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

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

Hubert Parry – Father of Modern English Song – English Lyrics III

SOMM Recordings Hubert Parry Twelve Sets of English Lyrics vol III with Sarah Fox, Roderick Williams and Andrew West, brings to a conclusion what has been a landmark series, demonstrating how Parry established English Song as a distinct art form, different from German Lieder and from French Mélodie, and indeed from other Victorian song.

Ravel’s Magical Glimpses into the World of Children

This is the fifth CD in a series devoted to Ravel’s orchestral works.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>The Marriage of Figaro</em>: English National Opera, London Coliseum
30 Mar 2018

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

The Marriage of Figaro: English National Opera, London Coliseum

A review by Claire Seymour

Above:The Marriage of Figaro

Photo credit: Alastair Muir

 

As the walls of the Almaviva abode revolve, constantly, we are whisked into the back-quarters - the kitchen, the boot-polishing room, the laundry - which underpin aristocratic luxury. It’s a sort of horizontal upstairs-downstairs of class divisions, as maids slyly observe mistresses’ misdemeanours and footmen feign indifference to aristocratic indiscretions. Figaro and Susanna plan the construction and placement of their wedding bed while a scullery maid scrubs the stairs; as the Count woos Susanna, a housemaid carries a basket of oranges through the room, head bowed but eyes and ears craning.

Shaw strives to create a sense of the busyness of the back-room personnel, whose labours ensure that the front-of-house is a portrait of tasteful tranquillity and aristocratic idleness. But, despite having seen this production in both 2011 and 2014, I still can’t fathom why so many of the Almavivas’ workforce are suffering from a sleep disorder, unless the aim is to show the inefficacy and impotence of the Count as master of the house. Even the gardener Antonio is encountered asleep in a chair: and, so, his leap from la-la-land to lambasting fury makes a nonsense of the idea that he has just come running from the flowerbeds, his anger at window-hopping page’s destruction of his gardenias throwing another spanner into the maelstrom of the Act 2 finale.

Revival director Peter Relton hasn’t injected much of a pick-me-up into the proceedings, but part of the blame for the slightly lackadaisical spirit that I felt on this occasion seemed to lie with Brabbins. The ENO Orchestra sounded decidedly messy at times - though things did tighten up in Acts 3 and 4 - and pit-stage coordination was often adrift (though subsequent performances in the run will surely improve in this regard). But, tempi felt perennially just a shade too slow, with soloists often seeming to be tugging at the bit. The action of the recitatives sometimes laboured and dragged, though that’s also a weakness of the production, for it makes heavy work of the dramatic business: the intrigues and mishaps simply don’t buzz, fizz and whirl.

There are plentiful motifs, but they don’t always for mischief make. For example, Shaw has turned Basilio into a blind chorus-master (a variation on the piano-tuner stereotype I guess) which facilitates a few visual gags - incessant tapping of a white stick, the conducting of an invisible choir as the actual wedding chorus revolve off the set - but lost is the irony of such vicious lines as ‘What I said about the page, it was just a suspicion’ in the Act 1 trio, when Cherubino is discovered hiding and quaking in a trunk in Susanna’s room. Colin Judson sings with phrasing of curling obsequiousness and pertinently nasal piquancy but, deprived of his Act 4 aria, Basilio fades into the ‘foliage’ by Act 4.

Colin Judd, Ashley Riches (c) Alastair Muir.jpgColin Judd (Basilio) and Ashley Riches (Count Almaviva). Photo credit: Alastair Muir.

A few pre-curtain chuckles were garnered when a bedpost-carrying Figaro fiddled with an on-stage harpsichord, only to leap back in amazement when the keyboard seemed unilaterally to strike up the opera’s overture; but the gesture was less amusing when the Count repeated it with variations at the start of Act 3. And, the thumps and bumps (festive fireworks?) which accompanied the lengthy scene change before the final Act, as well as the vomiting in a flowerbed by an inebriant servant, were simply tiresome.

When the main ‘funny business’ of the first couple of Acts is some front-of-curtain shenanigans then things have gone awry, and there were times in Acts 1 and 2 when I had to remind myself that Figaro is an opera buffa. Fortunately, the arrival in Act 3 of Janis Kelly’s Marcellina, eager to claim the fulfilment of her marriage contract with Figaro only to discover that her ‘husband-to-be’ is her long-lost son, Rafaello, tipped the scales enchantingly, from to humdrum to humorous. Kelly, alongside Keel Watson’s bemused but beaming Doctor Bartolo, really did show how it’s done; and the comic duos’ esprit lifted the sharpness and sprightliness of the spat between Thomas Oliemans’ Figaro and Rhian Lois’ Susanna, resulting in an invigorating Act 3 sextet. One could only regret that Kelly, too, was deprived of her Act 4 aria.

