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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

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.

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):