Archives for category: Opera (staged)

Despite its relocation from mid-17th century Seville to the catacombs of Vienna in the early 1900s, John Lloyd Wood’s realisation of Mozart’s perennially popular morality tale is a gratifyingly conventional affair. One in which the anti-hero, in the director’s own words, is concerned more about his masculine identity than the women he seduces. In asserting his own masculinity, his primary concern is not sexual gratification but the humiliation of The Commendatore, Don Ottavio and Masetto.

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The house was packed and excitement palpable on opening night of Phelim McDermott’s new production of Philip Glass’s iconic Akhnaten – the first fully-staged UK performance since the eighties, when the work was new. The two previous instalments of the Portrait Trilogy to be staged in London, Satyagraha in 2007 (then 2010) and Einstein on the Beach in 2012, opened to rave reviews (including mine) and wide artistic acclaim, not to mention record-breaking commercial success for modern opera. (I refuse to describe music composed over 30 years ago as ‘contemporary’!)

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“We have a delightful production of one of the most popular operas in the repertoire. It’s not very old, and audiences seem to love it. Clearly, what we should do is replace it with something stark, unengaging and gimmicky. Oh, and while we’re at it, have you seen the musical Rent?

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That conversation almost certainly never took place but it might as well have. Jonathan Miller’s 2009 staging of Puccini’s La Bohème – charming, evocative, and fitting both music and libretto like a glove – has been usurped by a sordid reimagining from director Benedict Andrews, that is colder and more brutal than its predecessor and completely devoid of romance. Read the rest of this entry »

Anybody who has enjoyed an extended love affair with opera will know from their frequent disappointment that it is an art form alarmingly susceptible to being royally buggered up. Singers who – either through delusion or an inability to say no – allow themselves to be cast in roles for which they are patently ill-equipped will suck the life out of the best productions; theatre management that persists in colluding with them perpetuates both the disappointment for the audience and the damage to the reputation of the performers; directors in thrall to white-tiled bathrooms, chain-link fencing or the Third Reich can render risible a musical performance that would otherwise rank as world-class.

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After inaugurating the new season with a rarity (Il campiello, never been staged in the Tuscan city before) the Opera di Firenze chose to settle on one of the most beloved operas, Cavalleria rusticana, fortunately uncoupled from its usual bedfellow, I pagliacci, and paired with the premiere of a ballet, La luce nel tempo, choreographed by Francesco Mappa and performed to music by Franz Joseph Haydn (Symphony in F minor Hob. 1:49 La Passione: Adagio(Allegro di molto/menuet/ Symphony in G major Hob. 1:94 mit dem Paukenschlag: Andante). My absolute ignorance in matters of ballet does not allow me to review, or even describe, the performance of the MaggioDanza, the Maggio’s corps de ballet. All I can say is that I enjoyed it.

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Like ‘a brightly coloured puppy chasing its tail’ is how the overture of this effervescent score has been described, bubbling along with youthful joy – and this can equally be applied to much of the rest of the piece. Written for Venice’s Teatro San Moisè in 1812, the overture has never been out of the repertoire and whilst complete performances of the complete opera are not uncommon, this was a welcome performance by the Jette Parker Young Artists in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio, especially in light of it being the very first performance at the Royal Opera in over 200 years.

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There are so many issues to address when planning to present opera seria. The first of these is whether or not to cut. If you don’t cut, the performance is likely to last three hours plus however long you allow for intervals. If you don’t cut, there has to be an early evening start (no later than 7pm) or your audience will struggle to get home in areas not well served by public transport and/or those in which most local residents are tucked up in bed by 10.30pm. English Touring Opera performs on tour throughout England and has to be kind to its audience. The trouble is that if you cut so much recitative and focus instead on the “extraordinary psychological landscape” provided by the arias as James Conway chose to do, you do indeed (as he suggested) risk presenting a series of soliloquies, or a glorified song-cycle with all of the real drama knocked out of the opera.

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Opera North‘s first outing of Smetana’s foot-tappingly tuneful and characterful comedy The Bartered Bride dressed the piece in what might be loosely termed today as “pasted on” folksiness. I retain fond memories of Steven Pimlott’s previous 1981 production with its voluminous 19th Century frocks and tall hats. This was a traditional staging of its time, expected by the growing audience of a then new opera company not yet daring to court controversy.

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The current production, directed by Daniel Slater and conducted by Oliver von Dohnányi, originally starred Alwyn Mellor as Mařenka, Niall Archer as Jenik and Clive Bayley as Kecal when it premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in September 1998. The events precipitated by the removal of the Berlin Wall a decade earlier had irrevocably changed the face of eastern Europe. By the early 1990s the iron fist had been replaced by the Velvet Revolution in the (former) Czechoslovakia. Slater deliberately pre-dates the Gorbachev Glasnost era by setting his production in the still Communist dominated Czechoslovakia of the early 1970s – a decade of dubious fashions and even more dubious hairstyles – and only a few years after the Prague Spring had been ruthlessly crushed by Soviet tanks.

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Poor Papa Haydn does get a bad press for his operas. Much like Beethoven, it seems that you’re allowed to be a master at symphonies, sonatas and quartets but God help you if you then decide that you’ll turn your hand to that most august of mediums, opera. The pedestrian platitudes that get passed about Haydn usually revolve around him not being Mozart or not delving too deeply into the human psyche. I can think of worse crimes, to be honest. If one criticism/defence does have weight behind it then it is that Haydn wasn’t working with top-notch librettists, but comparison of Haydn’s operas with his non-Mozartian contemporaries reveal him to be a perfectly enjoyable writer of often light but well written work which shows the expert touch of a symphonist in constructing long stretches of continuous music, especially in act finales. Admittedly, there might be a bit of forgettable padding involved along the way, however Haydn wasn’t writing for us but for the family he worked for and he had a job to get on with.

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A couple of top-notch singers rescue Scottish Opera’s new production of La Cenerentola from the doldrums but sadly it is a production that lacks a sense of direction and purpose from the word go. Uncertainty in the pit and a very mixed bag of voices contribute to an evening that is neither a complete success nor a complete disaster.

Things got off to a very uncertain start with a very scrappy overture that suggested that the orchestra were under rehearsed and underprepared. Though tempi were rollicking along, there were no riches in the orchestral sound at all. Dynamically there wasn’t much on offer – the only real variation being between fairly loud and too loud.Untitled-1

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