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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

16 Sep 2019

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

La traviata at Paris' Palais Garnier

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: The "Sempre libera"

All photos © Charles Duprat, courtesy of the Opéra National de Paris.

 

No longer the sad tale of a fallen woman and the illusions of her Parisian beau monde, of a dangerous infatuation and the vindication of simple country life, director Simon Stone’s tale was of a celebrity Parisian beauty who was dying of cancer, and her drunken lover whom she rejected by capitulating to his authoritarian father.

This gave conductor Michele Mariotti carte blanche to explore Verdi’s musical world in bold strokes. An enormous orchestral explosion confirmed the declaration of love in the second act, a shattering fortissimo announced the lovers’ separation. But before and above all else the maestro sought and found the musical beauty of the full throated voices — this splendid bel canto ideal drew us not into this oft told tawdry tale but into a world of high operatic art.

South African soprano Pretty Yende had to be both an icon of beauty in the French capital and a singer equal to the musical aspirations of the conductor. With a purity of voice and dramatic innocence she well fulfilled the first, and with a formidable technique plus a willingness to take vocal risks she well met the maestro’s expectations. It was beautiful singing, the brilliance of her upper voice was carried amply into her lower registers, she dared exaggerated pianissimos in “Dite alla giovane si bella e pura,” she glowed in her farewell aria “È tardi . . .”

Traviata_Paris2.png
Pretty Yende as Violetta Valery

Metteur en scène Simon Stone constructed a noisy counterpoint to the maestro’s bel canto. It was the nervous energy that seeps through the flashy Parisian veneer. There was actual noise from the grinding and creaking of the huge stage box that turned to reveal ever changing musical moments. The resulting cacophony of scenes invented by director Stone and his Australian designer Bob Cousins added both visual noise and conceptual noise to this real noise.

The huge box, missing two sides, sat on the revolving platform. The interior was empty white, though it took on significant accoutrement as it turned to color each of the revealed scenes — a gilded equestrian statue and one slowly dancing couple for “Sempre libera,” a live cow (milked by Violetta) for Germont’s Act II entrance, a chemotherapy lounge for the Act III prelude, among many other conceptually poignant, off-the-wall images.

The exterior sides of the two constructed walls were massive video screens that were first the show curtain as the closed eyes of Mlle. Yende, the lid of the left eye moving slightly from time to time (yes, this put us on edge). The video screens sometimes served to display frantic tweeting and news flashes, and more often the screens were covered with perfect roses (until an Act III scene when their pedals were burnt).

The walls provided backdrop as well for a kebab stand, and pointedly as backdrop for the trash bins that held the detritus of Parisian revelry, by extension, sadly, the fate of the opera’s true love. These among other striking, off-the-wall images — yes, it was indeed conceptually edgy.

A very drunk Alfredo appeared at Flora’s costume ball dressed as Daffy Duck (Simon Stone dressed the Duke of Gloucester as Mickey Mouse in his Salzburg Lear). The other guests in grotesque costumes (including a couple of misplaced prosthetic penises) were the sole decor in the choreographically-less white box of this spectacle scene. Australian theater costumer Alice Babidge dressed Violetta in an off-the-wall constructed white gown in which Mlle. Yende chose to appear to accept the extended ovations awarded her when it was all over.

While the Dumas fils La Dame aux camélias and the Piave Traviata were soundly destroyed, Verdi’s score did not suffer, taking on contemporary emotional rhythms, revealing a myriad of hidden resonances that made this Paris Traviata a completely new, compelling opera — a remarkable feat!

Traviata_Paris4.png
Benjamin Bernheim as Alfredo Germont

Tenor Benjamin Bernheim ascended the pyramid of champagne glasses to deliver his “Libiamo” with the worldly energy of this unique Alfredo. He played the drunken Alfredo to the hilt and sang the final duet “Parisian, o cara, noi lasceremo” with remarkably beautiful phrasing. By incising his lines with precision baritone Lodovic Térzier surmounted the dramaturgical challenge of transforming Germont into a titan of industry before whom nothing is refused.

Simon Stone plays with a heavy hand. His Salzburg Médée just now was not a success, the slightness of the piece disappearing into the torrents of information that infused his staging. The brilliance of this Verdi masterpiece in the confident hands of bel canto conductor Michele Mariotti achieved a presence that the excessive energies of the Stone staging always amplified, and never diminished, to the very great pleasure of the opening night audience.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Violetta Valery: Pretty Yende; Alfredo Germont: Benjamin Bernheim; Giorgio Germont: Ludovic Tézier; Flora Bervoix: Catherine Trottmann; Annina: Marion Lebèque; Gastone: Julien Dran; Barone Douphol: Christian Helmer; Marchese d”Obigna: Marc Labonnette; Dottore Grenvil: Thomas Dear. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris. Conductor: Michele Mariotti; Mise en scène: Simon Stone; Set Design: Bob Cousins; Costumes: Alice Babidge; Lighting: James Farncombe; Video: Zakk Hein. Palais Garnier, Paris, France, September 12, 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):