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

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

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):