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

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Robert Carson’s <em>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</em> at English National Opera
02 Mar 2018

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Robert Carson’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at English National Opera

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Christopher Ainslie, Soraya Mafi, Trinity Boys Choir

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

Carsen's production debuted at Aix-en-Provence in 1991, was first given by ENO in 1995 and last performed by them in 2004, and for this revival, the cast featured the ENO Harwood Artists strongly. Christopher Ainslie was Oberon and Soraya Mafi was Titania, with Clare Presland, David Webb, Matthew Durkan and Eleanor Dennis as the lovers, Joshua Bloom was Bottom with Graeme Danby, Simon Butteriss, Timothy Robinson, Robert Murray and Jonathan Lemalu as the Mechanicals, Andri Bjorn Robertsson was Theseus and Emma Carrington was Hippolyta, with Milto Yerolemou as Puck. The conductor was Alexander Soddy, who is currently musical director of the Nationaltheater, Mannheim.

The forest in Carsen's production is the world of sleep and dreams, and beds feature heavily in Michael Levine's decor, and costumes give clear visual definition to the various groups in the opera, complementing the musical stratification which Britten uses to define his characters. There is a big cuteness element in the treatment of the fairies (the excellent Trinity Boys Choir) with their tailcoats, very formal manners and elaborate choreography (originally Matthew Bourne, revived by Daisy May Kemp). Perhaps the production does not dig very deep into the opera's psyche and is a little too keen to please, but it forms an excellent vehicle for such a revival with a large contingent of young singers.

Yet, A Midsummer Night's Dream was originally written for the Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, which seated just over 300 as opposed to the London Coliseum which seats over 2000. Like the recent productions of G&S at by ENO, there is a sense of Britten's opera having to be re-invented to fill the Coliseum spaces, and you felt that not all the performers in this revival had yet found their feet.

Christopher Ainslie looked superb as Oberon, tall and aristocratic with a slightly icy demeanour which works well with Britten's writing for the counter-tenor voice (as originally sung by Alfred Deller). But the tessitura of the role is rather low for a modern counter-tenor, and though Ainslie sang with a lovely warm timbre and flexible sense of line, his voice did not project with the sort of commanding grace which the role needed though having so much of the action up-stage did not help. Alexander Soddy's speeds seemed, at times, dangerously slow and Ainslie's 'I know a bank' was rather slower than was ideal.

By comparison, Soraya Mafi as Tytania had got the measure of the venue and projected the role's coloratura with personality and ease. She made a delightful Tytania, not as bitchy as some, and brought real charm to Britten's roulades and an underlying sense of humour in the scenes with Joshua Bloom's bottom. Given her fine performance has Handel's Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare for English Touring Opera, Mafi is clearly a talent to watch in this repertoire.

David Webb Clare Presland Matthew Durkan Eleanor Dennis.jpg David Webb, Clare Presland, Matthew Durkan and Eleanor Dennis. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Clare Presland as Hermia, David Webb as Lysander, Matthew Durkan as Demetrius and Eleanor Dennis as Helena made a lovely, well-characterised group of lovers, clearly relishing the opportunities that the second acts confusions gave them. Each brought a nice sense of character to the role with Eleanor Dennis's rather uptight, blue-stocking Helena (who loosens up considerably), Clare Presland's spunky Hermia, David Webb's nice but dim Lysander and Matthew Durkan's bellicose Demetrius. In a smaller venue this would have worked very well, young voices singing roles just right for them, but in the Coliseum, an element of the drama did not quite cross the footlights and though it looked good, the singers' sense of engagement did not quite project. But this is something which will develop over the run.

Graeme Danby et al.jpgGraeme Danby, Simon Butteriss, Robert Murray, Timothy Robinson, Jonathan Lemalu and Joshua Bloom. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

With such an experienced group of Mechanicals, there was little danger of the drama failing to project here. Joshua Bloom made an engaging Bottom, well sung and nicely characterised with an arrogant swagger but without too much of the self-importance which can be a bit annoying. He had great fun with the suggestiveness of the donkey costume. The others were all effectively and colourfully projected, with Robert Murray's bashful Flute, Graeme Danby's officious Quince, Simon Butteriss's rather overlooked Starveling, Timothy Robinson's delightful Snout and Jonathan Lemalu as an engagingly dim Snug. They had great fun with all the comic business, and frankly, the only way to play the operatic send-up of 'Pyramus and Thisbe' is to play it to the hilt, which they did.

Andri Bjorn Robertsson and Emma Carrington made a noble looking Theseus and Hippolyta, joining with the lovers in the third act to make terrible fun of the Mechanicals.

Miltos Yerolemou.jpgMiltos Yerolemou and Christopher Ainslie. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Miltos Yeremolou made a very funny Puck. A very physical performer, sometimes you wondered whether it was a little too much, should the production be quite as funny as that. But then, Carsen's overall conception does not really mine the darker side of the opera, and I rather longed for something which sat between Carsen's cuteness and Christopher Alden's dark dystopian view.

The Trinity Boys Choir performed admirably as the fairies, dealing admirably with the complexity of the staging along with Britten's music. The four young soloists, Aman de Silva, Lucas Rebato, Caspar Burman and Dionysius Sevastakis made a fine quartet of solo fairies.

Conductor Alexander Soddy, making a rare appearance in the UK, brought a great sense of detail to Britten's score and drew out some lovely and evocative textures from the players. The opening string glissandi were simply magical, but on occasions, Soddy seemed to rather linger too long over lovely details. In what is quite a long piece, you wanted a bit more dramatic impetus.

This was a revival which you feel needs a little more time to come into focus, but it presents a welcome opportunity to hear five of the current ENO Harewood Artists alongside other young singers, complemented by a fine group of Mechanicals.

Robert Hugill

Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Oberon - Christopher Ainslie, Tytania - Soraya Mafi, Puck - Miltos Yerolemou, Hermia - Clare Presland, Lysander - David Webb, Demetrius - Matthew Durkan, Helena - Eleanor Dennis, Quince - Graeme Danby, Bottom - Joshua Bloom, Starveling - Simon Butteriss, Snout - Timothy Robinson, Flute - Robert Murray, Snug - Jonathan Lemalu, Theseus - Andri Bjorn Robertsson, Hippolyta - Emma Carrington; Director - Robert Carsen, Conductor - Alexander Soddy, Associate director - Emmanuelle Bastet, Designer - Michael Levine, ENO Orchestra, Trinity Boys Choir.

English National Opera, Coliseum, London; Thursday 1st 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):