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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

11 Aug 2019

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

Norwich Into Opera Festival: L’elisir d’amore

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Andrew Slater (Dulcamara)

All images © Peter Marsh at ashmorevisuals

 

Raghu’s production of Donizetti’s nineteenth-century comic gem, L’elisir d’amore, which set the action in rural Norfolk during World War 1, nestled naturally into the 17th-century barn - built c.1700 as a non-conformist Methodist meeting chapel - and the vibrant singing and playing of an esteemed cast, the talented Into Opera Youth Company and the Istante Collective, led by the galvanising baton of John Andrews, swelled euphoniously into the octagonal vaulted roof of the central atrium.

With the farmers and field-labourers having departed to play their patriotic part in WW1, it falls upon the women to ditch their dresses, don the dungarees and trade the parlour for the pitchfork and plough. When Adina learns of her father’s death, she is roused from her grief by her duty to keep the fields tilled and the harvest reaped. The womenfolk valiantly pull on their wellies, dig up potatoes and hoist milk churns. Having stepped up to the mark and rallied the home front troops, Adina’s not that eager to relinquish her command when Sergeant Belcore arrives on the farm. Nemorino - the loyal, lovelorn farmhand who’s stayed at home to help his beloved Adina - is equally disconcerted by his rival’s military swagger. But, help is at hand in the form of the nattily dressed Dulcamara, a travelling salesman whose magical medicines promise the gullible rustics health, wealth and happiness …

Fleur de Bray Adina pig!.jpgFleur de Bray (Adina).

Designer Lorenzo Russo Rainaldi has a ready-made set at his disposal. All that’s needed to fully immerse us in life on the farm are some dangling horseshoes, a few agricultural accoutrements and wooden crates bursting with ripe apples and verdant carrots. The verisimilitude is aided by Ben Ormerod’s discrete lighting and, especially, Jasmine Ricketts’ imaginatively devised choreography which neatly and slickly conjures the busyness and bustle of farm life within the confines of the fairly small stage. Raghu makes the most of the dimensions of the venue to suggest a wider expanse and her attention to detail is notable. She establishes and sustains a narrative with a consistency and credibility which is sadly all too rare in more familiar, ‘conventional’ opera houses.

Adina and cast.jpgFleur de Bray (Adina) and ensemble.

Raghu’s direction of the Into Opera Youth Company is exemplary. The children burst vigorously and joyfully onto the stage straight from the fields, clutching bunches of freshly harvested carrots, and confidently find their places at the foot of the stepladder upon which Adina is perched, reading a book. They listen avidly to her tales of Tristan and Isolde, grabbing the book to gobble up the amorous adventures, then snatch it from each other, eager for saucy snippets. When Nemorino ventures a peek, an insouciant young hand turns the tome up the correct way. Raghu involves the young singers throughout: they provide Belcore with a sunflower with which to woo Adina, spy on the romantic rivalries and form a hearty-voiced, readymade rural troupe of bridesmaids and page boys dressed, of course, as bunnies, chicks and piglets.

Belcore sunflower.jpgFleur de Bray (Adina) and Themba Mvula (Belcore).

The adult chorus - Emily Kirby-Ashmore (soprano), Lara Rebekah Harvey (mezzo-soprano), Gareth Edmunds and James Beddoe (tenor), and Jevan McAuley (baritone) - are managed with no less aplomb (although I wasn’t sure about Raghu’s occasional use of theatrical devices which seemed at odds with the general naturalism). They move fluently around the stage area, working and gossiping, and they dance a nifty nuptial contradance, ducking and diving under the festive bunting. When Adina rejects Belcore’s hasty advances, it’s the confident catching of the apple which the chorus have tossed teasingly amongst themselves that seals her superiority over the Sergeant.

On opening night, the cast gave a strong and consistent performance. Given the challenges presented by the open nature of the performance space, and with the conductor and instrumentalists placed to the left of the stage, the singers’ intonation and ensemble were both impressively accurate.