Keel Watson, Janis Kelly.jpgKeel Watson (Doctor Bartolo) and Janis Kelly (Marcellina). Photo credit: Alastair Muir.

Much of the appeal of this production derived from the appearance of several young singers in role debuts. Lois was the best of the bunch: ‘progressing’ from her WNO turn as Barbarina, she was a vibrant, nimble, quick-witted Susanna, animated both dramatically and vocally, who had no trouble getting the better of both the loyal but laborious Figaro and the fickle but foolish Count. ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ was beautiful, Lois’ unadorned melodic sincerity proving a masterful counterfeit.

Ashley Riches both sang and acted superbly as the hapless Count, puffing out his chest, squaring his shoulders, striding imperiously in his black leather boots, but ever sporting an air of slight bafflement as to how everyone else seemed to be in the know. Riches’ recitatives were fluently and convincingly delivered and in ‘Vedrò mentr’io sospiro’ he used all of his vocal might and nuance to offer a momentarily persuasive riposte to the uncovered plotting of Susanna and Figaro.

Rhian Lois, Thomas Oliemans (c) Alastair Muir.jpgRhian Lois (Susanna) and Thomas Oliemans (Figaro). Photo credit: Alastair Muir.

Thomas Oliemans’ Figaro was a pleasant enough chap. The Dutch tenor has a relaxed manner and attractive voice, but I’d have liked a bit more vocal ebullience, and physical presence. I was impressed by Katie Coventry’s Cherubino: just the right amount of richness in the voice to suggest nascent sexual burgeoning but balanced by a lovely gamine gentleness which Coventry did not overplay.

Katie Coventry, Rhian Lois.jpgKatie Coventry (Cherubino) and Rhian Lois (Susanna). Photo credit: Alastair Muir.

The appearance of Lucy Crowe making her role debut as Countess Almaviva was one of the big draws of this revival for me, but I left the Coliseum feeling slightly disappointed. We did have an occasional glimpse of the heavenly threads of Crowe’s high soprano, and her voice has become enriched with both new weight and fullness; but I felt that Crowe did not display the plushness of tone and colour required to communicate the Countess’s genuine distress and the pathos of her situation. She was able to soar over the ensemble, as in the Act 2 finale, but in the Countess’s two arias there was neither the enveloping luxuriousness nor the poignant eloquence to really win this listener over to the abused Countess’s cause. If the vocal characterisation seemed rather one-dimensional then Crowe also seemed not entirely comfortable dramatically: obviously attracted to Cherubino (she stroked his cheek during ‘Voi che sapete’), she later accepted her husband’s apologies at the close only to don modern dress and pick up her suitcase, heading, it seemed, for the marital exit. It may not have been Crowe’s fault, but the characterisation didn’t seem to add up.

Lucy Crowe.jpgLucy Crowe (Countess Almaviva). Photo credit: Alastair Muir.

Shaw’s production tells the tale clearly - and given the nonsensical complexity of both libretto and back-story that in itself is no mean feat. Moreover, there are many vocal performances to enjoy in this revival. I think that my dissatisfactions come back to the production and design. The white-washed walls are lowered for Acts 3 and 4, opening up spaces which could be anything and anywhere. The cast may sport - at least until the close - period costumes, and oranges, flags and bull-fight motifs hint at a Sevillian setting, but the monochrome architecture and flowerless garden provide no context in which da Ponte’s larger-than-life characters can come to musical life and convincingly convey the human forgiveness which, in its concluding episode, Mozart’s opera so enchantingly and comfortingly espouses.

Claire Seymour

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro

Count Almaviva - Ashley Riches, Countess Almaviva - Lucy Crowe, Susanna - Rhian Lois, Figaro - Thomas Oliemans, Cherubino - Katie Coventry, Marcellina - Janis Kelly, Doctor Bartolo - Keel Watson, Don Basilio - Colin Judson, Don Curzio - Alasdair Elliott, Antonio - Paul Sheehan, Barbarina - Alison Rose, Village Girls - Jane Read/Lydia Marchione; Director - Fiona Shaw, Conductor - Martyn Brabbins, Revival Director - Peter Relton, Designer - Peter McKintosh, Lighting Designer - Jean Kalman, Revival Lighting Designer - Mike Gunning, Movement Director - Kim Brandstrup, Video Designer - Steven Williams, Orchestra and Chorus of English National Opera.

English National Opera, London Coliseum; Thursday 29th 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):