Opera North, 16th February 2014, Geoffrey Mogridge
The statistics alone are mind boggling: five conductors, two directors, three pianists,thirty five vocal soloists, with the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North - over 150 artists. On reading through the programme book, bursting with pictures and loving messages of tribute to Richard Angas, the gentle giant of opera, it felt surreal to see his name listed amongst the artists scheduled to appear in this memorial concert to celebrate his life. But thanks to some precious video films we were able to again relish that unmistakable timbre and the awesome physical presence with his deeply carved expressive face. Angas was effectively with us in person, as much as his benevolent spirit seemed to be hovering somewhere above the stage and orchestra pit.
Opera Australia, 12th February 2014, Sandra Bowdler
This first-ever Australian production of Rossini’s Il turco in Italia (here billed as The Turk in Italy) is an absolute delight. Featuring Australia’s bel canto prima donna assoluta Emma Matthews in top form, it also boasts a sparkling 1950s-themed production under the direction of Simon Phillips (former Artistic Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company), who also provided the genuinely funny idiomatic Australian-English surtitles.
English National Opera, 28th February 2014, Miranda Jackson
English National Opera has certainly earned the right to name itself “The House of Handel” over the years. While its posher rival in Bow Street barely seems to be aware of the composer’s existence, ENO continues to delight audiences with a steady stream of imaginative, high quality Handelian productions (with the exception of their uncharacteristically appalling Julius Caesar), impressively cast with some of the best Baroque talent that Britain has to offer. I particularly like the fact that this innovative new production of Rodelinda will be running during the first week of the 2014 London Handel Festival, meaning that Handel fans can spend evenings in March with not one but three of Handel’s redoubtable heroines.
A brace of ghost ships disembark on disc
One of the more enterprising celebrations to mark Wagner’s bicentenary last year now arrives on disc courtesy of Naïve. Conductor Marc Minkowski had been considering recording Die Feen, but opted instead for the original 1841 version of Der fliegende Holländer, presented in a single act, coupling it with Pierre-Louis Dietsch’s opera Le Vaisseau fantôme. The two share a tangled history. Wagner had arrived in Paris in 1839 wishing to write for the Opéra and devised a one-act scenario which could take place as a curtain-raiser to a ballet. A libretto and even some music (Senta’s ballad among them) were shown to Léon Pillet, the director of the Opéra, who promptly dismissed it. Instead, he offered to purchase the synopsis (and possibly the libretto) from Wagner for 500 francs.
No deer were harmed in the making of this opera!
English Touring Opera (Linbury), 22nd February 2014, Miranda Jackson
I realised with with some consternation that the last time I saw a staged production of Tippett’s King Priam was more than thirty years ago. The disadvantages of getting old usually outweigh the benefits, but I realise in this case I have the advantage over those critics seeing the opera for the first time in its full dramatic glory. As we listen to opposing views about the significance of The Great War in its centenary year, we should remember that King Priam was premiered in Coventry, the night before the War Requiem in a festival to celebrate the consecration of Basil Spence’s modernist cathedral with its Chapel of Unity, a shrine to peace. Tippett, perhaps even more than Britten, was “fiercely pacifist.” His depiction of the Trojan war focuses on the collateral damage inflicted on the families of the young bucks who initiate war.
English Touring Opera, 20th February 2014, Sebastian Petit
What on earth were Britten and W.H Auden thinking of when they created Paul Bunyan? Firstly, to have the naivety to believe that two callow,sheltered Englishmen could take on the might of the Broadway of Gershwin, Weill, Kern and Hammerstein and then to perversely choose a subject matter which allowed for no strong narrative thrust. Like most folk legends, the story of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is a collection of disparate events added to and expanded over the years. Amusing when told round the campfire, but hardly the stuff of a cogent music theatre libretto. Auden’s contribution signally fails to bind the events into a whole and is often clotted with lines which land on the ear with peculiar ungratefulness. It’s hard to believe that this is the same author who later penned one of the very finest English language libretti for Stravinsky’sThe Rake’s Progress.
Rattling the roofers in Serban's classic staging
The Royal Opera, 17th February 2014, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Now, I’m sure you can understand that, diffident and deferential in the proffering of my humble views as I always am, I am the last person to enter into any form of critical dissent from the consensus: dear me, no. As if. And this is doubly so when it comes to the opinions of Antony Lias, OpBrit’s fons et origo - or, “the most beloved leader” as his frequent emails keep telling us to refer to him – who reviewed the performance of this opera when it opened the current ROH season back in September in a manner that could be reasonably described as withering, at least as far as the staging was concerned. So it is with something approaching trepidation that I confess that I really like Andrei Serban’s staging, and always have, ever since I first saw it when it was brand new exactly thirty years ago (aged 9: a self-evident prodigy).
