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

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Feb 2020

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Madama Butterfly at English National Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Madama Butterfly, English National Opera

Photo credit: Jane Hobson

 

Before a note is played, a geisha’s silhouette emerges into the breath-held silence, etched against a carmine sky. She glides and floats, her fans fluttering decorously, glinting in the golden sun. As she raises her arms, her kimono flickers, as transparent as a butterfly’s veined wing. Her obi trails behind her, a blood-red bridal train. Scooped up by four dancers, the sash sculpts curving geometries which twist about the geisha, confining, restraining. When, in the opera’s final moments, Cio-Cio-San re-enacts her father’s fate, her wedding obi becomes a silk wound, seeping and swirling, a bloodless emblem of betrayal and transcendence.

ENO production MB.jpg Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Peter Mumford’s lighting pits complementary hues in eye-dazzling combinations. The ‘visual banquet’ that I admired in 2013 seemed an even more intensely piercing colour-feast on this occasion. Han Feng’s costumes heighten the quasi-theatrical strangeness of the sense-saturating world in which Pinkerton finds himself seduced. Surfeit is balanced with simplicity, though: the beige shoji that slide noiselessly, like sleights of hand; the tendrils of cherry blossom that dangle tender pink against the black night sky.

Bunraku ENO.jpg Natalya Romaniw and Blind Summit Theatre. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Then, there are the bunraku puppets, brought to life by the conjurer’s craft of members of Blind Summit Theatre. First time round, I’d found the puppets too stylised: a representation of the west’s ‘othering’ of the east. But, in 2016 I was won over by the truthfulness of the puppets’ uncanny realism, and here the mime-dance at the start of Act 2 Scene 2 foreshadowing Butterfly’s suicide was powerful and troubling. It was hard to believe that young Sorrow, dressed in a US Navy sailor-suit, rushing in stuttering steps to grasp his mother, tilting his head quizzically, proffering his hand to the saddened Sharpless, was not real.

Romaniv Butterfly.jpgNatalya Romaniw. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

Singing her first Butterfly, Natalya Romaniw made a compelling entrance, the strong core at the heart of her shining soprano preceding her arrival at Goro’s marriage-brokering manoeuvres. Perhaps the creamy depths and heights of Romaniw’s soprano cannot quite capture the innocence of the fifteen-year-old ingenue, but the Welsh soprano worked hard to convey her naivety, and of Cio-Cio-San’s honour and pride, feistiness and gentleness, vivacity and vulnerability, there was no doubt. This Butterfly was bursting with a passion that she herself could barely know or understand. If I say that ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ brought I tear to my eye, I am not speaking figuratively. And, the ENO Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins, contributed greatly to the emotive power, so exquisite were the pianissimo gestures and textures. I had been underwhelmed by Brabbins’ approach in Act 1, but here understatement and delicacy were magically hypnotic, and thereafter there was more fire in the orchestral belly.

Pittas and Williams.jpg Dimitri Pittas and Roderick Williams. Photo credit: Jane Hobson.

American tenor Dimitri Pittas, making his ENO debut, was a rather clamorous Pinkerton, struggling at the top and compensating for lyricism with volume. The effect was to make Pinkerton, at least initially, even more of a cardboard villain than usual; though, more effectively, it also made the US interloper even more of a stranger in this foreign land. By Act 3, this Pinkerton’s uncomprehending bewilderment was more moving than I had anticipated.

The other members of the cast were accomplished but did not make much of a mark, excepting Roderick Williams who, as Sharpless, was brow-beaten by Pittas’ barking in Act 1, but who sculpted a flesh-and-blood figure of persuasive empathy and sensitivity in Act 2, his lovely soft baritone infusing his exchanges with Butterfly with humanising kindness. Stephanie Windsor-Lewis was a reliable Suzuki but did not convey the fierceness of her loyalty and love for her mistress. Alasdair Elliott’s well-defined tone and clean enunciation skilfully captured Goro’s contemptuous condescension. Keel Watson was a thunderous Bonze, Njabulo Madlala a rather wobbly Yamadori. Katie Stephenson completed the cast as a somewhat tentative Kate Pinkerton.

This was Romaniw’s night. And, there surely will be many more such nights.

Madama Butterfly continues in repertory until 17th April.

Claire Seymour

Cio-Cio San - Natalya Romaniw, Pinkerton - Dimitri Pittas, Sharpless - Roderick Williams, Suzuki - Stephanie Windsor-Lewis, Goro - Alasdair Elliott, The Bonze - Keel Watson, Prince Yamadori - Njabulo Madlala, Kate Pinkerton - Katie Stevenson; Director - Anthony Minghella, Revival Director - Glen Sheppard, Conductor - Martyn Brabbins, Set Designer - Michael Levine, Lighting Designer - Peter Mumford, Costume Designer -Han Feng, Associate Director/Choreographer - Carolyn Choa, Revival Choreographer - David John, Puppetry - Blind Summit, Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera.

English National Opera, London Coliseum; Wednesday 26th 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):