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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Acis and Galatea</em>, ENO, Lilian Baylis House
13 Jun 2018

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Acis and Galatea, ENO, Lilian Baylis House

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: ENO, Acis and Galatea

Photo credit: Dani Harvey

 

There’s nothing very pastoral, though, about ENO’s Acis and Galatea which, as the Coliseum is hosting a series of summer revenue raisers ( Opera North’s Kiss Me, Kate arrives next week), is being performed at ENO’s rehearsal space, Lilian Baylis House. The only ‘greenery’ in director Sarah Tipple’s hyper-active production, is the astro turf beneath the feet of the orchestra, seated to one side in a mirror-clad grotto which does its best to hint at leafy groves and trickling streams.

Designer Justin Nardella’s set presents a panoply of party-props - a livid yellow fancy-dress box (though the merry-makers’ Hawaiian shirts, wellies, out-size spectacles and outlandish head-gear are surely ‘fancy’ enough), beach balls, plastic dinosaurs, inflatable unicorns, and the like. And, should the ‘hedonism’ over-heat, the party-planner - a nerdy type, who wanders in from time to time, checking his itinerary on an i-Pad - has ensured that they have a convenient cool-drinks dispenser at their disposal.

The revellers are social media techies, and these self-regarding selfie-takers are kept doubly entertained as they watch their own carousing and cavorting unfold via four corner-stationed, huge i-Phones. During the party-games, Galatea is ‘crowned’ Queen and draped in ermine. As she and Acis canoodle, ‘O happy we!’ the members of the ENO Chorus sing, in hearty and joyful voice, as they swig beer, dance with unselfconscious abandon, and flop on bean-bags for a time-out. Indeed, perhaps they’d swigged a few too many bottles for the choric cries of glee drifted a bit behind conductor Nicholas Ansdell-Evans’ swift beat.

Ella-Kirkpatrick-Michael-Burke-Adam-Sullivan.jpgElla Kirkpatrick, Michael Burke, Adam-Sullivan and ENO Chorus. Photo credit: Dani Harvey.

There’s nothing wrong at all with Sarah Tipple’s decision to eschew Ovid’s pastoral paradise and John Gay’s satirical lampooning, and to present the mythical romance as a slight tale of modern-day merry- and mischief-making. After all, Acis and Galatea began life as an entertainment for a private party, commissioned c. 1718-20 by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, to amuse the guests at Cannons, the stately home on his grand Middlesex estate. And, in contrast to Martin Parr’s production of the opera at St John’s Smith Square, during this year’s London Handel Festival, at least this time the balloons stayed firmed affixed to the walls and ceiling, sparing us an explosive accompaniment.

But, as I noted in my review of the LHF performance, while there is ‘much irony in Gay’s text, with its parodic echoes of nonsensical Arcadian conceits and interplay of ‘high’ and ‘low’ […] the challenge is to distinguish between, and marry, textual levity and musical earnestness’. And, it’s this unity and balance between partying and pathos that Tipple doesn’t succeed in achieving.

When the party ends in the inevitable punch-up, and the Chorus laments the death of Acis, the party-planner rushes in, puts Acis in the recovery position and hastily commences CPR while the stunned revellers prove not sufficiently shocked to refrain from recording the victim’s last breaths for their Facebook page. Though it was a welcome moment of tender stillness after all the manic agitation, the opera’s ‘high-point’, the choric lament ‘Mourn all ye muses’, which is sung over the body of the slain Acis, lacked gravitas and true sentiment; the poignant simplicity of “The gentle Acis is no more” seemed merely glib.

Lucy-Hall-Alexander-Sprague-c-Dani-Harvey.jpgLucy Hall (Galatea) and Alexander Sprague (Acis). Photo credit: Dani Harvey.

There was some fine playing and singing, though, not least from the ENO Chorus, though the traverse set-up made it hard for the choral and instrumental groups to blend. Alexander Sprague, as Acis, had plenty of spring and slice in his pleasing tenor, perfect for this confident charmer dressed in glitter-red sneakers and cool shades who was prone to showing off his press-up prowess mid-aria. Indeed, perhaps this Acis was a bit too self-regarding for at times it was hard to believe in the sincerity of his love - a distrust which was exacerbated when the cynical Damon rolled a cigarette during Acis’s avowal of love.

Lucy Hall’s soprano is vibrant, full of rippling colours, relaxes and blossoms as it rises. She was terrific as the flirtatious Galatea, whose cocked eyebrows suggested was she was quite tempted by Polyphemus’ ardent attentions.

Bradley-Smith-c-Dani-Harvey.jpgBradley Smith (Damon). Photo credit: Dani Harvey.

Bradley Smith was a good foil to Sprague. His tenor has a softer edge, just right for party-pooper Damon, demure in denim, though his singing was not always sufficiently agile in the coloratura passages to keep up with the terrifically bright and brisk playing of the instrumentalists from the ENO orchestra, who were whipped through their paces with gleeful lightness by Ansdell-Evans.

Though this Polyphemus was no monstrous Cyclops, Matthew Durkan injected some beguiling darkness into his baritone. It was a shame that the vocal menace was rather undercut by the petulant antics that Tipple had him perform. When Galatea rejected his regal advances, he tore off his cloak in a fit of pique and stamped like a three-year-old on his plastic crown. Worn out by his toddler tantrum, Polythemus threw himself down on a pink pillow and promptly fell asleep, affording Acis and Damon the opportunity to creep back in, paint his face with marker pen and lipstick, and strap him into a lurid green bra.

Tipple thus denied this Polyphemus any dignity, and we did not feel the immensity of his burning love, only his peevish anger. She also struggled to squeeze the opera’s ending into her concept. For, in Ovid’s tale, when the jealous Polyphemus has crushed Acis to death under a boulder, the distraught Galatea fortuitously recalls her divine powers and transforms the dead Acis into a stream, thus granting him immortality. Clearly there could be no such transfiguration by water of this dead party-goer. The solution? A stream of ‘pictures of a life’ on Galatea’s Instagram account and a flowing conga-chain of dancers. With the prone body of Acis before us, this lieto fine left slightly a nasty taste.

Claire Seymour

Acis - Alexander Sprague, Galatea - Lucy Hall, Polyphemus - Matthew Durkan, Damon - Bradley Smith; Director - Sarah Tipple, Conductor - Nicholas Ansdell-Evans, Designer - Justin Nardella, Associate costume designer - Sarah Hamza, Lighting designer - Jennifer Rose, Movement director- Gemma Payne, Members of ENO Orchestra and Chorus.

Lilian Baylis House, London; Monday 11th June 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):