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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

17 Dec 2018

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.

Thea Musgrave’s A Christmas Carol at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Closing scene of A Christmas Carol

 

The Conservatoire’s season focus, Venus Blazing , is a pledge that during this academic year, of the operatic, classical and jazz music performed, at least 50% will be by women composers. One can see why Thea Musgrave thought that A Christmas Carol had musico-dramatic potential. There are ready-made ‘set-pieces’ such as the Christmas parties and the Cratchits’ lament; the characters are larger-than life, ‘operatic’, though they are never caricatures - this is a very human story. Moreover, it’s one that speaks to and of our time as much as Dickens’ own. A growing gap between rich and poor, homelessness, poverty, food banks: plus ça change? In Dickens’ parable, Ebenezer Scrooge - a man of ‘grasping, scraping, clutching’ greed, suffers a dark night of reckoning which leads him to right his wrongs and make recompense: perhaps a few venture capitalists, chief executives and stock brokers might take note.

One can understand, too, why the opera lends itself to a student performance. Musgrave’s vocal lines are eminently sing-able, the inflections natural and persuasive. With role-doubling, the opera can be performed by a cast of just seven, but there are more than forty characters offering opportunities for a large cast to get involved and supplying some handy supernumeraries for the scene-shifting.

Theo Perry Scrooge as a Young Man.jpgTheo Perry (Scrooge as a Young Man).

Not that there was much of the latter in Jennifer Hamilton’s production; Scrooge would surely have approved of the frugality of Ian Sommerville’s designs which made economical use of a few props - a ledger desk, a kitchen table, a curtained four-poster, a sumptuous armchair - to identify the narrative’s locales, as we moved from Scrooge’s workplace and home, to the Cratchits’ and Fezziwigs’ dwellings, and through London’s streets which thronged with charity collectors, factory girls, delivery boys, rag-and-bone men, city gents and urchins.

A back-wall of crumbling brick, Sommerville’s dramatic use of shadow and Jack Sommerville’s Doré-inspired projects evoked the bleakness of mid-Victorian London, the grim, fog-bound reality occasionally alleviated by a symbolic splash of colour, such as Tiny Tim’s trailing crimson scarf. The realism took a surreal turn with the ghostly visitations, as the eerie Spirits climbed a central staircase to trouble the sleeping Scrooge with memories of childhood suffering and visions of the cemetery where he would be lain to rest, unloved, un-mourned. After such darkness, the bold brightness of the concluding Christmas Party was as transformative as The Wizard of Oz’s technicolour.

Space considerations led conductor John Pryce-Jones to pare down Musgrave’s chamber orchestra scoring still further, and with just one string player per part the instrumental textures were rather wind-dominated, with strongly defined piano and harp contributions, though the strings were silkily sentimental when required. The large percussion section, positioned stage-right, issued a brutal battering during Scrooge’s breakdown at the end of the first Act and pounded a spine-chilling warning when the Spirit of Christmas Future appeared, accompanied by the wretched figures of Poverty and Want. In many ways it is Musgrave’s instrumental music that tells the story - bells ring out the strange retrograde of Scrooge’s surreal nightmare and a clarion peal colours the concluding Christmas feast - and the score was finely played. Pryce-Jones was alert to every detail and created strong narrative impetus.

Giuseppe Pellingra Ebenezer Scrooge .jpg Giuseppe Pellingra (Ebenezer Scrooge).

Giuseppe Pellingra’s Ebenezer Scrooge trod a convincing path from bullying to benevolence, acting courageously with voice, body and soul. He found a range of colours to convey the miser’s belligerence and spitefulness, his baritone glowing with a darkness that cowered Scrooge’s employees and repelled his relatives. Pellingra worked hard with the text - the diction of the cast was unanimously excellent - and was not afraid to spit and snarl. If occasionally the phrasing lacked refinement or there was a little coarseness of tone, then perhaps that’s how it should be as Scrooge defiantly scorns the visions of his past misdemeanours. But, his reflections on his errors require a greater lyricism if they are to persuade us of the conversion of Scrooge’s cold heart.

Sandeep Gurrapadi’s tenor bloomed with paternal warmth at the heart of the Cratchit family home as Bob hugged Rachel Maby’s colourful, good-humoured Mrs Cratchit and teased his children, who were vividly characterised and richly sung by Sofia Celenza (Belinda), Megan Linnell (Martha), Blaize O’Callaghan (Harriet) and Oliver Kotla (Peter). Gurrapadi’s deeply expressive response to the death of Tiny Tim (William Beckingham-Hughes) was equalled by the eloquence of the ensemble lament.

