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

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.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Feb 2019

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Così fan tutte: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Gyula Orendt as Guglielmo, Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso, Paolo Fanale as Ferrando

Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey

 

Sir Thomas Beecham was probably over-egging it a little when he described Così fan tutte as resembling “a long summer day spent in a cloudless land by a southern sea”. Very little - actually none - of that comes across in this production, but there is something to be said for the lithe, effortless way in which the conductor, Stefano Montanari, keeps the music moving. The delicacy of Mozart’s scoring, the beautiful - almost tangy - woodwind phrasing were played like lyrical instrumental waves rippling through the orchestra. This had the benefit of focusing attention on Mozart’s glorious ensembles and arias which sounded fresh enough to leap off the pages of the score - and there was no lack of soul-searching in many of the solos. Beecham may have been right after all.

Cosi 2 2019.jpgPaolo Fanale as Ferrando, Serena Malfi as Dorabella. Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

I’ve always rather sided with those - perhaps an unfashionable view to hold these days - who find the libretto and plot of Così slightly weak and rather concocted. Given the length of the opera, Mozart - rather uncharacteristically - doesn’t develop the motives of fidelity and honour completely satisfactorily. But that is not to say there aren’t complex attitudes towards femininity and love because there are. Gloger’s production does little to enlighten us, however. There is perhaps some truth in the view that Mozart was a largely theatrical composer when he came to writing his operas so Gloger’s idea of setting the whole work in Alfonso’s ‘theatre’ seems a logical extension of this. But that overwhelming ambition Gloger has to be theatrical glosses over what is so disturbing about this opera. Often, I thought I was sitting through scenes from a Comedy of Errors or a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gloger’s production is so literally theatrical it forgets that Così is a heavily ambivalent opera, almost a little unnerving in its treatment of women. It’s such a comic tour de force (and this production is very funny, the play between Orendt’s Guglielmo and Fanale’s Ferrando almost recalling Laurel and Hardy at times) that self-knowledge is either taken for granted or simply elided over altogether.

For Gloger, Don Alfonso’s theatre is viewed entirely as an experiment, a laboratory in which to match-make and explore the complexities of love and fidelity. Arguably, his reasoning has as much to do with the psychology of the process as it does with the emotional circumstances of it but it’s the very concept of the multiple scene changes which makes the whole production such a chaotic - and often crowded - flop. It begins off stage from one of the opera boxes which, depending on your point of view, either draws the audience in, or does the opposite; likewise, a tendency to place the scenery to the forefront pushes the singers too far forward for no demonstrable purpose other than to make the production seem small in scale. Proscenium arches give height, but they’re often so bleak - a simple black brick wall, for example - that the singers seem to be squeezed into the centre of them as if you’re watching them on a television screen. A railway station with a vast clock is almost occluded in smoke; a brightly lit steel-framed cocktail bar (rather better done by Bieito, I seem to remember), a semi-wilting tree with an unconvincing serpent wrapped around it didn’t really convince me. Muscled stage hands, with tattoos, or cigarettes between their lips, shifting scenery or drawing up backdrops merely add to the clutter.

Where the production has a strength is that it advances the contemporaneous nature of relationships from its original setting. The idea that a modern day Così might demonstrate that couplings can be torn apart by infidelity and betrayal isn’t revolutionary but Gloger stops short of being truly shocking as Bieito (in his Don Giovanni) didn’t. Gloger’s Guglielmo ends up becoming a slightly tragic figure for whom love is an empty vacuum; Ferrando comes closest to the ideal of faithfulness but only because he recognizes he is in danger of abandoning it altogether. Dorabella doesn’t seem to know what she wants. Fiordiligi becomes the most deceitful and confused of all. Alfonso’s experiment might be seen as the masterful duplicity and manipulation that it is - just as Despina’s disguises are masks of elaborate confusion. All of these aspects of love collide and entangle in this production even if you don’t necessarily grasp it by the end.

Serena Malfi as Dorabella.jpgSerena Malfi as Dorabella. Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

In a way, it’s quite surprising given how I generally didn’t warm to the production how riveting I found much of singing. Much of this was beautifully sung - and exquisitely - if perhaps - a little over-acted. Così fan tutte undeniably contains some of Mozart’s most ravishing music and the casting here was nigh ideal in balancing the voice colours. There was some unanimity in the bass-baritone of Gyula Orendt’s Guglielmo and the tenor Paolo Fanale’s Ferrando - the parallels of warmth and contrast to the voices were like the equivalent of a harmonious echo. Salome Jicia’s Fiordiligi was gloriously pitched, Serena Malfi’s Dorabella a little more understated - but rich enough and fully convincing. Thomas Allen’s voice has waned a little - but no one sings the role of Alfonso with more irony, or sheer joy - and today there are just hints of tragic overtones to it. Serena Gamberoni’s Despina was a glorious portrait in wit and soubrette and deliciously funny.

That richness in Serena Malfi’s voice was magnificent in ‘Smanie implacabili’ - taken with a beautiful soaring line and an almost tragic intensity. Stefano Montanari tended to drive the music fast - especially in Act I - so if Malfi were intent on bringing some added depth to her singing it wasn’t always apparent. The prominence that Montanari gave to the woodwind, however, was often a sublime foil against the warmer richness of Malfi’s voice - even at these brisk tempos. Oddly, he seemed to slow down for Ferrando’s ‘Un’aura amarosa’ which was perhaps the highlight of Act I. The sheer beauty, the beguiling tonal colour, the careful phrasing and the ability to hold the most exquisitely shaped pianissimo were simply jaw-dropping. It’s the only time throughout the opera you felt a singer was entirely drawing the audience into this rather self-destructive world - a quite magical moment. If there was a wonderful serenity to much of Fanale’s singing - and he never really felt constrained by the intensely lyrical size of his tenor voice - Orendt’s Guglielmo rather revelled in the vast comic scale of his arias. It’s not just that the voice is so large, but it’s that it also has such a developed and innate sense of character. The voice can sound mocking one moment - almost like a foil to Thomas Allen’s Don Alfonso - but the next it seems to imitate the orchestra - how some of Orendt’s notes rang out against some of the brass fanfares, as if in a comic duet, was thrilling. Salome Jicia was colossal in her ‘Fra gli amplessi pochi astanti’ - thrilling in her high notes and riding over the orchestra, somehow seeking to assert her dominance over both the men as her prospective lovers.

Stefano Montanari - making his house debut - managed to get the Royal Opera House orchestra to play with a lightness of touch which was admirable. The opening to Act II can - in the wrong hands - sound like a Bruckner adagio and Montanari came close to making it do so. But at his best, which was much of the time, this was a performance of the score that was fleet and, shrewdly, highlighted individual instruments within the orchestra. There was a period feel to all this - without it overtly being one.

Covent Garden’s Così fan tutte is one that is predominantly rescued by the singing and conducting; it would, largely, sink without a trace if that weren’t the case.

Marc Bridle

Paolo Fanale - Ferrando, Gyula Orendt - Guglielmo, Thomas Allen - Don Alfonso, Salome Jicia - Fiordiligi, Serena Malfi - Dorabella, Serena Gamberoni - Despina; Jan Phillip Gloger - Director, Stefano Montanari - Conductor, Julia Burbach - Revival Director, Ben Bauer - Set Designer, Karin Jud - Costume Designer, Bernd Purkrabek - Lighting Designer, Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; 25th February 2019.

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):