I’ve waited thirteen impatient years for this. Covent Garden, July 2000: the Kirov Opera (before the Mariinsky reclaimed its Imperial title) rolled into town for a Russian season of Gergievian proportions, the highlight of which was Andrei Konchalovsky’s production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. Up on her balcony, with Audrey Hepburnesque looks, perched the Natasha of Anna Netrebko, whose singing was beyond captivating. She already had a number of Russian roles under her belt; her debut as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin seemed only a matter of time. And so we waited.
After their highly successful Peter Grimes last month, Opera North’s Festival of Britten continues with this fantastic revival of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Opera North first staged the work in 1982. The current production directed by Martin Duncan was premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in the Spring of 2008 and was conducted then (as now) by Stuart Stratford. Happily, several of the singers from that production reprise their roles in this revival – including James Laing as Oberon, Jeni Bern as Tytania, Henry Waddington as Bottom and Daniel Abelson as Puck. I vividly recall this "dream team" from 2008 and it is wonderful that the aforementioned have returned to their roles for this revival.
I have to confess that any production I’ve seen of Poppea has been subconsciously but automatically compared to WNO’s wonderful production from 1997 which first introduced me to the piece (hint to WNO, it’s overdue a revival…). An opera where the bad guys win, ending with them singing the most erotic and sensuous music you could ask for, and where even the ostensible goodies are as devious and conniving as the repulsively attractive major couple. Throw in copious amounts of cross-dressing and interfering deities and you’ve got a box office hit that is as titillating and bitingly satirical now as it was in the 1640s.
What an infuriating director Calixto Bieito is! There is so much in his new Fidelio (shared with Munich) that is exceptional, thought provoking and dramatically riveting. There is an astonishing set by Rebecca Ringst which, aided by Tim Mitchell’s beautiful lighting, can change from a solid, imposing form to something of airy transparency. The scene when the vast front section slowly tips backwards, without visible support from wires or chains, till it lies flat on the stage is a jaw dropping moment of technical stagecraft. There are moving and truthful performances from most of the principals and numerous striking stage pictures. But against that you have to set the director’s disastrous decision to ditch every single line of Beethoven’s dialogue and replace it with portentous quotes from Jorge Luis Borges and Cormac McCarthy. Most of these additions have no obvious relevance to the original narrative and God help any poor soul coming to Fidelio for the first time: they could have had little or no idea what was going on.
As revivals go this was a drag, sadly not of the Dame Edna variety which might have livened up the evening (and what a Turandot she would have made). Instead Puccini’s most dramatic music was cursed from the word go by a bonfire-waiting-to-happen-production and a conductor who ought to be directing traffic rather than orchestra of The Royal Opera. Knocking around since 1984, Andrei Serban’s wretched production is a little tired looking to say the least. Like the clap, it’s been around for an age and shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon. It’s more Big Trouble in Little China than Imperial Peking. I have no doubt that many will find its lurid costumes and creaking sets very appealing, but to these jaded eyes, it is little short of a pantomime and lacking in imagination.
Right; Handel Spotters’ Guide to the ready, people - this performance was in the wonderfully appropriate spirit of baroque pasticcio (vide Handel’s Oreste, lots of Vivaldi’s opera – claiming 100 written indeed…etc.), using arias and duets from Handel’s Italian operas and oratorios. Exploring the story of a couple’s life together from childhood to old age, the intimate space of the Arcola Theatre was an atmospheric setting for a chamber performance from Isle of Noise at the Grimeborn Festival, whose aim is ‘to create new work, freely adapted from existing repertoire and presented outside the context of a traditional opera house’.
Australian tenor Stuart Skelton isn’t one to let the grass grow under his feet. Last week saw him open in Calixto Bieito’s controversial production of Fidelio at English National Opera on Wednesday, swiftly followed by a concert performance (semi-staged) of Peter Grimes in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the very next night. As if that wasn’t enough, a second Florestan back at ENO on Friday and a trip across the Thames for another Grimeson Saturday completed a marathon four day stint, before which I caught up with him to talk about his career, a forthcoming gala and life on the operatic circuit. He is a tenor in tremendous demand. Skelton sang another key role – Siegmund – in the Seattle Opera Ring this summer and Wagner features prominently in his schedules; the day after our interview, he flew to Bilbao for concerts of Act I of Die Walküre and excerpts from Lohengrin. How does he manage it?
Biography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.
(New poems added: 04/08/2010)
Dmitri Platanias will sing the title role when the Royal Opera revives its new production of Nabucco. Mariusz Kwiecien will be joined by Saimir Pirgu in Steffen Aarfing's production of Szymanowski's King Roger at Covent Garden in 2015. The Royal Opera will stage Andrea Chenier in 2014/15 with Jonas Kaufmann, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Željko Lucic.
Anna Netrebko is due to sing the role of Lady Macbeth for a single performance at the Bavarian State Opera in June 2014.
Maria Agresta will sing Lucrezia in Verdi's I due Foscari in the 2014-15 season at Covent Garden. Placido Domingo does the Doge double, adding the baritone role of Francesca Foscari to his Simon Boccanegra.
Corinne Winters, fresh from her triumph as Violetta in ENO's production of La traviata, is to return to the Coliseum next season as Teresa in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini. Michael Spyres sings the title role in a production which sees the return ofTerry Gilliam to the director's seat, after his Damnation of Faust debut.
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Reviews to be published shortly:
Tosca - Welsh National Opera
Tudor Trilogy - Welsh National Opera
It’s rare for a disc of Verdi baritone arias to make headline news, but when the ‘baritone’ in question is septuagenarian tenor Plácido Domingo, eyebrows and expectations are similarly raised. It’s been a few years now since his first forays into baritone territory, with performances of Simon Boccanegra in Berlin, New York, Milan and London and the experience has obviously whetted his appetite. Domingo’s curiosity has always led him into exploring new roles, be it zarzuela or Wagner, so it’s no surprise that Boccanegra proved emphatically not to be his final new role; Rigoletto, Germont père, Doge Foscari and Nabucco have all followed and there is a Conte di Luna ahead in Berlin this autumn. Indeed, he has more of these roles ‘under his belt’ than Jonas Kaufmann or Anna Netrebko on their respective Verdi discs, which are largely augurs of roles to come.
There are a number of singers who, to this pair of ears at least, very strongly resemble a predecessor in terms of their basic timbre and, often enough, means of vocal production. Kaufmann is a classic case in point, whole areas of the voice strongly reminding me of Jon Vickers: and Flórez is another, where I still half expect to look up and see not him but his teacher/mentor Ernesto Palacio. And then there is Celso Albelo, who bears no physical or personal resemblance at all, but whose sound is so similar to that of the late Alfredo Kraus that you wind up wondering whether, given that both were born and trained in the Canary Isles, there isn’t something in the waters around West Africa other than pirates to account for it.
‘Ne me touchez pas, ne me touchez pas,’ protests Mélisande when Golaud discovers her in the forest in the opening scene of Debussy’s opera. I declared early on in my viewing that Mélisande need have nothing to fear in this production from the Opéra Bastille. The only points of contact between any of the characters occurs in the climactic moment of Act IV, where the ‘embrace’ between Pelléas and Mélisande is a grasping of hands, swiftly followed by the death blow dealt (minus sword) to his brother by Golaud, her husband. It was no surprise to read ‘Mise en scène: Robert Wilson’ on the stylish cover of this DVD. His characters drift around his abstract set in slow motion, arms held aloft in a strangely choreographed semaphore. The long distance interactions puzzle, then infuriate. Quite how Mélisande gets pregnant is anybody’s guess.
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