Archives for category: Opera (staged)

Having previously directed masterful productions of Vaughan Williams’s Riders to the Sea, Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers, and Britten’s Rape of Lucretia, actress Fiona Shaw has proven beyond any doubt that her dramatic talents extend to a fine sensibility for opera. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro represents a somewhat different challenge, however, in the convoluted mechanics of its wide swathe of interpersonal relationships as much as its assured place as a popular favourite in the canon. Ms. Shaw’s production for English National Opera—the home of the first two aforementioned productions—admittedly stumbles more than her other efforts, its forced concepts of animalistic masculinity and misogyny occasionally overbearing by contrast to the emotional purity of the music. Nevertheless, much of its action is guided by directorial intelligence and the sure dramatic flair of a habitué of the stage; bolstered by a solid cast, this first revival proved a highly enjoyable, if not exactly flawless, evening.

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An absolute masterpiece such as Don Giovanni has lent itself from the very moment of its creation to numerous and antithetical interpretations; the central question for performers and listeners is the spirit in which the work is to be approached. The opera concludes with divine retribution for sin, but it also involves the subtlest musical exploration of the comic and tragic motivation for compassion and moral indifference. Who is the most profoundly realized character: Leporello? Donna Elvira? The Commendatore? And what are we to make of Don Giovanni himself? Is he simply a faceless libertine whose real significance is in what others see in him, or is he is some way a tragic protagonist defending his genius against complacent practicality? Or is he an animal rendered obsolescent by civilization? A mediaeval Vice figure, Marlow’s Faust, Brecht’s Baal?

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Perish the thought, but I must have a horribly suspicious mind to suggest that the scale of forces required for early opera is behind Opera North‘s choice of this particular piece as a main house production; in these cash-strapped times, an economic driver as much as an artistic aspiration.

Contemporary realisations of the operas of Monteverdi are in no small part thanks to the advocacy of an esteemed scholar – the conductor Raymond Leppard – whose performing editions re-awakened interest in these neglected works. Three operas La favola d’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and Poppea – Monteverdi’s largest and grandest work – have been handed down more or less complete; in the case of Poppea – less rather than more.

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The presence of New York Metropolitan supremo, Peter Gelb at last night’s première of ENO’s new production of The Girl of the Golden West is probably explained by his wish to support Keri-Lynn Wilson, who was in charge of the baton for the evening, and who also happens to be his wife. If, however, he was also scouting for a new La fanciulla del West to borrow for New York, he will have been pleased to encounter no nasty surprises that might frighten the Met’s famously conservative audience in Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s 1910 cowboy opera. (The alternative possibility that, in the wake of his recent trials and tribulations on the other side of the Atlantic, he might be about to interview for a new job never once crossed my mind. No, honestly, it didn’t.)

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The popularity of opera buffa in Italy had already dramatically decreased in the first part of the nineteenth century; Rossini himself was not commissioned another opera buffa after La Cenerentola (1817) in his native country. This genre experienced its true zenith in the first decade of the century, when an army of composers and librettists worked indefatigably in a still eighteenth century climate before being swept away by the “Cyclone” of Pesaro. There is an underground thread linking this period to the late 1800s and the early twentieth century: librettos based on Goldoni’s body of work. A fair number of operas were adapted from his comedies even after 1843, the year of Don Pasquale, traditionally considered as opera buffa’s last bloom.

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The decadence and glamour of Paris at the turn of the 19th Century is depicted in Alessandro Talevi‘s spiced-up new production of Verdi’s classic tear jerker. I say “spiced-up” because the atmosphere of Violetta’s Act l party scene is more redolent of an orgy in a bordello than the usual deceptively elegant and mannered gathering I have encountered in some productions. Guests in various states of dis-arranged dress (the young men are bare chested apart from scant waistcoats) can be seen in different coital positions moving to the rhythm of the music during Violetta’s celebrated showpiece “Sempre libera”. The audience is left in little doubt by the end of the act as to the nature of Violetta’s calling as a courtesan  – or upmarket prostitute – call her what you will.

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Prohbarber0914Eatrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s stylised, luridly coloured, and effervescent production of Il barbiere di Siviglia is one of The Royal Opera’s more whimsical offerings. Its foundation is an atmosphere of vibrancy and mischief that is an apt companion to Rossini’s glittering score; its easy comedy and lightheartedness render it the ideal vehicle for star singers to impress. Despite being graced in past years by more obviously star-studded cast lists, the present offering, the production’s third revival, does not disappoint on this count. Indeed, this revival was granted new life by the fresh names in what turned out to be a remarkably good cast, the evening joyous and superbly sung.

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rsz_eno_xerxes_-_alice_coote_1_c_mike_hobanI began this review thinking comparisons with those who have previously sung these roles in Nicholas Hytner’s extraordinary 1985 production of Xerxes should probably be avoided, but, wouldn’t you know, my fellow critics across the broadsheets and internet have leapt into this muddy pit with gusto. I feel transported back to a typical 18th century theatre where those in the more expensive boxes of the third tier would throw pasta onto the heads of the poor souls in the “pit”, while the rival supporters of the castrati challenge each other in the streets surrounding what is now Trafalgar Square.

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rohrigole0914EIt feels like opera lovers have been lamenting the absence of a true Verdi baritone for a couple of decades now. It’s not strictly true, of course. What they actually mean is that there are currently no house-filling star baritones who possess the authentic vocal heft, the characteristic ease in the break between the middle and upper registers, and the tenor-like squillo at the top of the voice, that are required to do full justice to the music that Verdi wrote for them. Given that mothballing most of his output until such time as this type of voice undergoes a renaissance is an option that is neither financially viable nor appealing from an audience’s perspective, a compromise is inevitable. Consequently we have seen these roles gradually appropriated by lyric baritones, who, in a different era, would never have dreamed of attempting them. In recent times, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Thomas Hampson and … er … um … Plácido Domingo have been among those prominent in keeping the flame burning. Read the rest of this entry »

While up in Bow Street, the Royal Opera opened the season with open house for a youthful audience watching a paean to unlikely mammaries, English National Opera, perhaps mindful that they were competing with Last Night of the Proms, opened with Stuart Skelton singing the title role in a new production of Verdi’s Otello. In recent years, Verdi’s masterpiece has very much been the property of the Royal Opera, with a series of highly successful revivals of Elijah Moshinsky’s traditional and long-lived production involving big international stars. The most recent of these involved the near perfect partnership of Antonenko and Harteros under the incendiary baton of Antonio Pappano. Those are big shoes to step into but I am delighted to report that ENO more than stepped up to the mark – this was the best opening night at the Coliseum that I can remember in a very long time and all factors coalesced into a thrilling and emotionally draining evening.

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