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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Falstaff</em>, Garsington Opera
19 Jun 2018

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Falstaff, Garsington Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Yvonne Howard (Mistress Quickly) Henry Waddington (Falstaff) Victoria Simmonds (Meg)

Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

Setting Verdi’s opera in the era of the suffragettes’ campaigning and Edward Elgar’s paean to ‘Englishness’ - the composer’s symphonic study Falstaff Op.68 was premiered in 1913 - neatly promotes pertinent ‘issues’ but also dilutes, a little, the immediate comic impact of the out-size peer of the realm, Sir John Falstaff.

Designer Giles Cadle has been eager, it seems, and unlike the opera’s eponymous protagonist, to stick within his budget. While Falstaff is pestered in his attic garret by a gothic, disembodied hand which thrusts an unpaid bill - for “Six chickens: six shillings. Thirty bottles of sherry: two pounds. Three turkeys ... Two pheasants. An anchovy ...” - through the floor boards, Cadle presents us with a cardboard cut-out set which allows us to take in a long and short perspective of Windsor’s castle and forest, and to enter some interior dwellings.

We begin in Sir John’s sparse abode above the Garter Inn. The pseudo-grand double-arch proscenium frame (a nod in the direction of William Tite’s multi-arched entrance to Windsor & Eton Riverside Railways Station, perhaps) and the sharp perspective retreat of the central raised, square platform seems to mock the pretentions of the Knight’s former glories, as embodied by the portrait of a slightly more svelte Falstaff in Hussar uniform which leans against the military hut from which the aging knight bursts with vitality and vulgarity.

Henry Waddington (Falstaff) Nicholas Crawley (Pistola) Adrian Thompson (Bardolfo) Ansh Shetty (Page) credit Clive Barda.jpg Henry Waddington (Falstaff) Nicholas Crawley (Pistola) Adrian Thompson (Bardolfo) Ansh Shetty (Page). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

This is a world in which feudalism has given way to the top hats sported by the worthy professionals of the nineteenth-century middle classes, such as Dr Caius, who is unceremoniously duped and turned on his head - literally, in the opening scene - and the bowler hats of the up-and-coming lower orders, such as Pistola and Bardolpho, who hedge their bets with regard to where their allegiances and labours are best bestowed. The only servant upon whom Falstaff can depend for loyalty is the young urchin who’s happy to share a tankard and to do his ‘aristocratic’ master’s bidding - and to dress up as a somewhat ‘benign’ Grim Reaper in the final scene.

Cadle utilises a rolling backdrop to set the scene. First, we have a vista which takes in the Thames (in which Falstaff will take an unanticipated dip, courtesy of the ladies whom he courts) and the castle of Windsor (loosely based on Turner’s Windsor Castle from the Thames c.1805). Next, we are whisked to Tite’s spacious railway concourse, the platforms of which retreat graciously and extensively under elegant arching ceilings.

Here, the female members of the Temperate Society gather, bearing banners - ‘Lips that have touched liquor shall not touch ours’ - while Suffragettes reminds us that only ‘Convicts, Lunatics and Women! Have No Vote for Parliament!’ The political activity does not seem to bother the inscrutable ticket officer ensconced in his tiny office; in fact, the dramatic focus seems to be on the charms of the steam locomotive that will chug and puff its way across the stage, raising a chuckle or two - and the only dramatic function of this locale seems to be that it provides a little Brief Encounter sentimentalism for the romantic embraces of Nannetta and Fenton.

Hollie-Anne Bangham (chorus) Victoria Simmonds (Meg) Yvonne Howard (Mistress Quickly) Soraya Mafi (Nannetta) Mary Dunleavy (Alice Ford).jpg Hollie-Anne Bangham (chorus) Victoria Simmonds (Meg) Yvonne Howard (Mistress Quickly) Soraya Mafi (Nannetta) Mary Dunleavy (Alice Ford). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

When Falstaff is duped into paying a call to Alice Ford, he finds himself amid Victorian flock wallpaper and screens, and faux foliage. The allusions to the detective fiction of the 19th century -the clumsy detonation of the screens by Ford and his accomplices, à la Holmes’ fictional foil, the police inspector Mr Athelney Jones - feel rather perfunctory, just as Falstaff’s secreting of his bulk in the laundry basket seems a bit laboured, especially as on this occasion he appeared to get ‘stuck‘ as he slides unceremoniously into the murk of the Thames. The result is laughs of the glibbest kind, such as those derived from the assault on Meg’s ‘innocence’ when the Knight, who has gleefully divested himself of his underwear when donning his tartan and sporran in anticipation of sexual high jinks, flashes his nether regions at a delighted/disconcerted Meg.

