idea to set his production in the Weimar Republic - which, he argues, ‘essentially became the “Midsummer Woods” of Elizabethan England’, and which, lacking censorship and promoting sensuality, is ‘the world into which our lovers and Bottom fall’ - he steps, like Shakespeare’s mortals, from the path of reason.

Admittedly, the 1920s underground cabaret scene, in which sex and politics were served up as sensuous satire, might serve as a parallel for the liberation which Shakespeare’s mortals, fleeing from courtly and social mores, momentarily find in the forest. Indeed, Stefan Zweig’s condemnation of Berlin’s cabaret scene, ‘Amid the general collapse of values, a kind of insanity took hold of precisely those middle-class circles which had hitherto been unshakeable in their order’, isn’t so far from the experience of Shakespeare’s lovers.

And, there’s plentiful bawdiness in Shakespeare’s text, even in the opening court scene (omitted in Britten’s opera): from Theseus’s initial lament of impatience that the ‘old moon … lingers my desires/Like to a step-dame, or a dowager,/Long withering out a young man's revenue’, with its plentiful double entendres, to his declaration to Hippolyta, ‘I wooed thee with my sword/ And won thy love, doing thee injuries’, which may celebrate a double conquest, on the battlefield and in bed.

Moreover, the play abounds with meta-theatrical references and devices, and so when George Longworth’s Puck rattled the cabaret club shutters to usher us into the party, the invitation didn’t seem out of place. Were we to enter a Berlin Baccanalia where lovers swapped partners in a psychedelic trance?

No, is the short answer. Although, Shakespeare’s wood - as Britten’s score confirms - is a world ruled by a magic which conjures desire, delirium and danger in equal measure, Steel’s concept never comes close to matching this power of enchantment. Lights pulse in the darkness of Michael Pavelka’s mirror-strewn set, illuminated by Andy Purves’ streaks of colour and gleam. An iron-framed four-poster bed is wheeled back and forth, and the mortals’ ‘Shadows’ slink through the eponymous gloom, clad in black leather and lace. But, there’s little that is risqué, reckless or red-blooded.

Timothy Morgan’s Oberon is neither a monstrous tormentor nor mischievous mocker, though he looked strikingly seedy! While ‘I know a bank’ gleamed purely, Morgan struggled with the shift to the chest voice needed to project Britten’s low-lying lines with sufficient expressive warmth to assert the Fairy King’s authority - though, guided by conductor Michael Rosewell, the cellos and basses provided sensitive support. Similarly, Longworth’s Puck was more merry sprite than devil’s spirit and displayed little delight in torturing the mortals, concerned more with winning his master’s affectionate attentions.

Harriet Eyley - whom I admired very much as the Vixen in RCM’s production of Janáček’s own forest foray last autumn, and in Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias at the College earlier that year - was, as Tytania, once again tremendously glossy of voice, adding some much needed glamour. She was ‘protected’ by a fairy chorus comprising dulcet-voiced members of Trinity Boys Choir who, attired in evening dress and round, tinted specs, seemed to be ‘black’ versions of the school-boy sprites seen in Netia Jones’ Snape Maltings production last year. Not only were they ineffectual sentries - simply hoisted and carried off by the mortals’ Shadows - as apparently aged spectators at the show, they looked thoroughly bored. If they’d paid for the ‘cabaret’, they might well have demanded their money back.

Shakespeare and Britten juxtapose the reason of daytime, as advocated by Theseus, with the irrationality of the night, as ruled by Oberon, but there’s no such dichotomy in Steel’s production. Lauren Joyanne Morris’s Hermia may pack her suitcase during Britten’s opening ‘sleep chords’ - disturbing the glissandi dreams with irreverent hustle and bustle - but where are the lovers escaping from and to, and to where will they return? It’s pitch black to begin with, so there can be no sense of deepening darkness as the four aristocrats venture further into the forest. Moreover, what are a troupe of ‘rustics’ doing in Weimar Berlin?

