Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

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?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.



The death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta by Alexandre Cabanel (1870) [Source: Wikipedia]
16 Sep 2019

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.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: The death of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta by Alexandre Cabanel (1870) [Source: Wikipedia]


The elegantly precise Stanislav Kochanovsky returned to the NTR ZaterdagMatinee to lead the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in thrillingly tumultuous performances of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy, Francesca da Rimini and the eponymous one-act opera by Sergei Rachmaninov. Poor Francesca da Polenta – she was led to believe she was about to set up house in Rimini with handsome Paolo, when, in fact, he’d been sent to woo her for his less physically favored older brother. When her husband caught them embracing, he killed them both. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paolo and Francesca are doomed, with other adulterous couples, to be buffeted in the afterlife by an eternal whirlwind, a metaphor for the earthly passions that had swept them away. But, although he puts them in hell, Dante assigns them the mildest level of torture, while he smites their killer, Malatesta, deep into the icy ninth circle, with others who have murdered their relatives. The poet is so touched by Francesca’s fate that, when she tells him her story, he collapses, overcome by emotion.

In their similarly structured retellings, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov are both emotionally instructed by Dante. They both frame the episode in which the lovers’ submit to their forbidden passion by scenes of the pitiless infernal winds. Tchaikovsky’s spiral up swift and high, Rachmaninov’s are more heavily orchestrated and move ominously like a dark, dense mass. His chorus of the wailing damned gives his hell a human shape, however faceless. On Saturday, the Netherlands Radio Choir raised their voices in horrifying and beautiful desperation. But even in Tchaikovsky’s voiceless perdition, Kochanovsky managed to suggest echoes of human cries by filing a sharp edge onto the winds and strings. This piercing orchestral quality contrasted with the restrained lyricism of the love scene, which culminates, as in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, in the brutal interruption of an ecstatic embrace. As in his earlier appearances conducting Russian operas in Amsterdam, Kochanovsky proved a masterful storyteller, knowing when to go in for grand gestures, as in the violent tornados of both finales, as well as how to let a passage such a Tchaikovsky’s refined romance release its perfume gradually.

Rachmaninov’s opera, which sets a libretto by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, is broodier and less graphically descriptive than Tchaikovsky’s fantasy. It has the feel of a symphonic poem, with the orchestra always having at least as much to say as the voices. Besides finding the Radio Philharmonic close to their best, this concert version upheld the ZaterdagMatinee’s reputation for engaging choice vocalists. Alongside the chilling chorus, tenor Dmitry Golovnin as Dante and bass Mikhail Kolelishvili as his guide, the Ghost of Virgil, perched high behind the orchestra, ensured that the singing in hell was of the highest order. A last-minute substitute for soprano Venera Gimadieva, Maria Bayankina was a dignified, slightly elusive Francesca. She has an attractive middle voice and the slight flutter in her metallic top lent the necessary tension to the love duet.

Bayankina and the honey-voiced tenor Oleg Dolgov in the role of Paolo handled the demands of their unsparing, high-lying music very well, holding their own over the rich orchestral carpet. Still, there was something missing in terms of passion and the real erotic fire was stoked in the orchestra. Here again Kochanovsky displayed how expertly he uses space and dynamics to bring details to the fore. The vocal performance that equaled his expressive powers had come just before the lovers’ tryst, in Lanciotto Malatesta’s jealousy monologue. Vladislav Sulimsky turned his scene into a mini-opera, eliciting with his formidable baritone fear and revulsion, but also pity and understanding. Malatesta’s obsessing on unrequited desire and hate-filled plotting may not be as well known as other jealousy arias, such as “Eri tu” from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. But an interpretation such as Sulimsky’s, especially when accompanied so sensitively and vividly in the orchestra, almost made the case that it should be.

Jenny Camilleri

Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini, Op.32
Rachmaninov: Francesca da Rimini, Op.25

Mikhail Kolelishvili, Ghost of Virgil; Dmitry Golovnin, Dante Alighieri; Vladislav Sulimsky, Lanciotto Malatesta; Maria Bayankina, Francesca Malatesta; Oleg Dolgov, Paolo Malatesta. Stanislav Kochanovsky, Conductor. Netherlands Radio Choir (Groot Omroepkoor). Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, on Saturday, the 14th of September, 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):