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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>West Side Story</em>: BBC Prom 39, John Wilson Orchestra
12 Aug 2018

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

West Side Story: BBC Prom 39, John Wilson Orchestra

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Cast of West Side Story, John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

The John Wilson Orchestra Prom is a greatly anticipated annual highlight of the Proms season, and in recent years Wilson and his band have celebrated the music of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and, in 2015, Bernstein himself ( Bernstein: Stage and Screen ). The concert was billed in some sources as the first time that Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s complete concert version of the musical had been performed in the UK - though Bernstein-protégé Justin Brown conducted the LSO in a Collins Classics summer pops performance in 1990, with Derek Chessor (Riff), Cynthia Hayman (Maria) and Kurt Streit (Tony) in the leading roles. But, perhaps on that occasion the score was truncated - and it matters not: this was certainly the first complete performance of this version at the Proms, and Wilson and his musicians didn’t disappoint those who had reportedly been queueing since the early hours for day-passes. The RAH was packed to the rafters for the evening performance, the second of two that day, and the audience made their prior excitement and subsequent appreciation heartily felt and heard.

Wilson’s baton is a live wire: it jives with the silky slipperiness of the most sinuous snake, ducking and diving, neatly and niftily. With an occasional tight sway and precise, sometimes miniscule movements, Wilson indicates his intent with economy and authority, and every player knows exactly what he wants. The twenty-one violins and eighteen cellos and double basses played with plush richness; woodwind solos had space to sing; the bright big-band brassiness was alternately polished and rasping; the two percussionists juggled the panoply of chimes, maracas, whistles, cymbals and sundry sound-makers with calm dexterity. Quite simply, I felt as if I was wallowing in orchestral luxury from the first off-beat pizzicatos which initiate the Prologue to the violins’ pianissimo reminiscence of a fragment of ‘Somewhere’ which brings the tragedy to a close.

John Wilson Chris Christodoulou_2 (1).jpgJohn Wilson. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

Tempi were on the swift side which was great for ‘Something’s Coming’ and ‘The Dance at the Gym’ but, while it might be judged that the up-tempo ‘Maria’ communicated the impetuousness of Tony’s passion, ‘Tonight’ needed a little more spaciousness for the phrases, and the singers, to breathe. In the latter, though, the voices of Mikaela Bennett (Maria) and Ross Lekites (Tony) blended with beguiling ease.

Tony and Maria.jpgRoss Lekites (Tony) and Mikaela Bennett (Maria). Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

After the pre-season ‘fuss’ about casting - which saw Olivier-award nominated Sierra Boggess (Phantom of the Opera, The Little Mermaid, and House of Rock) withdraw from the role after criticism that Latina/o actors had been overlooked - Bennett proved an open-hearted, pure-toned Maria, who kept her vibrato in check at moments of romantic innocence and sincerity (‘One Hand, One Heart’), soared with beautiful sweetness, and made ‘I Feel Pretty’ more convincing that it sometimes is, aided by some terrifically expressive string accompaniment.

Anita.jpgEden Espinosa (Anita). Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

Lekites (moonlighting from Frozen on Broadway) made good use of his high baritone to convey just the right note of frankness and naivety, and had sufficient heft to hint at the heights of Tony’s romantic ardour, though there was little ‘chemistry’ between this pair of star-crossed lovers. Eden Espinosa was a vivid Anita, at least vocally, though not entirely convincing dramatically; that said, ‘America’ suffered particularly from the absence of a stage milieu, and in terms of orchestral flair this number was stunning. What wonderful orchestrations Bernstein, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal devised between them - it seemed that the double basses might achieve rocket-style lift-off from their stools as they attacked the triplet syncopations with true panache and gusto. Alistair Brammeri and his fellow Jets whipped through ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ with spice and punch. And, while I was wondering why Louise Alder had been drafted in to sing ‘Somewhere’, she appeared in the organ loft and sang, literally, like an angel - and my unasked questions evaporated into the ether, extinguished by the pure luminosity of her soprano.

LA WSS Prom.jpgLouise Alder (soprano; ‘Somewhere’). Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

This might have been a ‘concert’ version, but stage director Stephen Whitson made use of every RAH stair-well, balcony and platform. What was ‘missing’ however, was dramatic context. There was no dialogue, excepting some spoken text over the sung numbers and one or two introductory phrases (perhaps this was fortunate, as the amplification volume button was turned up so high the spoken text would surely have become as muddied as some of the busier orchestral dialogues, which were at times cloudy despite Wilson’s fine baton-work).

And, though the cast were costumed - tight coloured ti-shirts for the muscled Jets and Sharks, ’50s frocks (some more flattering than others) for the ladies - there was little sense of the upper West Side Manhattan milieu, or the urban tensions between the white Americans and Puerto Rican immigrants which underpin the dramatic frissons. The latter find expression not just in Laurents’ book and Sondheim’s skilful lyrics, and, of course, in the score itself, but also in Jerry Robbins’ choreography - a veritable narrative ballet - and the absence of the danced expression and drama was a more serious deficiency - all the more so as for last year’s Oklahoma! it had proved possible to stage all elements that form the ‘whole show’. The second act suffered especially from the lack of theatrical context, for here the dramatic structure needs all the constituent parts to be pulling their weight. The tragic denouement seemed to take the Hall unawares, and lacked gravitas and pathos. We did have a ‘Chorus’ - the students of ArtsEd and Mountview theatre schools - tiered behind the orchestra stage-right, though their slightly clumsy choreographed ups-and-downs and ‘dramatic gestures’ didn’t make much impact.

WSS Chorus.jpgStudents from ArtsEd and Mountview. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

One positive outcome of these mildly irritating short-comings was that the emphasis was thrown on the music - Bernstein’s wonderful eclectic fusion and Wilson’s heart-winning rendition of it. As Nigel Simeone recalled in his programme article, when Kenneth Tynan saw West Side Story on Broadway in 1958 he described the score as ‘smooth and savage as a cobra’. Perhaps a little more grit, even vulgar earthiness, would not have gone amiss at times, but who could not relish such lustrous lavishness and sweetness as we enjoyed.

Claire Seymour

Bernstein: West Side Story (concert version)

Maria - Mikaela Bennett, Tony - Ross Lekites, Anita - Eden Espinosa, Riff - Leo Roberts, Bernado - Gian Marco Schiaretti, Rosalia - Emma Kingston, Francisca - Laila Zaidi, Consuelo - Jocasta Almgill, Snowboy/Big Deal - Christopher Jordan Marshall, Action - Alistair Brammer, Baby John - Jack North, Diesel - Michael Colbourne, A-Rab - Fra Fee, Officer Krupke - Phil Barnett, Louise Alder - soprano (‘Somewhere’); John Wilson (conductor), Stephen Whitson (stage director), John Wilson Orchestra, students from ArtsEd and Mountview.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Saturday 11th August 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):