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

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner : Max Bruch opera Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Il Traviata</em>, Opera Holland Park 2018
30 May 2018

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Il Traviata, Opera Holland Park 2018

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lauren Fagan as Violetta and Ellie Edmonds as Annina

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

Indeed, the lingering damp of the summer storms which had rattled and racketed London throughout the day might have led to fears that the audience might be at risk of joining Violetta behind the black curtain which was laboriously closed during the overture, to enshroud the circular ante-room to the far-right of the stage.

It is a delight to see Gaitanou and her designer Cordelia Chisholm making a virtue rather than an issue of the extensive breadth of the Opera Holland Park stage. Rather than force us to swivel our vision back and forth across the expanse with the agility of a tennis-match crowd - as was the case with Marie Lambert’s scenographically inventive-cum-hyperactive production of Zazà last year - or push the action to a narrow fore-stage strip, as did Oliver Platt last season when directing Don Giovanni , Gaitanou and Chisholm have created a gracious sweep of reflective glass and decorous greenery: a single set which serves equally well as society salon or country chateau. As the strains of the overture unfurl, a footman refreshes the bouquets and un-drapes a chaise-longue. The curtained circle is first boudoir then conservatory; at the close, quasi-brothel then death chamber.

Chisholm set.jpgPhoto credit: Robert Workman.

The lack of scenic fuss sharpens the dramatic clarity and colours are similarly simple and striking. In Act 1 Violetta is helped into a gleaming white gown by her maid Annina, (Ellie Edmonds) the dazzling purity of which sets off the blood-splatters which result from her heart-rending hacking. In the final Act, a black dress signals her doom, while Simon Corder’s garish lighting overwhelms the day-light lucidity with the ghoulish purple excess of Flora’s party. The orangery doors come into their own in this last Act: half-open, they admit both lurid light and tumbling crowds of raucous revellers - the Opera Holland Park Chorus in fine voice.

In the title role, Lauren Fagan proves as adept as Gaitanou and Chisholm at commanding the breadth of the OHP stage. Her soprano has real gloss, her coloratura is shaped with expressive grace and her stage presence is gripping. ‘Sempre libera’ was gleefully carefree, sparkling with agility and diamantine shine. Fagan strides the stage with unwavering composure and even her death-approaching agonies have elegiac elegance.

Many will have been thrilled by Matteo Desole’s ringing and pinging but I found his Alfredo, although technically very assured, to be lacking in emotional resonance. There were a few intonation wobbles at the start - understandable, given that this was the first night in an unfamiliar venue, and things quickly settled - but Desole has only two volume switches, loud and very loud, and despite the bel canto ease, the unalleviated boom was wearisome. This Alfredo seemed emotionally disengaged, an impression exacerbated in Act 2 when he was more interested in rearranging the potted plants in his country conservatory than in living the sentiments of his aria. Despite these misgivings, I can’t deny that Desole’s voice carries effortlessly and his legato phrasing is luxurious - no mean virtues in this venue.

Robert W 104 Alfredo.jpg Matteo Desole as Alfredo. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Stephen Gadd’s Germont is unbendingly bourgeois and stern, though he clearly comes to recognise Violetta’s courtesy and good manners, and despite some occasional lack of firmness vocally Germont’s confrontation with Violetta in Act 2 is one of the most dramatically convincing and compelling episodes of the drama, as Alfredo’s father pushes his son’s concubine relentlessly towards sacrificial renunciation. In ‘Di Provenza il mar’, Germont’s nostalgic reminiscence feels entirely sincere.

La Trav and Germont.jpgLauren Fagan as Violetta and Stephen Gadd as Giorgio Germont. Photo credit: Ali Wright.

Though the spotlight shines firmly on the central, fraught triangle, the minor roles all make their mark, for the unfussy staging gives them room to find their ground and occupy it. Laura Woods is a minxy Flora, her voice full of colour and lushness; Charne Rochford as Gastone and Nicholas Garrett’ as Douphol define their characters well.

Although the overture sounded somewhat thin and lacking in sentiment, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren encouraged ever more responsive playing from the City of London Sinfonia and the precision of the playing in the final Act was complemented by impassioned warmth. Waldren doesn’t hang about and that only serves to enhance the sure dramatic thrust established by Gaitanou and Chisholm.

La Traviata with Gaston.jpgLauren Fagan as Violetta and Nicholas Garrett as Barone Douphol. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

In the closing scene, the reflections in Chisholm’s glass evoke fore-shadowings of Violetta’s ghostly form - as if she is haunting the stage even while she still struggles to draw her last, irregular, painful breaths. The recording of shallow consumptive breathlessness echoes disturbingly in the memory.

Despite the Parisian partying and pleasures, Gaitanou’s La traviata is permeated with the shadows of disease and death. Fagan’s Violetta is both frail and fervent; the fever of love and illness burn with equal intensity. It’s a paradoxically uplifting blend.

Claire Seymour

Violetta - Lauren Fagan, Alfredo - Matteo Desole, Giorgio Germont - Stephen Gadd, Flora - Laura Woods, Annina - Ellie Edmonds, Gastone - Charne Rochford, Barone Douphol - Nicholas Garrett, Marchese d’Obigny - David Stephenson, Dottore Grenvil - Henry Grant Kerswell, Giuseppe - Robert Jenkins Flora's Servant - Ian Massa-Harris, Messenger Alistair Sutherland; Director - Rodula Gaitanou, Conductor - Matthew Kofi Waldren, Designer - Cordelia Chisholm, Lighting Designer - Simon Corder, Movement Director - Steve Elias, City of London Sinfonia and the Opera Holland Park Chorus.

Opera Holland Park, London; Tuesday 29th May 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):