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

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

Lise Davidsen: A superlative journey through the art of song

Are critics capable of humility? The answer should always be yes, yet I’m often surprised how rare it seems to be. It took the film critic of The Sunday Times, Dilys Powell, several decades to admit she had been wrong about Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, a film excoriated on its release in 1960. It’s taken me considerably less time - and largely because of this astounding recital - to realise I was very wrong about Lise Davidsen.

Parsifal in Toulouse

Aurélien Bory, director of a small, avant garde theater company in Toulouse, staged a spellbinding Parsifal at the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse’s famed Orchestre National du Capitole in the pit — FYI the Capitole is Toulouse’s city hall, the opera house is a part of it.

An Evening with Rosina Storchio: Ermonela Jaho at Wigmore Hall

‘The world’s most acclaimed Soprano’: the programme booklet produced for Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut was keen to emphasise the Albanian soprano’s prestigious status, as judged by The Economist, and it was standing-room only at the Hall which was full to capacity with Jaho’s fervent fans and opera-lovers.

Schumann Symphonies, influenced by song

John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann series with the London Symphony Orchestra, demonstrate the how Schumann’s Lieder and piano music influenced his approach to symphonic form and his interests in music drama.

Parsifal in Palermo

Richard Wagner chose to finish his Good Friday opera while residing in Sicily’s Palermo, partaking of the natural splendors of its famed verdant basin, the Conca d’Oro, and reveling in the golden light of its surreal Monreale cathedral.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts a magnificent Siegfried

“Siegfried is the Man of the Future, the man we wish, the man we will, but cannot make, and the man who must create himself through our annihilation.” This was Richard Wagner, writing in 1854, his thoughts on Siegfried. The hero of Wagner’s Siegfried, however, has quite some journey to travel before he gets to the vision the composer described in that letter to August Roeckel. Watching Torsten Kerl’s Siegfried in this - largely magnificent - concert performance one really wondered how tortuous a journey this would be.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Rome

Shakespearean sentiments may gracefully enrich Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet, but powerful Baroque tensions enthrall us in the bel canto complexities of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Conductor Daniele Gatti’s offered a truly fine bel canto evening at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera introducing a trio of fine young artists.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali makes versatile debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been making waves internationally for some time. The chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is set to take over from Esa-Pekka Salonen as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2021.

Tristan und Isolde in Bologna

East German stage director Ralf Pleger promised us a Tristan unlike anything we had ever seen. It was indeed. And Slovakian conductor Jura Valčuha gave us a Tristan as never before heard. All of this just now in the most Wagnerian of all Italian cities — Bologna!


Seductively morbid – The Fall of the House of Usher in The Hague

What does it feel like to be depressed? “It’s like water seeping into my heart” is how one young sufferer put it.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

12 Feb 2020

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

Opera Undone at Trafalgar Studios

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: La bohème

Photo credit: Ali Wright

 

I don’t think what Opera Undone chose to do with Puccini’s Tosca and La bohème would appeal in the slightest to purists, but on its own terms it was highly imaginative - and not particularly beyond the parameters of some staged productions we might see today at ENO, Salzburg or even Bayreuth.

Where Opera Undone differs is in the concentration of the libretto to an hour in length for each opera, a translation into vernacular English which bears almost no resemblance to the Italian original and in themes which evoke periods in time which are centuries beyond Puccini’s settings. The staging of each opera is so minimalist we could really be anywhere rather than somewhere in particular - it’s almost the Theatre of the Absurd; Ionescu and Beckett, or even Genet, colliding with Puccini. Tosca is probably the less controversial of the two productions here; La bohème is absolutely controversial - and, it should be said, one of the funniest, yet undoubtedly tragic, performances of an opera I have seen.

La bohème , according to Opera Undone, is about polyamory, homosexuality, cruising for picks-ups on gay chatlines, sexual identity, HIV, drug addiction and co-dependency. In one sense I was interested in seeing this production because it was set in Peckham, a part of south London a few miles from the very leafy part of the city in which I live. It would have been easy to stereotype, and, in a sense, this is rather what happened. Marcello (here called Marcus) is every inch the typical Peckham, white, working-class guy - right down to the leather jacket, and silver chains around his neck and wrists. Musetta (Melissa) was even worse. Only Rodolfo (Rod) and Mimi (Lucas) stand outside the stereotypes (though I do know a lot of gay men who wear plaid shirts and jeans). But the subjects touched on are universal, they could have, and do, infect every part of a city. Tosca was simply set in New York; Puccini’s original simply Paris.

