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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>La forza del destino</em>, Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome
08 Mar 2018

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

La forza del destino, Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Mary Elizabeth Williams (Leonora)

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

 

David Pountney’s production, which uses a new critical edition based on the 1869 version but which reverts to parts of the original 1862 score in Act 3, is the first of three Verdi operas which will be conducted by Carlo Rizzi over the next three years, with Un ballo in maschera andLes vepres siciliennes following in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Pountney wastes no time confirming that Fate is exerting its inexorable grip on the protagonists. Projected onto the plain, angled walls of designer Raimund Bauer’s set, a wheel spins, slowly gaining momentum, metamorphosing into a pistol which releases a bullet which surges forward, unstoppably, towards its target. And, blood will beget blood. The opera’s first death, of the Marchese di Calatrava, is marked by a blood-splattered wall which continually weeps red tears in which both of his offspring, Leonora and Carlo, smear their hands. Religion will offer no consolation: the monks who watch the disguised Leonora make her ritual progress into the seclusion of the holy cave in the mountain side, later don blood-stained mitres.

Verdi, well-known for his adulation of Shakespeare, seems to have tried to embrace ‘all of life’ - its variety, contrasts, contradictions, epic events and insignificancies - in this opera. Spanning ten or more years, the drama ignores the unities of time and action, as his librettist Piave noted in the opera’s production book: ‘About 18 months pass between the first and second acts; several years between the second and the third; more than five years between the third and the fourth.’ (quoted in Julian Budden, The Operas of Verdi, vol.2, (Cassell, 1978)). The opera’s geography is no less expansive, as the drama travels from an aristocratic dwelling in Seville, to an inn and hillside monastery near Hornachuelos, and on to Italy, to a wood and military encampment near Velletri, and back again to Spain.

And during these years and travels, much happens, as epitomised by a letter from Verdi to Cammarano, in which he envisages a military camp which later made its way into La forza: ‘There is a grand scene in this style in Schiller's Wallenstein [Wallensteins Lager]: soldiers, camp followers, gypsies, fortune-tellers, even a monk who preaches in the world’s most deliciously comic style. You cannot put in a monk, but you can put in all the rest, and you even can make a little dance for the gypsies. In short, make me a characteristic scene that will give a true picture of a military camp.’ (quoted in Franco Abbiati, Giuseppe Verdi, vol.2 (Ricordi, 1959)).

It is surely no accident that the two words which Pountney projects to preface the two parts of his production, ‘Peace’ and ‘War’, evoke Tolstoy’s epic historic chronicle. But, Pountney to some extent mimics Fate, in that he exerts a firm grip on Verdi’s rambling and unwieldy, but potent, account of Leonora’s elopement with the immigrant Alvaro, a dispossessed Inca prince, following the accidental death of her father, and the subsequent vengeful pursuit of her brother Carlo, who refuses to believe in the lovers’ innocence and for whom only their deaths will suffice as familial restitution.

Preziosilla .jpgJustina Gringytė (Preziosilla). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

There are, inevitably, some gaps and non-sequiturs that cannot quite be made to cohere, such as the disconcerting suddenness of the lyrical outpouring of reunited love in the final act - when Alvaro is recognised by the presumed-dead Leonora when the latter emerges from a hermitage, after the lovers have been kept apart for ten years, two acts, and two hours of music. But, Pountney and Bauer both simplify and unify, to good effect, making Preziosilla - the young gypsy whose rousing song in Act 2 spurs the young Spaniards to do battle against the Germans and who predicts for Carlo, who is disguised as a student, a tragic end - an embodiment of Fate itself. This black figure - who at times resembles the Queen of the Night, and elsewhere a cabaret singer from Weimar - prowls through each act, having initiated the fateful trajectory of the drama with three violent bangs of her staff in unison with the blaring three chords for brass, horn and bassoon which open the opera. Justina Gringytė’s powerful, supple mezzo really makes its presence felt, infusing the drama with a vibrant energy, and Gringytė doubles effectively as Leonora’s maid, Curra, who in this production is particularly keen to hasten Leonora’s elopement in the opening scene.

Leonora.jpgMary Elizabeth Williams (Leonora). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Moreover, the WNO cast live up to Verdi’s hope - expressed in a letter to his friend Vincenzo Luccardi in February 1863 - that ‘Certainly, in La forza del destino the artists need not know how to sing coloratura, but they must have some soul and understand the words and express them.’ (see Franz Werfel and Paul Stefan (eds), Verdi: The Man in His Letters (Vienna House, Inc., 1973)). And, none more so than Mary Elizabeth Williams, whose soft-edged gracefulness and ability to withdraw her gentle soprano to the merest pianissimo conveyed all of Leonora’s dignity, sincerity and sorrow. The intonation took a little while to settle, and at her quietest she was not always able to sustain the lyricism of the line, but the emotional impact of Williams’ singing was considerable, and she acted with nuance and conviction. ‘Madre, pietosa Vergine’, in which the kneeling Leonora begs for divine forgiveness from the Father Superior whose protection she seeks, was charged with urgency and redolent with both religious belief and anguished guilt; her final plea for peace, ‘Pace, pace’, rose persuasively to the top in sublime intensity.

Alvaro and Carlo.jpgGwyn Hughes Jones (Don Alvaro) and Luis Cansino (Don Carlo). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

I thought that Pountney might have made more of Don Alvaro’s status as an outsider, and ‘other’, but Gwyn Hughes Jones used his ringing tenor to establish Alvaro’s bravado and courage; his sweeping arrival via Leonora’s balcony was equal in panache to Otello’s ‘Exultate!’, while his third-act aria, ‘La vita e inferno’, demonstrated expressive nuance. Luis Cansino’s baritone was full of dark resentment, but his Carlo was rather stiff dramatically.

I was impressed by Miklós Sebestyén’s Padre Guardiano: the considerable texture of his bass-baritone brought the character to life, establishing the Father Superior’s gravitas and empathy, while as the unsympathetic patriarch, Il Marchese, he was fittingly implacable and resonant. Donald Maxwell was less full-voiced as the disdainful Friar Mellitone but conveyed all of the latter’s irascibility.

The WNO chorus were in fine voice, impersonating foolhardy fascists, an impoverished populace and merciless monks with equal fervour. Carlo Rizzi demonstrated his innate appreciation of Verdi’s rhythmic arguments - the tense syncopations of the overture undeniably signalling trouble ahead - and balanced tempest and tenderness with discernment.

WNO’s spring tour continues: https://www.wno.org.uk/season/rabble-rousers

Claire Seymour

Verdi: La forza del destino

Leonora - Mary Elizabeth Williams, Don Alvaro - Gwyn Hughes Jones, Preziosilla/Curra - Justina Gringytė, Don Carlo Di Vargas - Luis Cansino, Il Marchese di Calatrava/Padre - Guardiano Miklós Sebestyén, Fra Melitone - Donald Maxwell, Mastro Trabuco - Alun Rhys-Jenkins, Alcade Wyn Pencarreg; Director - David Pountney, Conductor - Carlo Rizzi, Set Designer - Raimund Bauer, Costume Designer - Marie-Jeanne Lecca, Lighting Designer - Fabrice Kebour, Choreographer Michael Spenceley.

Welsh National Opera, Birmingham Hippodrome; Tuesday 6th 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):