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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Isouard’s <em>Cinderella</em>: Bampton Classical Opera at St John’s Smith Square
19 Sep 2018

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

Isouard’s Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John’s Smith Square

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kate Howden (Cinderella) and Bradley Smith (Prince Ramir)

Photo credit: Bampton Classical Opera (photographs taken at Bampton Deanery, July 2018)

 

We may relish our submission to fantasy but flippancy and human foolishness are necessary ingredients too, and Bampton Classical Opera, in presenting their twenty-fifth anniversary production - Cinderella, by the Franco-Maltese Nicolò Isouard who died 200 years ago at the age of 41 - have found the perfect recipe for their magic spell.

(Isouard’s three-act opéra-féerie was premiered at the Opéra-Comique on 22 nd February 1810. See my article, Bampton Classical Opera Goes to the Ball , for further information about Isouard and Cinderella.)

Jeremy Gray’s designs aptly juxtapose dull monochromes with dashing technicolour, mirroring the ugliness-beauty dichotomy embodied by the three young women who reside in the house of the ostentatious Baron de Montefiascone - here attired in shiny silver pyjamas (costumes by Jess Iliff) and played with haughty self-importance by bass Alistair Ollerenshaw. The sampler above the fire-place proclaims ‘Home Sweet Home’, but while the 1970s woolly wall-paper may be soft as silk, the mood in the kitchen is spiky and spiteful. As Cinderella (Kate Howden) labours with brushes and brooms, the Baron’s step-daughters, Clorinde (Aoife O’Sullivan) and Tisbe (Jenny Stafford), sabotage the sagging washing-line, only pausing from their malicious mischief-making to rejoice when the morning-post brings their invitations to Prince’s Ramir’s gala ball.

BCOset.jpgAlistair Ollerenshaw (Baron de Montefiascone) and Aoife O’Sullivan (Clorinde).

Despite Cinders’ despondency, Gray uses light and visual motifs to hint that Fate may be kinder than family and elevate the down-trodden lass to higher realms. In the corner of the yard stands a cubist tree offering golden apples, and as Cinders gently plucks the fruit, the branches are bathed in a pink glow which seems to suggest that the future will prove rosy. Indeed, in Act 2 the apples are transformed into magical lanterns which gleam warmly.

But, all good fairy-tales need a fairy-godmother - or, in this case, godfather, in the form of Prince Ramir’s tutor, Alidor (Nicholas Merryweather). Alidor stumbles on to the set cloaked in grubby grey rags and pushing a supermarket trolley filled with an eclectic assortment of oddments - a gramophone, bird-cage, flower-pots, a straw hat - but despite his beggar-disguise, there is no hiding Alidor’s wealth of wisdom and kindness. His royal tutee (Bradley Smith) may be an ingenue as far as romance and courtship are concerned, but just one glance at Cinders sees Prince Ramir smitten, and he can rely on Alidor to concoct a plan to win his bride.

Ramir and tree.pngBradley Smith (Prince Ramir).

Gray waves a magic wand - with a little help from a twirling ‘Mary Poppins’ whose umbrella dispenses fairy dust - to transport us to the ball, the grey fronds adorning the Baron’s walls blossoming into a forest of pink roses. Clorinde and Tisbe swap their fluffy slippers for some slinky frocks and set off in hot pursuit of their ‘Prince’, lured by the lurid gold medallion of office sported by one Dandini on his puffed-up chest, leaving Ramir free to woo Cinderella over a game of chess.

Trolley and Alidor.pngNicholas Merryweather (Alidor).

Isouard really does suggest that the devil has all the best tunes. Simple airs and romances suffice for Cinderella and her Prince, but the two sisters are blessed with characterful duets and a sparkling solo each, proving that virtue and virtuosity are certainly not bedfellows. Aoife O’Sullivan and Jenny Stafford made a wonderfully wicked pair, relishing the capricious coloratura and blending in curlicues of thirds and sixths the melodiousness of which belied the sisters’ malice. O’Sullivan demonstrated a thrilling sparkle and superb precision in Clorinde’s Act 2 show-piece which, designed to catch the Prince’s ear and eye, inspired the ball-goers to fling themselves into a bolero worthy of Torvill and Dean. Tisbe’s rueful lament in Act 3 was no less impressive and, miraculously, even managed to suggest that this harpy had a heart after all.

Nicholas Merryweather always commands a stage; thus, although we are more used to seeing and hearing the baritone in comic guise, he was a masterful mentor, using his strong baritone to convey the maturity and insight that his naïve charges lack. Merryweather also ensured that we heard every word, whether spoken or sung - even when he seemed to be singing with his mouth stuffed full with bananas. Kate Howden’s diction was less clear, but she captured Cinderella’s sweetness and warmth, singing with beautiful tone in her romances with tenor Bradley Smith’s Prince Ramir. I’d like to see both of these singers in roles which offer them greater vocal and dramatic challenges. And, the same goes for tenor Benjamin Durrant, whose Dandini would give Liberace a run for his money, and Ollerenshaw, who had little to sing but who proved a sterling foundation in the ensembles, really making his presence felt vocally. The energy and wit of Lucy Cronin and Susanne Dymott in various choral roles also made a vivid contribution to the whole.

Tisbe, Dandini, Clorinde.jpgTisbe (Jenny Stafford), Dandini (Benjamin Durrant), Clorinde (Aoife O’Sullivan).

Conductor Harry Sever made the most of Isourd’s instrumental colours and the musicians of CHROMA produced a variety of orchestral hues; I particularly enjoyed the nasally windings of the woodwind duets, and there were strong contributions from the horns (Lizzi Tocknell and Richard Bayliss) and harpist Oliver Wass. With the musicians seated behind the set and Sever visible to the cast on two side-screens, it was not surprising that the ensemble occasionally slipped. St John’s Smith Square is not a kind venue for opera, but Gray and his cast did well to overcome the challenges of space and acoustic.

Given the slightness of Isouard’s ‘drama’, we can forgive some occasional hamming in the dialogues and longer ensembles; for there was plenty of sharp wit and neat detail in Gray’s direction and Gilly French’s English translation. Unlike the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault, Isouard offers us no dark terrors, political inferences or journeys into the psyche. Simply and sincerely, his music tells a familiar tale, but such is the score’s charm that we’re drawn into a story that we’ve heard so many times before. Goodness triumphs over greed, justice over jealousy. Once again, Bampton Classical Opera have shown us that dreams really can come true.

Claire Seymour

Isouard: Cinderella

Clorinde - Aoife O’Sullivan, Tisbe - Jenny Stafford, Cinderella - Kate Howden, Prince - Bradley Smith, Dandini - Benjamin Durrant, Alidor - Nicholas Merryweather, Baron - Alistair Ollerenshaw, Chorus -Lucy Cronin, Susanne Dymott; Director/Designer - Jeremy Gray, Conductor - Harry Sever, Associate director/Choreographer - Alicia Frost, Costumes - Jess Illif, CHROMA.

St John’s Smith Square, London; Tuesday 18th September 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):