Thankfully, Steel’s concept is so illogical that neither he, nor the audience, feel the need to ‘follow it through’. It was easy to ignore the anachronisms, though the frequent references to the moon were irritating, and simply enjoy some very strong singing from the Royal College postgraduates. I particularly admired the strong melodic lines of the four lovers, Morris, Josephine Goddard (Helena), Joel Williams (Lysander) and Kieran Rayner (Demetrius): the quartet made much of Britten’s predominantly scale-based lines and create dramatic distinctiveness too. All demonstrated superbly clear diction.

When Peter Quince and his would-be thespians gathered for their rehearsal, they might as well as have landed on the moon: their first scene was even more disorientating than usual, although Hugo Herman-Wilson’s Quince worked hard to keep ‘both’ shows on the road. The mechanicals sang and acted with equal skill but Steel’s decision to resort to the usual broad humour in the play-within-a-play was surely an opportunity missed. Britten may burlesque his own genre - Flute’s Donizettian flights were reputed a vehicle for Peter Pears’ party-trick lampooning of Joan Sutherland - but the ‘perfectly’ executed maladroitness of the Pyramus and Thisbe stage-business seemed a weak choice given the chance offered by Steel’ locale for more biting satire.

Every time I hear Ida Ränzlöv sing, I want to hear more! She stole the show in the title role of Faramondo at last year’s London Handel Festival, was a lustrous-voiced, haughtily-mannered Fox in the RCM’s Cunning Little Vixen in November, and also greatly impressed as the Daughter in British Youth Opera’s production of Judith Weir’s The Vanishing Bridegroom’s last September. Here, even though in the fairly small role of Hippolyta Ränzlöv had less opportunity to shine, shine she certainly did - despite Steel’s best efforts to subdue the Amazonian Queen by throwing, quite literally, some domestic violence into the nuptial celebrations of Theseus (confidently sung by Peter Edge) and his new bride.

In Shakespeare’s final scene Theseus speaks seriously and sensitively to Hippolyta. She is a vanquished Amazonian Queen, forced to marry her conqueror, but within the world of the play their courtly marriage is decorous and controlled, a symbol of concord and order. Shakespeare, as so often, employs a musical metaphor to confirm this: at the end of Act IV the sound of Theseus’s baying hounds is joined with the pitches of his horns, which are blown to wake the lovers, and the King declares, ‘Theseus: ‘We will, fair queen, up to the mountain’s top/And mark the musical confusion/ Of hounds and echo in conjunction.’ Fortunately, Ränzlöv’s vocal dignity injected some reason and restraint into the proceedings.

Timothy Edlin was an excellent Bottom, but in this production his ‘Dream’ - the heart of the play, and the opera, in which Bottom, in the words of one critic, ‘reconfirms himself as a comic mirror for the general human condition’ - failed to make much of a dramatic mark.

There was much fine singing, supported by excellent work by the orchestral musicians who, despite their small numbers, conjured Britten’s musical mysteries. But, Steel’s production has surprisingly scant dark disorder and no midsummer magic.

Claire Seymour

Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.64

Oberon - Timothy Morgan, Tytania - Harriet Eyley, Hermia - Lauren Joyanne Morris, Helena - Josephine Goddard, Lysander - Joel Williams, Demetrius - Kieran Williams, Bottom - Timothy Edlin, Quince - Hufo Herman-Wilson, Snout - Robert Forrest, Snug - Conall O’Neill, Flute - Thomas Erlank, Starveling - Dan D’Souza, Theseus - Peter Edge, Hippolyta - Ida Ränzlöv, Puck - George Longworth, Cobweb - Freddie Jemison, Mustardseed - Ethan Hocquellet, Moth - Felix Barry-Casademunt, Peasblossom, Alexander Chan, Fairies - Samuel Adebajo, Andrew Ah Weng, James Blaire, Joseph Cassidy, Sacha Cooper, Simeon Wren; Director - Liam Steel, Conductor - Michael Rosewell, Costume designer - Michael Pavelka, Lighting designer - Andy Purves, Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra.

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; Monday 5th March 2018.

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):