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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

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):