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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

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.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

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):