Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Nick Pritchard as Ferrando, Kitty Whately as Dorabella, Sarah Tynan as Despina, Eleanor Dennis as Fiordiligi and Nicholas Lester as Guglielmo in Così fan tutte © Robert Workman
03 Jun 2018

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Nick Pritchard as Ferrando, Kitty Whately as Dorabella, Sarah Tynan as Despina, Eleanor Dennis as Fiordiligi and Nicholas Lester as Guglielmo

[Photos © Robert Workman]

 

Would it not be a typically sentimental coping mechanism adopted to avoid confronting the questions – artificial yet profound, indeed profound through artificiality – it asks of its characters and its audiences alike? If one does not at some level, perhaps the most important level of all, find that Così goes deeper and further than Tristan, then one most likely has not understood either. Given a tragedy without catharsis, a tragedy in the clothes, surpassingly elegant and ravishing, of comedy: sometimes one might ask who needs an opus metaphysicum at all? (We might actually need it in order to recover.)

At any rate, absence had certainly made my heart grow still fonder when it came to Opera Holland Park. Not having been able to visit last summer, I returned to what may well be the most completely successful show I have yet to see and hear there. There is certainly I would put above it, quite a claim, given that we are dealing with Mozart, the most difficult of all composers to perform. There is nowhere to hide, on stage, in the pit, nor indeed in the audience. Nor should there be. Moreover, one had the sense, whether in production or in musical performance – the distinction is far from distinct – that this ambivalent, ambiguous, existentially devastating drama was being enabled, with the lightest of touches, to speak for itself. That does not happen by itself; there is no room for ‘non-interpretation’, for some illusory ‘original’. Yet nor did it ever seem that something was being inflicted on the work. There is room for critique, whether in words or in performance, yet sometimes, as here, the work is so rich that it both offers its own and, perhaps, renders it beside the point.

Robert Workman 17.pngFull cast

For what is Così, if it is not a musico-dramatic laboratory, a game whose results we should rather not know, and yet can never quite un-know? We see that in Oliver Platt’s production: not spelled out, ‘in a laboratory’, but actually more or less where it ‘should’ be, in an eighteenth-century setting, in which detail is everything. The more we look at what might seem a straightforward, ‘traditional’ production – and, in a sense, is – the more we see – and hear. The chorus, which like us watches proceedings and occasionally participates, is, from the start, a participant and perhaps a critic. It is not quite the Neapolitan ‘daily passeggio’ of which Leopold Mozart wrote, in a letter quoted by Helen Wallace in the programme, for that was perhaps too obviously theatrical, at any rate too bound to a particular stratum of the social hierarchy: ‘in a few hundred carriages the nobles go out driving in the afternoon until Ave Maria to the Strada Nuova and the Molo.’ These seem largely to be more ‘ordinary’ people, but what is ‘ordinary’? They are like us, perhaps, but they also remind us that we need not be ‘like’, or at least identical to, the principal characters on stage to learn from them. And so, when one looks more closely, one notices an apparently ‘male’ member of the ‘chorus’ in apparently ‘female’ dress. (S)he brings no particular other attention to himself or herself. There is no obvious plotline, no ‘distraction’, as some would have it, rightly or wrongly; there is also no obvious exit strategy for us on heteronormative or other grounds. Così fan tutti/e; or, mutate nomine, de te fabula narratur.

All, however, is not always quite what it seems. For the commedia dell’arte painted faces of Ferrando and Guglielmo are there to start with: visitors, perhaps, from beyond, yet also in need of external transformation – in Tristan, it would be a potion – in order to reveal themselves. Interactions between characters, like those between different chemical elements, are minutely observed, rendering us experimenters of our own, again whether we like it or not. (At least, so long as we watch and listen.) One of the problems some people, not unreasonably, seem to have with this opera is not always appreciating the level of parody, verbal and musical. And so, when Fiordiligi stands on a chair to assume her pose for ‘Come scoglio’, that cruel, loving, and in every sense ravishing seria parody, she initially falters, almost falling (not, I hasten to add, vocally). The watching lovers laugh, and she resumes. All is not quite what it seems, or perhaps it is. That is largely up to us, yet within the framework constructed – or rather within the different, intersecting frameworks constructed, by Alfonso and Despina, by Mozart and Da Ponte, and by production and performers; as well, of course, as that constructed by our own experiences, thoughts, and emotions. We are led to deconstruct that terrifying final ‘moral’ ourselves, Mozart’s brusque neo-Classicism the only possible response to Da Ponte’s seemingly straight hymn to reason. If we do not think about, do not feel its numerous contradictions, we have no one to blame but ourselves – not unlike the characters themselves. Is all perhaps precisely what it seems? Yes and no.

For it is Mozart above all who renders this opera such a necessary agony. And it is the musicians who – with the greatest respect to truly excellent work from everyone else involved, whether in the theatre, behind the scenes, or somewhere in between – who ultimately bring that into life. The City of London Sinfonia offered us gorgeous musical sado-masochism, woodwind one might almost literally have been willing to die for, strings incisive yet far from without warmth of their own. Dane Lam’s tempi began on the quick side, never unreasonably so, yet indicative of an approach one might too readily have taken to be partial. For, as the drama progressed, as the characters achieved greater delineation, so did temporal differentiation. Lam’s was a reading that knew where it was going, and thus could afford to take time on the way – in, for instance, a heartrending ‘Un aura amoroso’.

Not that that would have been heartrending without an estimable Ferrando, of course; that was not, happily, something we needed to put to the test, Nick Pritchard balancing with apparent ease the demands of line and variegation. So too did Nicholas Lester’s Guglielmo, the bitterness of his disillusion moving indeed, his ‘journey’ perhaps the greatest of all. Eleanor Dennis and Kitty Whately likewise proved almost infinitely capable both of sisterly affinity and dramatic disentanglement. So many attributes – sorrow and joy, honour and temptation, simplicity and complexity – were revealed as sides of the same experimental coin. Lines, unadorned or subtly ornamented, exuded both clarity and warmth. We knew them, and yet did not. Sarah Tynan’s Despina was very much the musical catalyst, her cynicism and her sense of fun both vividly portrayed. If Peter Coleman Wright’s pitch was sometimes a little approximate, he brought important dramatic truths to his portrayal of Don Alfonso – perhaps not unlike Francesco Bussani, first in his line. The chorus, well trained, by Richard Harker, could hardly have done more to bring their roles, individual and collective, to life.

There is method in the madness one feels at the close; there has to be. And yet, quite rightly, there remains mystery too. Or, in the ruminations of another operatic character, forced to confront truths of existence he might rather not – at least not too often: ‘Ein Kobold half wohl da:/Ein Glühwurm fand sein Weibchen nicht; der hat den Schaden angericht’t.’ Was Sachs just rephrasing the question? Probably. Are we? Almost certainly. That does not, however, mean that we are not confronting it, that we need not do so. Mozart leads us to Wagner, as well as Wagner to Mozart.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Fiordiligi: Eleanor Dennis; Dorabella: Kitty Whately; Guglielmo: Nicholas Lester; Ferrando: Nick Pritchard; Despina: Sarah Tynan; Don Alfonso: Peter Coleman-Wright. Director: Oliver Platt; Designs: Alyson Cummins; Lighting: Rory Beaton; Opera Holland Park Chorus (chorus master: Richard Harker)/City of London Sinfonia/Dane Lam (conductor). Opera Holland Park, London, Thursday 31 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):