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

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Dido and Aeneas</em>, Blackheath Halls Community Opera
17 Jul 2018

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Dido and Aeneas, Blackheath Halls Community Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Marcus Farnsworth (Aeneas) and Idunnu Münch (Dido)

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

Graham foregrounded Aeneas’ and Dido’s obvious physical passion as the Trojan Prince tussled with a vicious Sorcerer - a devil in a sharp grey suit who wooed wickedly and sought to win the Queen of Carthage for himself. The Sailor’s song - sung with delightful indelicacy by a swarthy Alun Butler - was a riotous celebration of imminent departure, goading the tinsel-bedecked Chorus to rowdily anticipate their arrival in the Italian capital: “Rome is Home” screeched the lofted banner.

Any doubts that Dido may have had about her fate would quickly have been dispelled from the start, by the sinister Spirits clad in silver-grey smocks who squatted on the floor around the Queen’s prone body, scribbling prophetic graffiti: “You are going to die”, “The Queen of Carthage is dead”, “Blood”, “Betray”, read the ominous chalk jottings, the twirling white script forming an ever-increasing spidery web on the black floor as the evening progressed. Graham suggests that the ominous words are no Delphic divination but rather the outer projection of Dido’s own, sometimes suppressed, consciousness, when she explains, ‘Our production is inspired by these words from the libretto, “Great minds against themselves conspire, and shun the cure they most desire”. The stage is Dido's mindscape. We see everything as a manifestation of her thoughts.’

And so, Dido’s depression and inner unrest at the start of the opera is projected through the storm with which we begin and which shipwrecks Aeneas and his people as they flee from Troy, after Jupiter’s commands to the Trojan Prince have boomed electronically and rather ear-splittingly across and around the Albany’s round theatre-space, sending the Trojans on their fateful journey to Rome. Elliot Griggs’ lighting conjured thunder and tempest, as the singers of Blackheath Halls Opera Chorus floundered noisily, desperately seeking the safety of the Carthaginian shore. The Choruses generally may not have been ‘crisp’ but they were hearty, well-tuned, and the words were clear.

Founded in 2007, this year BHCO has been forced to decamp from its familiar home - the Blackheath Halls are currently undergoing a £3 million refurbishment - to The Albany Theatre in nearby Deptford. The theatre-in-the-round, skirted by a narrow circle of seats at ground level and in the balcony, proved eminently suitable for Graham’s concept, providing a large space across with the chorus could present the opera through physical and visual gestures as much as through song and music.

And, the physical movement was energetic, noisy, and sometimes a little chaotic, as the Chorus gossiped and laughed, whooped and stamped - sometimes obliterating the buoyant dances which conductor Lee Reynolds was inspiring from the excellent small instrumental ensemble - and carried in and assembled the constituents parts of a banqueting table. But, the spirit was one of vigour and life. The community chorus ran energetically about the auditorium and up into the balcony, peering at the action from the gallery - and occasionally blocking the audience sight-lines! - as Graham sought to use every inch of the available space.

The professional cast were excellent, and it must have been inspiring for both the Conservatoire singers and the members of the community to sing alongside them. German mezzo-soprano Idunnu Münch was the eponymous Queen, making her UK premiere after several years at Oper Stuttgart. Münch has a lovely rich voice, just perfect for passionate Queen of Graham’s conception; at first, I feared that she might misjudge the venue - her voice is large and she employed a very full vibrato in her first aria of despair, ‘Ah Belinda, I am prest with torment’, but she quickly found the measure of the acoustic and portrayed the Queen as a very ‘real’ woman, using every colour and nuance to win our sympathy. I’m not sure why this Dido seemed so shocked by her profusely bleeding wound given that it is self-inflicted, but Münch carried off Dido’s moments of delight and distress with equal dramatic conviction. ‘When I am laid in earth’ was truly touching, and the apparent resurrection of Dido’s spirit, as her prone body was strewn with red poppy petals by the children of the Chorus, was consoling.

Marcus Farnsworth was relaxed of voice and movement as the denimed Aeneas, though he took quite a battering from the pummelling fists of the children furious at his betrayal. Farnsworth and Münch conjured some credible regal ‘chemistry’, and he conveyed Aeneas’ honest love and subsequent confusion. Alison Rose’s lovely clean sound was a perfect complement to Münch, and she made Belinda a more supportive companion to the Queen than is sometimes the case, projecting beautifully when she sang from the balcony.

Only the descent of some wintery branches from the ceiling hinted at the arrival of the Sorcerer’s fearful voice from aloft. There was a touch of Britten’s Oberon when William Towers descended and set about luring the Queen into his sensual snare, particularly when, Pied Piper-like, the children joined his pack of witches, trailing behind their master - evil, masked acolytes. Towers’ microphone-assisted command, in the guise of ‘Mercury’, to Aeneas, to remind him of his destiny in Rome, was strange and sinister.

The students from Trinity Laban made impressive contributions, especially Sofia Celenza who exhibited vocal and physical poise in the role of the Second Woman.

Graham’s Dido may not have been quite what Purcell imagined when he conceived the opera for the genteel ladies of Josias Priest’s Chelsea boarding school (if that was indeed where the opera was first performed), but it was true to the work’s humanity, and performed with commitment and not inconsiderable charm.

Claire Seymour

Blackheath Halls Opera 2018: Purcell - Dido & Aeneas

Dido - Idunnu Münch, Aeneas - Marcus Farnsworth, The Sorcerer - William Towers, Belinda - Alison Rose, Second Woman - Sofia Celenza*, First Witch - Rebecca Leggett*, Second Witch - Jennifer Mitchell*, Spirits (Guste Sinkeviciute, Jude Smith, Laura Kislick, Leia Joyce, Stanislaw Kochanowski-Tym, Zarofina Farodoye), Sailor - Alun Butler, Chorus leaders* (Katy Allen, Jennifer Barwise, Emily Kirby Ashmore, Charlotte Levesley); Director - Polly Graham, Musical Director - Lee Reynolds, Designer - April Dalton, Lighting Designer - Elliot Griggs, Movement Director - Francesca Mangiacasale, Blackheath Halls Opera Chorus, Blackheath Halls Orchestra, Pupils from Charlton Park Academy, Royal Greenwich and Blackheath Halls Youth Choir.

Albany Theatre, Deptford; Monday 16th July 2018.

* Students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

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):