Cadle’s design reaches its apotheosis in the final Act: the menacing foliage which creeps in right and left threatens to swallow the evening forest tryst - à la Richard Dadd - and Falstaff himself is hoisted aloft, as a sort of Maypole exhibit, an image which is both cruel and comic.

Falstaff Act 3 Waddington and Chorus.jpgHenry Waddington (Falstaff) and GPO Chorus. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

But, set and design and aside, most of the enjoyment comes, as it should, from the singers and players. The Philharmonia Orchestra serve up tip-toeing instrumental delicacies and brash quasi-vulgarities with equal splendour, under the baton of Richard Farnes. If the coloristic orchestral onslaught is not always sensitive to the needs of the singers and there are moments when the vocal lines struggle to fight for space to be heard, then Farnes is ultra-alert to the ever-changing moods and tempi.

At the centre of the music-drama is Henry Waddington’s Falstaff: a figure who is wide of girth, proud and assured of his ‘entitlement’, but also surprisingly sensitive of spirit and judicious of vocal articulation of his self-worth. Falstaff’s ‘honour’ aria was eloquently delivered - how pleasing it was to have time to take in the words and their sentiment, particularly when they are so thoughtfully delivered with expressive nuance - and perceptively accompanied, and it made its mark. In contrast, the Knight’s lamentations about the sorry state of the world at the start of Act 3 did not quite have sufficient space within the accompanying instrumental medium to penetrate with sufficient pointedness. But, this was a Falstaff who wanted us to think, rather than guffaw, and that’s no bad thing.

Ford.jpgRichard Burkhard (Ford). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Richard Burkhard’s Ford was a compelling figure of rage and revenge, and his vendetta aria, ‘È sogno o realtà?’, conjured real threat and menace. I, for one, wouldn’t want to cross him. As his wife, Alice, Mary Dunleavy was a bright star, evincing smile-inducing guile and girlishness, complemented by intelligence and ingenuity - all conveyed with vocal assurance and plushness of sound.

Victoria Simmonds’ Meg Page was fittingly uptight, with an undercurrent of mischievousness; Soraya Mafi’s Nanetta and Oliver Johnson’s Fenton reminded us that there are real human emotions and lives at stake.

Garsington Opera 2018 Soraya Mafi (Nannetta).jpg Soraya Mafi (Nannetta). Photo credit: Clive Barda.

The only downside of this direct and compelling production was the unanticipated and unwelcome intrusion of the hedonist thumping and twanging of a nearby pop concert, carried by the brisk wind from outside the Wormsley estate to the opera pavilion, which, in particular, marred the magic of Soraya Mafi’s nocturnal serenade. Goodness knows what the Fat Knight would make of such a discourtesy.

Claire Seymour

Verdi: Falstaff

Sir John Falstaff - Henry Waddington, Alice Ford - Mary Dunleavy, Ford - Richard Burkhard, Meg Page - Victoria Simmonds, Mistress Quickly - Yvonne Howard, Nannetta - Soraya Mafi, Fenton - Oliver Johnston, Dr. Caius - Colin Judson, Bardolfo - Adrian Thompson, Pistola - Nicholas Crawley, Page (silent) - Ansh Shetty; Director - Bruno Ravella, Conductor - Richard Farnes, Designer - Giles Cadle, Lighting Designer - Malcolm Rippeth, Movement Director - Tim Claydon, Philharmonia Orchestra & Garsington Opera Chorus.

Garsington Opera Festival, Worsley; Saturday 16th 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):