Fleur de Bray has an attractive but fairly light soprano and in the ensembles her Adina sometimes failed to soar with quite enough gleam and brightness. But, de Bray took immense care over her characterisation and the vocal phrasing. This Adina was determined rather than feisty, and her affection for Nemorino was apparent from the first. ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’ throbbed with heartfelt feeling. I’ve enjoyed Thomas Elwin’s performances with Classical Opera, though looking back it’s interesting to see that I thought that in Haydn’s Applausus at Cadogan Hall in March 2018 he ‘did not always make the extended melodic gestures cohere, but his tone was appealing’, for I’d suggest that the same was true here. Elwin has a sure technique, acts astutely, and can make an individual phrase tell; but ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, though focused and at times affecting, did not convince me that Elwin has yet mastered the art of building the individual units into a cohesive expressive unity. But, I’m probably being unfairly ‘picky’; Elwin’s Nemorino was beguiling and all in the Barn were clearly delighted when the honest lad got his girl.

Tristan Nemorino.jpgThomas Elwin (Nemorino).

Sofia Troncoso made an impressive mark as Giannetta: her mezzo has real punch, clarity and brightness and - in common with all the cast - she acted attentively. As Dulcamara, Andrew Slater blustered a bit at times - more speech than song - though the climaxes and cadences always hit the target with panache. But, he was a genial charlatan, keen to make a quick buck from his vats of vodka and cider aka elixirs, and not unduly manipulative. It was a neat idea to have Dulcamara’s phlegmatic sidekick - a touch of Leporello here, delivered with style by a member of the Youth Chorus - provide the horn player with a sheet of music indicating the required entrance fanfare.

Dulcamara and Nemorino.jpgThomas Elwin (Nemorino) and Andrew Slater (Dulcamara).

I had been impressed by Themba Mvula’s 2017 performance in the premiere of Louis Mander’s The Life to Come , with Surrey Opera, and that he so swiftly settled into the shoes of the braggart Belcore says much for the range of his acting. Mvula worked hard - perhaps the effort was a little too evident at times, though admittedly we were seated very close to the stage - and balanced boldness and blunderbuss effectively. ‘Come Parido vezzoso’ was rather plodding; hopefully the tempo picked up for subsequent performances. There’s a fine singing actor here, though, and we’ll undoubtedly be seeing more of Mvula.

Sergeant B and Nemorino.jpgThemba Mvula (Belcore) and Thomas Elwin (Nemorino).

Into Opera were lucky to have conductor John Andrews at the helm: unfussy but meticulous, encouraging but also demanding of high standards, he conducted a fluent performance which sailed forth confidently, the busy finales making absolute musical and dramatic ‘sense’.

Into Opera was launched in September 2017 with the aim of getting ‘more and more people into opera’. Their first project, A King’s Ransom, involved a collaboration with composer Patrick Hawes and hundreds of primary school children across Norfolk. This production ofL’elisir marked the inaugural season of the Norfolk Into Opera Festival. The opening night was preceded by a hog roast in the grounds of The Octagon Park, and followed by a Gala Concert, Opera Unwrapped, with a selection of acclaimed opera singers, including tenor Christopher Turner and soprano Sofia Troncoso, and two further matinee performances of L’elisir. Raghu confidently declares:

“We will create high quality opera experiences which are affordable and don’t break the bank. We are starting a creative revolution to overturn this negative stigma and instead, enthuse communities about the potential of this art form. We want to convince you about the ability of opera to bring people together, to tell compelling stories and to make us think about questions that are relevant and important to the society and world in which we live today.”

I’m pretty sure that anyone who drank the Elixir of Opera in Norwich last week will need no persuading.

Claire Seymour

Adina - Fleur de Bray, Nemorino - Thomas Elwin, Belcore - Themba Mvula, Dulcamara - Andrew Slater, Giannetta - Sofia Troncoso; Director - Genevieve Raghu, Conductor - John Andrews, Designer - Lorenzo Russo Rainaldi, Lighting Designer - Ben Ormerod, Movement Director - Jasmine Ricketts, Into Opera Chorus and Youth Chorus, Istante Collective.

The Octagon Barn, Little Plumstead, Norwich; Thursday 8th August 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):