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

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

Lise Davidsen: A superlative journey through the art of song

Are critics capable of humility? The answer should always be yes, yet I’m often surprised how rare it seems to be. It took the film critic of The Sunday Times, Dilys Powell, several decades to admit she had been wrong about Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, a film excoriated on its release in 1960. It’s taken me considerably less time - and largely because of this astounding recital - to realise I was very wrong about Lise Davidsen.

Parsifal in Toulouse

Aurélien Bory, director of a small, avant garde theater company in Toulouse, staged a spellbinding Parsifal at the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse’s famed Orchestre National du Capitole in the pit — FYI the Capitole is Toulouse’s city hall, the opera house is a part of it.

An Evening with Rosina Storchio: Ermonela Jaho at Wigmore Hall

‘The world’s most acclaimed Soprano’: the programme booklet produced for Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut was keen to emphasise the Albanian soprano’s prestigious status, as judged by The Economist, and it was standing-room only at the Hall which was full to capacity with Jaho’s fervent fans and opera-lovers.

Schumann Symphonies, influenced by song

John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann series with the London Symphony Orchestra, demonstrate the how Schumann’s Lieder and piano music influenced his approach to symphonic form and his interests in music drama.

Parsifal in Palermo

Richard Wagner chose to finish his Good Friday opera while residing in Sicily’s Palermo, partaking of the natural splendors of its famed verdant basin, the Conca d’Oro, and reveling in the golden light of its surreal Monreale cathedral.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts a magnificent Siegfried

“Siegfried is the Man of the Future, the man we wish, the man we will, but cannot make, and the man who must create himself through our annihilation.” This was Richard Wagner, writing in 1854, his thoughts on Siegfried. The hero of Wagner’s Siegfried, however, has quite some journey to travel before he gets to the vision the composer described in that letter to August Roeckel. Watching Torsten Kerl’s Siegfried in this - largely magnificent - concert performance one really wondered how tortuous a journey this would be.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Rome

Shakespearean sentiments may gracefully enrich Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet, but powerful Baroque tensions enthrall us in the bel canto complexities of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Conductor Daniele Gatti’s offered a truly fine bel canto evening at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera introducing a trio of fine young artists.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali makes versatile debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been making waves internationally for some time. The chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is set to take over from Esa-Pekka Salonen as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2021.

Tristan und Isolde in Bologna

East German stage director Ralf Pleger promised us a Tristan unlike anything we had ever seen. It was indeed. And Slovakian conductor Jura Valčuha gave us a Tristan as never before heard. All of this just now in the most Wagnerian of all Italian cities — Bologna!


Seductively morbid – The Fall of the House of Usher in The Hague

What does it feel like to be depressed? “It’s like water seeping into my heart” is how one young sufferer put it.

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):