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

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

29 Nov 2018

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

The Marriage of Figaro: Royal College of Music, Britten Theatre

A review by Claire Seymour

 

This autumn, though, ‘canonic’ composers have dominated the programming. The Royal Academy offered us Olivia Fuchs’ sharply observed Semele for the smart-phone age. And, now, following the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s presentation of Così fan tutte, the Royal College of Music have similarly elected to test themselves in Mozartian waters with this charming production of The Marriage of Figaro.

In the GSMD’s Così, director Oliver Platt eschewed rococo elegance for rowdier revelry, taking us to a 1950’s hot-spot, Alfonso’s Bar , located near a US naval base in the South Pacific. Sir Thomas Allen plumps for tradition and his designer, Lottie Higlett, transforms the RCM’s Britten Theatre into Count Almaviva’s eighteenth-century chateau, taking us on a tour which starts in the tiny, dilapidated garret where Figaro and Susanna will begin married life, continues in the spacious elegance of the Countess’s boudoir, and finishes amid the graceful trellises of the garden - skilfully arranged to allow for sleight of hand and eye, as the nocturnal intriguers carry out their machinations and reconciliations bathed in designer Rory Beaton’s beautiful moonlight glow.

Both sets and costumes are superb. And, by cleverly opening up the depth of the stage when we leave the shabby attic - with its single bed (will there be room for a double, Figaro ponders?), thread-bare chair and rather forlorn mannequin upon which Susanna’s wedding veil perches expectantly - and enter the stately sumptuousness of the Countess’s bedroom, Higlett emphasises the class tensions and injustices which propel the drama. The colour schemes are beguiling, with Susanna’s simple sky-blue dress set against the rose-gold luxuries of the aristocracy. And, the cast wear their frock-coats and fineries with confidence and style; they’ve clearly worked very hard at the particulars of characterisation and the production has been meticulously rehearsed.

I struggle, however, to say anything of import or interest about Sir Thomas Allen’s direction - other than that he has evidently exercised what must be described as a ‘light touch’. Nothing wrong with that, of course - indeed, we often have cause to lament directorial dabbling and conceptual muddling. But, it’s a credit to the singers’ alertness and rapport that, especially in Acts 3 and 4, the drama was so engaging, for they seemed to have been largely left to their own devices. Allen’s only ‘intervention’, as far as I could see, is the introduction of several ‘babes-in-arms’ - or, in the case of the Countess, a babe-in-a-crib which is whipped away by a nursemaid (is that why she’s ‘off-limits’ for the Count at this time, leading to his extra-marital forays?). Among the chorus who serenade the Countess and celebrate the weddings, there are several young girls whose arms are encumbered by a swaddled child: a reminder of the welcome responsibilities of married life, or a warning perhaps that romance ends with wedlock? Certainly, the risks of indulging one’s passions are evident, as Marcellina palpitates on the bed during ‘La vendetta’ - Bartolo’s wish for revenge firing her own desire for Figaro - and the Countess almost expires from an overdose of sensual craving aroused by Cherubino’s serenading.

During the performance there was much excellent singing to admire, but I had misgivings as proceedings got underway as conductor Michael Rosewell (Director of Opera at the RCM Opera Studio) seemed determined to make a dramatic impact at the expense of idiomatic style. The overture was fast and unremittingly loud, but where was the elegance and wit of phrasing, the grace of line, the carefully delineated contrasts of colour and timbre? Accents were hammered home and the relentless tempo and temperature adversely affected the ensemble and intonation. There was little sense that the structure of the overture might articulate its own, and the opera’s, drama; impact was favoured over inference. Fortunately, though the pit was very ‘present’ throughout the performance, things settled down, the woodwind and horn tuning improved, and there was some pleasing playing as the evening progressed.

Adam Maxey has a handsome baritone, a relaxed manner, and - being of imposing height - a strong stage presence, but he needed to use greater variety of colour and dynamic to define Figaro’s character and his response to the unfolding drama more precisely. As Susanna, Julieth Lozano stole the show. Her soprano has a juicy middle range and there were flashes of real brightness at the top; she controlled the vocal line as skilfully as she commanded events. Indeed, this was not a Susanna to be messed with, as Conall O’Neill’s disconcerted Antonio discovered when she ripped his potted geranium to shreds when he frustrated her plans and wishes. But, Susanna’s charm was equally apparent and ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ was beautifully sung.

I first enjoyed Sarah-Jane Brandon’s singing in 2010 when she performed with Mark Morris’s Dance Group in Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato at the London Coliseum, and since then she’s been a frequent and rewarding presence on London’s concert and opera stages. She seemed out of sorts, though, in ‘Porgi, amor’ which, while controlled and firm of tone, lacked Brandon’s usual sensitivity of phrasing and colour. That she was unwell was confirmed when the cause for the extended interval was revealed by an announcement that Brandon would be replaced in Acts 3 and 4 by Josephine Goddard (the Countess in the alternative cast). Goddard demonstrated impressive variety of tone and the poignancy of ‘Dove sono’ was enhanced by some lovely pianissimo nuances.

Harry Thatcher was a convincing Count, complex, angry, frustrated and repentant. He was no fool, but he was outwitted, and his growing irritation and confusion was skilfully delineated by Thatcher in Act 3, culminating in a fiery but stylish ‘Vedro mentr’io sospiro’. This was a thoughtful characterisation, one which encouraged us to both condemn and understand, and ‘Contessa perdano’ was touching. Thatcher’s elegant bearing and urbanity were tempered with genuine human feeling, and we were inclined to forgive this Count for his frailties.

Lauren Joyanne Morris has a full, rich mezzo but she didn’t entirely persuade me in the role of Cherubino. A little too tall to be gamine, Morris did not seem to have determined precisely how to convey the page’s adolescent yearning - perhaps a little more direction would have helped. She sang strongly, but I’d have preferred a lighter approach, particularly in ‘Non so più’ which needs to sound both youthfully innocent and slightly breathless with a passion barely understood. Poppy Shotts was excellent as Barbarina, and her Act 4 aria ‘L’ho perduta, me meschina’ was confident and poised.

The comic trio entered into the Christmas-panto spirit, though the young singers inevitably found it a challenge to really convince as aged intriguers. Katy Thomson defined Marcellina strongly, though occasionally over-did the Hyacinth Bucket caricature. Timothy Edlin was terrific as Bartolo, relishing ‘La vendetta’ - and he was more dramatically persuasive when he removed his tricorn hat and we could see Bartolo’s bald pate and stringy curls. Joel Williams, as Basilio, completed the fine cast.

This was a long but enjoyable performance. The cast worked incredibly hard, to good effect, and the drama grew in charm and shine as the evening progressed. Tradition proved a real treat.

Claire Seymour

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro

Count Almaviva - Harry Thatcher, Countess Rosina - Sarah-Jane Brandon/Josephine Goddard, Susanna - Julieth Lozano, Figaro - Adam Maxey, Cherubino - Lauren Joyanne Morris, Marcellina - Katy Thomson, Bartolo - Timothy Edlin, Basilio - Joel Williams, Don Curzio - Samuel Jenkins, Barbarina - Poppy Shotts, Antonio - Conall O’Neill, Bridesmaid 1/Chorus - Camilla Harris, Bridesmaid 2/Chorus - Jessica Cale; Director - Sir Thomas Allen, Conductor - Michael Rosewell, Designer - Lottie Higlett, Lighting Designer - Rory Beaton, Choreographer - Kate Flatt, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal College of Music Opera Studio.

The Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; Monday 26th November 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):