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

Covent Garden’s Otello: Superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

Death in Venice at Deutsche Oper Berlin

This death in Venice is not the end, but the beginning.

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

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):