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>Ariadne auf Naxos</me> at Investec Opera Holland Park
18 Jul 2018

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Laura Zigmantaite as Dryad, Elizabeth Cragg as Naiad and Lucy Hall as Echo

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

This co-production between Investec Opera Holland Park and Scottish Opera adds further bifocal perspectives. Antony McDonald’s production was originally staged in spring, behind the scenes of the mansion belong to ‘the richest man in Glasgow’, and now the director and designer has brought the show from north to south, morphing the Scottish pile into South Kensington’s Holland Park House.

The rival operatic and vaudeville troupes are cooped up in tatty trailers either side of the lawn, the burlesque comedians, circus artists and MC taking the air on the top of their grass-bound motorhome, the diva and her tenor lounging in a curtained caravan.

Ali Wright-40 (1).jpg
Julia Sporsén (Composer), Jennifer France (Zerbinetta) [Photo credit: Ali Wright]

The Prologue antics are rather frantic as Stephen Gadd’s deliciously poker-faced Music Teacher receives and rebuffs the news - delivered in broad Glaswegian brogue by Eleanor Bron’s Party-Planner (aka the Major Domo) - that his protégé’s classical-themed opera will need to be synchronised with the burlesque troupe’s acrobatics if the money-man’s pyrotechnic coda is to be lit by 9pm. The colloquial quips of Helen Cooper’s English translation help Strauss’s conversational idiom to skip along, but the acoustics of Opera Holland Park’s dome defeated Bron, and sadly I for one struggled to make sense of her spoken text (for which there were no surtitles - a pity, in an unforgiving venue).

Seria and buffa elements were confrontational rather than cohesive - perhaps that’s how it should be - but Julia Sporsén’s Composer brought disparate parts into a cohesive whole, with her Schubertian-Straussian paean an die Musik. Sporsén’s soprano shone and thrilled and both her declaration that music is a holy art and her interactions with Zerbinetta were genuinely touching. Jennifer France’s Dietrich-like, dynamic Zerbinetta may have thought she was engaging in mild flirtation, but her heart was clearly hooked by the Composer’s soulful sincerity and artistic and romantic integrity. And, here McDonald has added another piquant twist, making the Composer a woman - given that Sporsén sported a blue suit and the only hint of femininity was dark underwear showing through her white polka-dot blouse, some in the audience may have been confused -thereby adding a touch of spice to the androgynous aromas of Strauss’s original travesti interactions.

The gender-switch also means that it is a woman who has penned the tale of Ariadne’s love, loyalty and loss, subtly shifting the sympathies of the perspective. When Mardi Byers appears at the start of Act 2 and lingers beside a grand dining-table, abandoned mid-meal - taking a glug of red wine from a half-filled glass, gazing forlornly at an un-cut tiered cake - it’s hard not to see a hint of Miss Haversham’s Satis House mausoleum, spacious and handsome but in which ‘every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces’, the most prominent object being ‘a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together’.

Vaudeville.jpgDaniel Norman (Scaramuccio), Jennifer France (Zerbinetta), Lancelot Nomura (Truffaldino) and Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Brighella). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Dickens jilted bride ‘laid the whole place waste, as you have seen it, and she has never since looked upon the light of day’, and so this Ariadne stares yearning at the coffin which she longs to make her final resting place, sooner rather than later. Only the dulcet urgings of the three nymphs keep her from the abyss. Elizabeth Cragg (Naiad), Laura Zigmantaite (Dryad) and Lucy Hall (Echo) resembled the Queen of the Night’s Three Ladies in their gorgeous frocks, with bat-like trains, of white-grey-black: veritable bridesmaids-in-decay.

McDonald doesn’t quite keep seria and buffa in balance, and the vaudeville troupe threaten to up-stage the classical in Act 2, especially when they take a rest from the show-casing their spectacular circus skills - not one spinning china-plate fell - and they grab the wedding-cake from the table and flick through a book of Greek myths. Circus skills director Joe Dieffenbacher has mentored his tutees expertly and Alex Otterburn (Harlequin), Daniel Norman (Scaramuccio), Lancelot Nomura (Truffaldino) and Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Brighella) form a compelling vocal and kinetic ensemble. And, to be honest, it’s a relief, after several recent productions, to have a vaudeville troupe who are more Berlin satire than barbershop saccharinity.

Kor-Jan Dusseljee as Bacchus and Mardi Byers as Ariadne.jpg Kor-Jan Dusseljee (Bacchus) and Mardi Byers (Ariadne). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

The arrival of Kor-Jan Dusseljee’s stentorian Bacchus - high notes sometimes a little overly ear-piercing but still remarkably true and firm - marked a shift in the dramatic dynamic from triviality to transcendence. Byers didn’t negotiate every phrase with Straussian suavity, but there were rich colours and honest emotions, and this Ariadne’s torment and troubles were palpably evident. In their final duet, she and Dusseljee effected the necessary translation and quickly the busy preliminaries to their romantic apotheosis were forgotten as they drew us into their unearthly paradise. It was at this moment too that conductor Brad Cohen, who had presided over an impressive account of Strauss’s sumptuous music up to this point, seemed to become totally absorbed, his arms swirling and sweeping all sumptuously into Strauss’s musical magic.

Zerbinetta Workman.jpg Jennifer France (Zerbinetta). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

But the real transcendence was to be found elsewhere. When Strauss began setting Hofmannsthal’s libretto he said that he envisaged Zerbinetta as the leading role, and he told his librettist that he would be writing the part for a high coloratura soprano - Ariadne was originally to be a contralto - advising Hofmannsthal to listen to Selma Kurz, the first Zerbinetta, singing arias from La sonnambula or Lucia di Lammermoor if he wanted to get a feel for the idiom. And, so it was that Jennifer France was the true Sirius in a stellar show, delivering her vocal acrobatics with astonishing athleticism, precision and expressive nuance, all the while performing a teasing strip-show. Languor and assertiveness were wonderfully melded in sensual sublimity. It was hard to tell who enjoyed it most: France or the mesmerised audience.

And, it was France who held our attention in the closing moments. With Ariadne and Bacchus united in divine devotion, one by one the other characters crept in to witness the denouement and take their bows. Sporsén’s Composer was the last, and her arrival drew Zerbinetta from her embrace with Harlequin: it was the women’s love that had the last word. A love celebrated by a fountain of fireworks - an hour late, at 10pm, but still a fitting accolade for Investec Holland Park’s vocally stunning Strauss debut.

Claire Seymour

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

The Prima Donna/Ariadne - Mardi Byers, The Tenor/Bacchus - Kor-Jan Dusseljee, Zerbinetta - Jennifer France, Harlequin - Alex Otterburn, Scaramuccio - Daniel Norman, Truffaldino - Lancelot Nomura, Brighella - Elgan Llŷr Thomas, The Party Planner - Eleanor Bron, The Professor of Composition - Stephen Gadd , The Composer - Julia Sporsén, The Producer - Jamie MacDougall, Naiad - Elizabeth Cragg, Dryad - Laura Zigmantaite, Echo - Lucy Hall , Wig Master - Thomas Humphreys, Butler - Trevor Bowes, Officer - Oliver Brignall; Director/Designer - Antony McDonald, Conductor - Brad Cohen, Lighting Designer - Wolfgang Göbbel, Choreographer - Lucy Burge, Circus Skills Director - Joe Dieffenbacher, Prologue Translation - Helen Cooper, City of London Sinfonia.

Investec Opera Holland Park, South Kensington, London; Tuesday 17 th 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):