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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

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):