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

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.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

05 Mar 2019

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.

Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, English Touring Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Mary Plazas and the ETO Chorus

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

 

Donizetti had several stabs at historical non-verisimilitude, in a ‘trilogy’ comprising Anna Bolena (1830), Maria Stuarda (1835) and Robert Devereux (1837), and in an earlier opera, Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (1829), based on Walter Scott's Kenilworth, in which Donizetti dramatised Elizabeth I’s infatuation with the young Earl of Leicester.

When one reflects, though, it’s not difficult to see why the Italians might have been so captivated by Tudor treasons and treacheries, for they offered a roll call of fated heroines, copious jealousies and intrigues, and plentiful palaces and posh frocks. Moreover, the hyperbolic emotions on display, from rage and despair, were perfect fodder for coloratura excess. And, of course, many protagonists lose their heads - either literally or in folly and madness. Perhaps, too, the Italians - with their country divided and largely ruled by overseas powers until re-unification in 1861 - empathised with those Tudor Brits who had defied Rome and gone their own way. Focusing on a foreign past was one way to divert the censors who might object to any hint of contemporary political comment.

Unfortunately, Rossini’s Elizabetta, regina d’Inghilterra (1815) is not the best example of bel canto foraging into Elizabethan intrigues. The 23-year-old composer seems to have set out to impress the theatre-goers in Naples with this opera - the first of nine Rossini wrote for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples - by gathering together some of his ‘best tunes’ to date, for self-borrowings abound. The overture was recycled from the composer’s Aureliano in Palmira (1813) and was put to further use in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and the Queen’s first aria sees her running through the roulades of Rosina’s ‘Una voce poco fa’. The opera was innovative in some regards; for example, Rossini abandoned unaccompanied recitatives, though the accompanied ones that replace them are hardly inspired. Moreover, the casting was determined by Rossini’s need to give star roles to the San Carlo’s legendary ‘three tenors’, who were similarly served in Otello, Armida, La donna del lago and Ricciardo e Zoraide.

Mary death head.jpgMary Plazas (Elizabeth I). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

So, it was a brave decision by ETO’s General Director James Conway to select Rossini’s opera to open the company’s spring tour of works focusing on the ups and downs of kings and queens. Perhaps Conway should have been braver still? Elizabetta, regian d’Inghilterra seems to demand a period setting, and that’s what we got; but, taking a few more risks - perhaps even updating the action, as Amélie Niermeyer did at the Theater an der Wein in 2017 - might have rustled up a few more dramatic tensions than were evident during this first-night performance.

The libretto was drawn by Giovanni Schmidt from Carlo Federici’s play Il paggio di Leicester (Leicester's Page) - which in turn derived from Sophia Lee’s novel The Recess (1785). The ‘back-story’ is that during her imprisonment by Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots secretly married the Duke of Norfolk and had two children by him, Mathilde and Enrico. When fighting the Scots, the Earl of Leicester fell in love with Matilde, whom he at first assumed to be a simple peasant girl, and married her.

The opera begins with the Duke of Norfolk brooding jealously about the rising fortunes of his rival and Leicester’s glory-strewn return to court after his military victory. Leicester, shocked to find his wife - disguised in male dress - and her brother amongst the Scottish hostages, confides in Norfolk who promptly tells Elizabeth, herself enamoured of Leicester, of the secret marriage. Elizabeth makes a public proposal of marriage to Leicester whose inevitable refusal sees all three of the ‘traitors’ marched off to prison. The Queen tries to coerce Matilde into forswearing all claims on Leicester but is thwarted by the Earl’s integrity. Meanwhile, Norfolk tries to stir up rebellion among the populace who are angry at the imprisonment of their favourite, but his efforts to involve Leicester in his treachery are spurned. When Norfolk’s perfidy is exposed, he attacks the Queen but the monarch is saved by the swift intervention of Matilde and Enrico. Norfolk is condemned, everyone else is pardoned, and courtly life gets back to ‘normal’.

Botelho in prison.jpgLuciano Botelho (Earl of Leicester). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Frankie Bradshaw’s sets are necessarily minimal, given the expediencies of touring, but even so the throne room and royal apartments are bare and barren, with just an outsize wooden chair, elevated baldaquin and Tudor-rose embellished backdrop serving to gesture at the court’s renowned lavishness. Presumably the severed head of Mary Queen of Scots staring blindly from a tabernacle next to throne is intended to infer that murdering one’s rivals doesn’t solve one’s problems. When we move to the prison (in the ‘Tower of London’) in Act 2, the throne is simply moved to the other side of the stage, and Leicester shackled to it. A simple colour scheme suffices: black for the populace, white for the Virgin Queen. The opera does have several moments of considerable dramatic potential, but not all such opportunities were taken by Bradshaw and Conway.

Gyeantey Plazas Botelho.jpgJohn-Colyn Gyeantey (Duke of Norfolk), Mary Plazas (Elizabeth I) and Luciano Botelho (Earl of Leicester). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Mary Plazas sang confidently in the title role, and despatched the melodic embellishments cleanly, but she did not convincingly convey regality and authoritative hauteur - it didn’t help that she looked somewhat lost when seated in her huge throne - and her tone lent towards shrillness as the pitch rose. Luciano Bothelo was a suave Leicester and displayed a fine spinto voice. Unfortunately, John-Colyn Gyeantey couldn’t match Bothelo for focus and firmness: initially at least, his Norfolk was not as sharp of voice as he was of malevolence, although the tenor did acquire more precision in Act 2. Gyeantey is an ETO regular and at his best in moments of reflection and poise - as illustrated by his fine rendering of Tigrane’s ‘So ch’è vana la speranza’ during ETO’s Radamisto at Snape Maltings last November - but he struggled with the floridity of the Duke’s blustering rages. Lucy Hall was an excellent Matilde, singing with warmth and sincerity - in fact, she was alone in persuading me that she was a ‘real’ person, somewhat paradoxically given that Mathilde is an entirely fictitious addition to the historical plot. In the minor roles of Enrico and Guglielmo (the Queen’s Secretary), Emma Stannard and Josephy Doody acquitted themselves well.

Hall and Plazas.jpgLucy Hall (Matilde) and Mary Plazas (Elizabeth I). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

After a somewhat lacklustre overture, in which the horns sounded particularly nervous, the ETO Orchestra played well for conductor John Andrews who was alert to the details of period style. One should give Rossini credit for some vigorous ensemble writing, and the ETO Chorus, after some, understandable, hesitancy at the start were in fine voice. Their blocking was, however, not so admirable, and the stilted mass movement of the Chorus from one static position to another only added to the dramatic woodenness.

So, praise should go to Conway and ETO for their courage and commitment to Rossini’s opera: I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to see and hear it, even if I won’t be rushing back for a second helping. Macbeth and Idomeneo make up ETO’s spring menu of monarchs and machinations, and both should offer more meaty musical fare.

Claire Seymour

Elisabetta - Mary Plazas, Earl of Leicester - Luciano Botelho, Matilde - Lucy Hall, Enrico - Emma Stannard, Duke of Norfolk - John-Colyn Gyeantey, Guglielmo - Joseph Doody; Director - James Conway, Conductor - John Andrews, Associate Director - Rosie Purdie, Designer - Frankie Bradshaw, Lighting Designer - Rory Beaton, ETO Orchestra and Chorus.

Hackney Empire, London; Saturday 2nd 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):