La bohème 9 credit Ali Wright (1).jpgLa bohème. Photo credit: Ali Wright.

Condensing either opera down to an hour certainly isn’t easy. Tosca was better done, and we got a fairly good slice of the Scarpia - Tosca scene from Act II here. The focus on both operas was to maintain the big arias - so we got ‘Recondita armonia’, ‘Vissi d’arte’ and ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (or versions thereof), and the same was the case in La bohème. Mimi’s lingering death - whether it be from tuberculosis or from a drug overdose - or whether it is wrought with the power of emotion or with a foaming mouth is long in whichever version one sees it. It is no longer a challenge for an audience to see two men kiss on stage, nor for a libretto to be liberally peppered with “fucks” here and there.

The humour in both productions could perhaps have seemed misplaced, but it worked very well. Cavaradossi (abbreviated to Cav) is still an artist, though should one feel pity for the woman in the audience who spent much of Act I with a picture frame hanging from her shoulders? La bohème was even more striking for involving the audience. Musetta spent an awfully large part of Act I sitting between people or draping herself over them. But strip the humour out and there were moments of drama. Cavaradossi received quite a beating before being hooded and shot; Mimi’s drug induced death was raw, and certainly done with a sense of reflective realism.

The singing was largely very impressive, though the rather intimate size of Studio 2 at Trafalgar Studios can magnify, and sometimes strain, the tone of the voices to a considerable degree. I think all of the soloists deserve credit for bringing in performances that were very well sung - balancing pathos and humour with equitability, and acting, that never bordered on the wooden. Fiona Finsbury’s Tosca was a standout performance, extremely nuanced, and really quite powerful throughout Act II. The notes are there, her upper range entirely confident. She had no difficulty suggesting Tosca’s growing revulsion or despair. The other dominant performance was the Rodolfo of Roberto Barbaro. I think he started slightly short on confidence, but the warmth and colour of his voice is beautiful to listen to. One is entirely persuaded that this is a tenor who emotes what he sings; I could swear that in his duet with Mimi, where Mimi confesses to his drug use after their relationship has ended, there were genuine tears in his eyes.

Tosca 1 credit Ali Wright (1).jpgTosca. Photo credit: Ali Wright.

Honey Rouhani’s Musetta was high on humour and high on vocal strength. Roger Paterson’s Cavaradossi provided a couple of moments during his ‘E lucevan le stelle’ where his top notes had both more security at the top and stability in the length of them than I have heard more star name tenors sing. Hugo Herman Wilson’s Scarpia was never short on power, and neither did he shirk from imbuing this particular 1940’s mafia version of him with all his Scarface terror. Michael Georgiou’s Marcelo - he who had voted Tory just once - bounced between Rodolfo and Musetta with witty confidence. Philip Lee’s Mimi ended up becoming a heartrending performance that leant inwards to its inevitable tragedy - the voice clearly capable of going to extremes. His ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimi’ had brought out a very funny side to him as he described selling perfume and taking the late shift at Liberty; and yet, he was entirely moving as he brought an almost positive happiness to his terminal sleepiness after taking one last hit of drugs.

Entirely outstanding throughout the entire evening was David Eaton’s playing of the formidably taxing piano parts of Puccini’s scores.

I’m not sure what my expectations were for this particular evening. Whatever they might have been, purism wasn’t one them. This was in many ways operatic revisionism, opera as theatre, opera as popular art, opera as openly accessible. It could be serious and humorous in equal measure and was an entirely enjoyable way to spend two hours.

Marc Bridle

Opera Undone: David Eaton (Music Director), Adam Spreadbury-Maher (Director)

Tosca : Tosca - Fiona Finsbury, Scarpia - Hugo Herman Wilson, Cavaradossi - Roger Paterson

La bohème : Rodolfo - Roberto Barbaro, Mimì - Philip Lee, Musetta (Melissa) - Honey Rouhani, Marcelo (Marcus) - Michael Georgiou

Trafalgar Studios, London; Tuesday 11th February 2020.

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):