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 Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

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’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

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?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

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.

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):