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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

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.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

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):