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 Performances

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

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.

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.

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”.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Soraya Mafi (Flora) and Marcy Stonikas (Miss Jessel) [Photo by Philip Newton]
17 Oct 2018

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?

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

A review by Roger Downey

Above: Soraya Mafi (Flora) and Marcy Stonikas (Miss Jessel)

Photos by Philip Newton

 

That was the state of play as act one of Seattle Opera’s new-ish staging of The Turn of the Screw ended. As we drifted out into the watery-sun-filled lobby of Marion McCaw Hall, I’m sure many old-timers like me (and there a lot of old-timers at Saturday matinées here) were pondering the same paradox as I: How could the dazzling local 1994 première staging of this work – Lauren Flanagan, Joyce Castle, Cyndia Sieden, Mark Lamos, John Conklin, Robert Wierzel, all at the top of their form, Richard Bradshaw in the pit – remain so much more vivid in memory 24 years later than what we’d just experienced minutes before?

When we returned to our seats – some didn’t – we were quickly reawakened. In the first act the performers had hardly been able to move beyond sparse bright-lit patches without being swallowed by the shadows of Adam Larsen’s dim, grim projections of ravaged trees and shrubbery, of architecture more penal than domestic, more Piranesi than Palladio.

In act two, Peter Kazaras’s blocking allowed them to escape, make contact. For both them and the watcher it was like being allowed for the first time to breathe freely, to feel how Britten’s extraordinarily pictorial score shivers up from the pit, hot and cold, caressing and creepy at the same time. German-born conductor Constantin Trinks may have been trying to energize the first act as well, but if so not much was getting through. In any case it was enough to keep the musical tension growing right up to the final, creepy end.

That said, it was not a staging that made the most of its resources. The costuming, by Deborah Trout, was peculiar enough to be distracting. At first the clothes seemed to suggest a post-WWII Britain. As the Governess, soprano Elizabeth Caballero spent almost the whole show in a salmon-colored twinset (no pearls) and a garish green and white lino-print skirt. Along with her stiffly-permed processed-blonde hair, the outfit made her look a great deal more like a baby-sitter than a tutor and role model.

The dithering housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, by contrast, was given rather sumptuous gowns to wear, turning the social positions of the two ladies completely upside down and rendering her occasional lapses into submissive and servant-y language inconsistent and jarring.

181009_TurnofScrew_1220_PN.jpgElizabeth Caballero (The Governess) and Rafi Bellamy Plaice (Miles)

The oddity never really went away. The phantasm of the amoral footman Peter Quint looked like a hybrid of Mr. Rochester and Lady Chatterley’s lover, until turning up dressed like a Regency buck. His ghostly victim-accomplice Miss Jessel started off looking like a Renaissance portrait of a lady but rapidly descended into raddled dishevelment.

Henry James’s 1898 novella is set in a world that travels by carriage and communicates by letters by hand. Tweaks that take it out of that world just render it implausible, and a ghost story has to be plausible to work at all.

Director Kazaras does manage in the second act to get some dramatic oomph out of Larsen’s looming projections. Aided by Connie Yun’s lighting design, he turns the house of Bly itself into the threat, and the ghosts into just as much victims of its malice as the living inhabitants.

For whatever reason, though, he has not managed to allow his singers to make much of a mark. Even at his most diabolically inspired, creating ever-evolving loops and whorls of seductive menace, Britten makes dazzling waves, but the singers only ride the frisson like surfers, never able to command it.

Roger Downey


Cast and production information:

The Governess: Elizabeth Caballero; Mrs Grose: Maria Zifchak; The Gentleman/Peter Quint: Ben Bliss; Miss Jessel: Marcy Stonikas; Miles: Forrest Wu (October 14 performance). Flora: Soraya Mafi. Stage director: Peter Kazaras; Set: Robert A Dahlstrom; Projections: Adam Larsen; Lighting: Connie Yun: Costumes: Deborah Trout. Principal players of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Conductor Constantin Trinks. Performance of October 14, 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):