Ailyn Pérez made a welcome return visit to The Royal Opera a few weeks ago to sing two performances of Massenet’s Manon, marking the first of a trio of roles at the House in the coming months. After wowing London with her exquisitely vulnerable Violetta in 2011, she appears for another run of La traviata (sharing the role with Diana Damrau) in May, singing opposite the Alfredo of her husband, Stephen Costello, while she makes her role debut as Liù tomorrow in Puccini’s Turandot. I caught up with her during a break early in rehearsals to discuss these roles, on performing opposite her husband and on how Ailyn got into music in the first place.
Teatro Goldoni di Livorno, 13th February 2014, Nicola Lischi
When death came to Jacques Offenbach in October of 1880, he was at work on the fourth act of the vocal score for a five-act opera that would have been his valedictory to the lyric stage. How he would have finished the opera we shall never know, for it was his habit to assess public reaction to his premieres, to rearrange and rewrite numbers if necessary before setting his seal on a work. The introduction of Les contes d’Hoffmann at the Opéra-Comique on the 10th of February 1881 was far from what Offenbach had originally intended. He had planned a grand opera without spoken dialogues; the character of Hoffmann was to be a baritone. But when his producer Vizentini went bankrupt, Carvalho accepted the work for the Opéra-Comique and its contracted singers.
Sumptuous, but befuddling production
English National Opera, 13th February 2014, Mark Pullinger
The final revival in 2009 of Jonathan Miller’s Little Italy mafioso production of Rigoletto, a classic at English National Opera since it opened in 1982, was my first Opera Britannia review. By a neat dint of symmetry, this production by Christopher Alden at the same address proves to be my final assignment. Alden originally staged the opera for the Chicago Lyric in 2000, where it met with howls of derision from the Chicago press. After being quietly dumped, ENO and the Canadian Opera Company decided to revive its fortunes, its 2011 Canadian premiere invoking a similar response from Toronto’s conservative audience. Perhaps it will fare better on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, those who were outraged by the director’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (myself included) or scathing about his Freudian treatment of Die Fledermaus, will find little to provoke a similarly extreme response here, just a sense of mild befuddlement.
Provocative production, dazzlingly stylish execution
Royal Opera in HD, 12th February 2014, Mark Pullinger
Jean-Paul Sartre closes No Exit with the line, ‘Hell is other people’ (‘L'enfer, c'est les autres’), yet in Kasper Holten’s new production of Don Giovanni, Hell is quite the opposite – a lonely vacuum where the Don’s history of his 2065 conquests is wiped from the slate, reducing him to a lonely, cowering shell; no leaping flames and brimstone here. Mozart’s dramma giocoso, composed for Prague in 1787 and revised for the Vienna premiere a year later, is often labelled ‘a director’s graveyard’ but Holten bravely turns the piece on its head with some surprising – and controversial – twists. I attended the second night at the Royal Opera House and was fascinated enough to want to watch it again, this time via the cinema screen.
Wigmore Hall, 10th February 2014, Mark Pullinger
I wonder if Georgian mezzo-soprano Nino Surguladze is a secret fan of Top Gear? She certainly took Jeremy Clarkson’s maxim of ‘Power!’ to heart in the operatic opening half to her Rosenblatt Recital at Wigmore Hall. Her recital’s opening volley pinned the audience to the backs of their seats. The composer? Mozart. He’s usually a reliable recital opener, allowing a singer to gauge the size and acoustic of the hall with an audience present. Surguladze, however, offered a turbo-charged reading of Sesto’s ‘Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio’ from La clemenza di Tito, immediately displaying her wares – a molasses-dark mezzo – at full throttle, regardless of its appropriateness in such repertoire. Her voice sounded far too big for the Hall at this volume and she was unable to negotiate the tricky runs at the end without serious lapses in intonation.
Sextet of young singers bring off successful revival
Teatro del Giglio di Lucca, 9th February 2014, Nicola Lischi
The most famous of Domenico Cimarosa’s sixty-five operas, Il matrimonio segreto had a triumphant premiere in Vienna in 1972, just two months after Mozart’s death. It is well-known that the Emperor Leopold II enjoyed the work so much that he ordered a lavish supper for the performers, after which the entire opera was repeated. This must have been a substantial feat, considering that the premiere lasted three hours because of public acclamation and repetition of arias and ensembles.