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 Performances

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

24 Mar 2019

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

La forza del destino, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Jonas Kaufmann (Don Alvaro) and Anna Netrebko (Leonora)

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

The Royal Opera House’s new production of La forza del destino, directed by Christof Loy and first seen at Dutch National Opera in 2017, had been hyped to the heights since the first moment it was announced that it would reunite Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann for the first time at Covent Garden since the soprano and tenor formed a triumphant threesome with the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky in La traviata in 2008. The anticipatory buzz was amplified by gossip about tickets changing hand for crazy figures on re-sale sites, speculation about which star would cancel first, and rumours that Kaufmann had been a rare figure at rehearsals, with Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov - Netrebko’s husband, who shares the role of Don Alvaro - filling in at the dress rehearsal.

For once, though, a hyperbolic build-up did not culminate with bathos but with brilliance: consummately expressive singing which quite simply entranced and exhilarated. There is never any doubting the luxurious beauty and intense communicativeness of Anna Netrebko’s soprano but on occasion, as in last year’s Macbeth , I have longed for a little more precision to accompany the vocal glamour and shimmer. Here, however, making her role debut as Leonora, Netrebko had me transfixed with a performance in which drama was balanced by discipline, and interpretation was fired by intellect and intuitive insight in equal measure, casting a compelling vocal spell.

Netrebko Kaufmann Bill Cooper.jpg Anna Netrebko (Leonora), Jonas Kaufmann (Don Alvaro). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

From the first gestures of the dumb-show presented during the overture, Loy places Leonora at the centre of the drama and Netrebko’s vocal and physical definition of character was riveting. Though this Leonora was painfully wracked by conflicting desires and duties in ‘Me pellegrina ed orfana’, her Act 1 duet with Alvaro had an almost fierce directness. ‘Madre, pietosa Vergine’ began with a deep darkness, blossomed sweetly, then floated bewitchingly - an exquisitely elegant mezza voce - in ‘Vergine degli angeli’. Nebtrenko rose effortlessly above the orchestra’s throbbing climaxes, while the agonising intensity of ‘Pace, pace, mio Dio’ conveyed both Leonora’s fervour and her frailty with spellbinding magnetism.

Don Alvaro.jpgJonas Kaufmann (Don Alvaro). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Sweeping in through a window stage-right, as if to counter any doubts about his participation with a bold physical statement of his presence, Kaufmann was a heroic Alvaro, a little restrained at the start but expanding to encompass a magnificent range, vocally and dramatically. The tenor spins a heart-meltingly lovely line, by turns ardent and tender, the lyricism charged with tragic suffering, and, as demonstrated in Act 3’s ‘La vita e inferno’, has absolute control of his voice from the most impassioned fortissimo to the softest whisper, magically grading the diminuendo at the close. Ludovic Tézier’s Carlo was no less impressive, his glowing baritone equally commanding and absorbing as he unleashed a vengeful fury which was countered by smooth lyricism in ‘Urna fatale’; the extended duets of Act 3 - in which Kaufmann and Tézier reprised a partnership first formed in Munich in 2014 - were finely wrought dramatically and musically, and utterly compelling.

Carlo and Alvaro.jpgJonas Kaufmann (Don Alvaro), Ludovic Tézier (Don Carlo). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

And, the casting luxuries did not stop there, with several singers reprising roles that they sang in Holland including American soprano Roberta Alexander who was a splendid Curra, strongly defined and impactful, and Italian tenor Carlo Bosi as the pedlar Trabuco who arrived to sell his wares with a chutzpah worthy of a Dulcamare. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Padre Guardiano was a growling dark foil to Leonora’s sweetness, while Alessandro Corbelli was excellent as Melitone, fun but never flippant, the text clearly enunciated and gracefully phrased. It’s a shame that the Marquis of Calatrava’s death, which triggers the fateful tragedy, prevented us hearing more of Robert Lloyd’s bass which conveyed a father’s love and his demand for submission with equal conviction. And, it was good to hear Jette Parker Young Artists, Michael Mofidian, as Alcalde. Veronica Simeoni, making her ROH debut, seemed not entirely comfortable in the role of Preziosilla: though she did her best to make ‘Al suon del tamburo’ a rousing romp and danced gamely in the Rataplan chorus, sporting emerald belly-dancer pantaloons and surrounded by somersaulting acrobats in spangly top hats, she struggled to project and to reach the upper echelons of the role securely and confidently.

Leonora and Marquis of Calatrava.jpgAnna Netrebko (Leonora), Robert Lloyd (Marquis de Calatrava). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

From the pit, Sir Antonio Pappano immediately ratcheted up the tragic intensity in a surging, heated overture, and crafted the ebbs and flows of the tragedy with consummate command. Whether carousing, warring or in devotional mood, the ROH Chorus were in fine voice and entered into the spirit of the lively, sometimes rather inconsequential, tableaux and crowd scenes.

Verdi abandoned the classical unity of time, place and action in La forza, thereby creating a headache for directors who must make varied locations spanning vast geographical distances, and visited over a period of many years, cohere. Then, there’s the problem of how to assimilate the broad humour within the prevailing tragic narrative. Rather than imposing a binding ‘concept’, Christof Loy and designer Christian Schmidt seem to embrace the disunity. The white marble walls of the Calatrava home that we visit in Act 1, subsequently fall though remnants of the mansion remain in the ensuing locales as the stage becomes a palimpsest of places and periods. Costumes allude to diverse epochs and sometimes seem designed to add to the ambiguity and inconsistency.

There are just two assertive directorial gestures, the first being an extended dumbshow during the overture. Here, atop and around the long table which slices across the floor of the Calatrava palazzo, the three main characters are seen as children. As the screen rises and falls three times, destiny plants the dart which will find its target many decades later; Leonora sits, head bowed, beside a small stature of the Virgin Mary which, enlarged and aloft, will cast a deep shadow over her life. Then, as the drama unfolds, Loy offers us recurring projections which zoom in on Leonora at the moment of her father’s accidental death; the moment which thus seals her fate. But, these ‘psychological close-ups’ are distracting and unnecessary: Verdi’s music tells us all we need to know - especially as here, when it is sung and played with such power and impact.

These directorial diversions don’t really matter, though, as the singing is so absorbing. Verdi may keep his hero and heroine apart for much of the opera, as we traverse through taverns, monasteries and war zones, but when Netrebko and Kaufmann are finally united in Act 4 it certainly feels like - if not ‘fate’ exactly - then very good fortune indeed.

Claire Seymour

Verdi: La forza del destino

Leonora - Anna Netrebko, Don Alvaro - Jonas Kaufmann, Don Carlo di Vargas - Ludovic Tézier, Padre Guardiano - Ferruccio Furlanetto, Fra Melitone - Alessandro Corbelli, Preziosilla - Veronica Simeoni, Marquis of Calatrava - Robert Lloyd, Curra - Roberta Alexander, Alcalde - Michael Mofidian, Maestro Trabuco - Carlo Bosi; Original director - Christof Loy, Associate director - Georg Zlabinger, Conductor - Antonio Pappano, Designer - Christian Schmidt, Associate set designer - Federico Pacher, Lighting designer - Olaf Winter, Choreographer - Otto Pichler, Associate choreographer - Johannes Stepanek, Dramaturg - Klaus Bertisch, Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Master - William Spaulding), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London; Thursday 21st March 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):