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

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.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Falstaff</em>, Royal Opera House
09 Jul 2018

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Falstaff, Royal Opera House

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Bryn Terfel (Falstaff)

Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

 

Chronological and geographical side-steps aside, the production is funny, frivolous and thoughtful in equal measure and just what was needed at the end of a long, hot summer week. (For further comment on the design and staging see my 2015 review of the first revival.)

The theatrical and vocal joy was supplied by a terrific cast. While at Garsington a few weeks ago, the women bonded over their suffragette placards and politics, here the ladies-who-lunch exuded a real sense of mischievous camaraderie and feminist nous.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly.jpg Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Mistress Quickly. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux was a scream as Mistress Quickly, and if she was larger-than-life and milked the camp for all it was worth, it didn’t matter when she was a walking exclamation mark with every entrance and exit - a kick of the heel, a flash of leg, a sashaying curtsey or flamboyant spin - and equally rich and resplendent of voice. Marie McLaughlin’s Meg Page was assured and poised, and if Ana María Martínez sometimes couldn’t match her female ‘accomplices’ for plushness, then she acted superbly, and her phrasing was as poised as her posturing before the gullible Falstaff.

Frédéric Antoun as Fenton, Anna Prohaska as Nannetta.jpg Frédéric Antoun as Fenton, Anna Prohaska as Nannetta. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

Anna Prohaska’s Nannetta was a dew-drop of guileless charm and genuine love, a real breath of fresh air; she floated her first top Ab with stunning purity - it punched right to the heart - and if the second was less pointed, well, she was on her knees, crawling backwards under a table for an assignation with her beloved Fenton. Prohaska and Frédérick Antoun’s Fenton shone through the seedy, soullessness of some of the romantic liaisons with an honest, innocent affection that was truly touching. Fenton can sometimes seem a bit spineless but Antoun’s Act 3 aria granted him vocal and dramatic stature.

As a shiny-suited Ford, Simon Keenlyside was a powerfully bitter presence amid the sugary self-indulgence. Surely his disguise, as Brook, would have fooled no one, the lavish ease of his rock-star locks and flamboyant shirt overshadowed by a rage aria which was frighteningly vicious, but which could have done with a bit more punch in the lower register.

Simon Keenlyside as Ford.jpg Simon Keenlyside as Ford. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

But, this opera rests or falls on the stomach and heart of its eponymous Fat Knight. And, what a wonderful singing actor Bryn Terfel is. Perhaps there were a few rough edges at times - Act 3 didn’t quite make its sentimental mark, though he blossomed authoritatively in Act 1’s honour aria - but he can do belligerency, bravado and belly-laughs with equal panache, and despite all Falstaff’s boasting and bluffing there was still that telling touch of sincerity to win the audience’s sympathetic smile and sigh.

Though first espied loafing indifferently behind a newspaper in his outsized bed at the Garter ‘Inn’, as agitated waiters wafted unpaid bills, or imbibing indulgently in a grimy onesie - six boiled eggs for breakfast with coffee and cognac, all on the tick - this Falstaff could miraculously transform himself, instantaneously resurrecting that memory of the former slim Duke of Norfolk, to take his place amid the privileged and entitled, and irritate the bespectacled gents in the hotel Reading Room.

Sir John Falstaff.jpg Bryn Terfel as Sir John Falstaff. Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

When visited by Mistress Quickly bearing an invitation to visit Alice, Terfel became the epitome of studied suavity à la P.G. Wodehouse. Terfel can twinkle his eyes, twaddle his cane and twiddle his top hat with stomach-tickling ease. Regaled in scarlet hunting regalia he was champing at the bit. In Act 2 he seemed to know how to place himself in the exactly the right place at just the wrong time, as the drama demands, commandeering his sexual territory atop of the formica kitchen units of Alice’s ‘perfect’ buttercup-hued kitchen, diving in the nick of time into a cupboard with the arrival of Ford, swinging - with some effort - his booted legs into the laundry basket as the jealous husband turned house and home upside down. Perhaps Terfel was upstaged by the munching horse at the start of Act 3, and, despite rolling athletically along the dining table, a delicacy at the cruel feast, couldn’t quite find his niche in an Act which in this production rather loses its way, but at the close he grasped the opportunity to quash his opponents with a quip, a flourish and winning flair.

Given the intemperate ego at the centre of the show, conductor Nicola Luisotti was a bit too restrained and the score might have zipped along with rather more spice. But, this revival is a sparkling summer spritzer.

Claire Seymour

Sir John Falstaff - Bryn Terfel, Alice Ford - Ana María Martínez, Ford - Simon Keenlyside, Nannetta - Anna Prohaska, Fenton - Frédéric Antoun, Mistress Quickly - Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Meg Page - Marie McLaughlin, Dr Caius - Carlo Bosi, Bardolph - Michael Colvin, Pistol - Craig Colclough; Director - Robert Carsen, Conductor - Nicola Luisotti, Set designer - Paul Steinberg, Costume designer - Brigitte Reiffenstuel, Lighting designers - Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet, Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Saturday 7th July 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):