Sandeep Gurrapadi Bob Cratchit.jpgSandeep Gurrapadi (Bob Cratchit).

There was much strong characterisation. As Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, Theo Perry sang with a lovely freshness and clarity, and acted convincingly as a younger Scrooge. Belle’s extended scene, in which her neglect and rejection by Scrooge are re-enacted, was sung with compelling intensity by Arianna Rebecca Firth, accompanied by some passionate string playing. In ash-flecked white tails and top hat, Lars Fischer cut a Mephistophelian figure as Marley’s Ghost, issuing stentorian spoken warnings. Scrooge’s sister, Fan, was neatly sung by Valva Datenyté.

The harrowing hauntings by the Spirits of Christmas Past (Eleanor Strutt, a Grim Reaper who ripped a post from Scrooge’s bed to use as a staff of admonishment), Present (Isabella Morgan, who emerged clad in emerald foliage, from the forest of Scrooge’s nightmare), and Future (Melissa Davies) were strikingly sudden and stark. Morgan and Strutt joined Michael Collins (Mr Fezziwig) and Nicola Jane Roberts (Mollie) in the dancing at the Fezziwigs’ family party, and Musgrave offered further, similarly rousing, pastiche during the final festivities when Fred, his wife Rosie (Liberty Spears) and other relatives (Anna Marmion as Lucy, Eleanor Rosser-Smyth as Vickie, Rose Clarke-Williams as Bertie, Rachel Colley as Aunt Louise) entertained themselves with parlour songs and charades.

The final scene was a comforting Christmas card tableau as the Spirits took up position within a gilded frame above the roaring fireplace. Merry Christmas one and all. Though I’m not sure that Scrooge’s scissor-kick of glee was quite apt: Dickens was as much preacher as novelist, and Ebenezer Scrooge needs to have psychological credibility. And, Dickens’ fight has not yet been won, as Margaret Atwood has suggested, ‘“Scrooge Lives!” we might write on our T-shirts.’

Claire Seymour

Thea Musgrave: A Christmas Carol

Ebenezer Scrooge - Giuseppe Pellingra, Fred/Scrooge as a Young Man - Theo Perry, Bob Cratchit - Sandeep Gurrapadi, Mrs Cratchit - Rachel Maby, Belinda Cratchit - Sofia Celenza, Martha Cratchit - Megan Linnell, Harriet Cratchit - Blaize O’Callaghan, Peter Cratchit - Oliver Kotla, Tiny Tim - William Beckingham-Hughes, Mr Fezziwig/Portly Gentleman - Michael Collins, Mrs Fezziwig/Spirit of Christmas Future - Eleanor StruttLiza Fezziwig/Spirit of Christmas Present - Isabelle Morgan, Mollie Fezziwig - Nicola Jane Roberts, Fan -Valva Datenyté, Marley’s Ghost/Marley - Lars Fischer, Aunt Louise - Rachel Colley, Rosie - Liberty Spears, Lucy - Anna Marmion, Vicky - Eleanor Rosser-Smyth, Bertie - Rose Clarke-Williams, Spirit of Christmas Future/Starving Woman - Melissa Davies, Mr Dorrit - Robert Lydon, Charwoman/Great Aunt Ermintrude - Rhian Davies, Fat Man/Topper - Konrad Jaromin, Man with Red Face - Yanou Pauwels, Laundress - Gemma Wahl, Dick Wilkins/Man with Snuff-box - Alexander White, Factory Girl - Charlotte Bröker, Factory Boy - Pablo Boira-Boulding, Scrooge as a Young Boy - Kay Allan, Joe/The Rag-and-Bone Man/Mr Gabriel Grub - Niall Windass, Paper Boy - Tom Hornby, Children under the Cloak - Beth Clarke-Williams/Max Glasser-Batdorff, Carollers and Children’s Chorus; Director - Jennifer Hamilton, Conductor - John Pryce-Jones, Set & Lighting Designer - Ian Sommerville, Projection - Jack Sommerville, Costume Designer - Jo Robinson, Orchestra of Trinity Laban.

Laban Theatre, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London; Saturday 15th December 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):