Rossini: La donna del lago
Royal Opera, 17th May 2013, Mark Pullinger
Yards of tartan, a tenor as hirsute Braveheart rebel Highlander and a picturesque mural (or murial) of Loch Katrine, which would have had Hilda Ogden green with envy, place us emphatically in Scotland for this new staging of Rossini’s La donna del lago at Covent Garden. Originally planned as a co-production with the Palais Garnier and La Scala, the Royal Opera gave Ezio Frigerio’s staging the boot and employed John Fulljames to do the directorial honours instead (oh that it had the courage to do likewise with other co-prods foisted upon it – yes, I do mean Rusalka). La donna del lago, based on Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem The Lady of the Lake, presents a romanticized view of Highland history and Fulljames taps into its events as a ‘museum piece’, not always with coherence. It will have mattered little for many in the audience, who were there primarily for the singing and cheered the cast to the rafters.
Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 15th May 2013, Kelvin Holdsworth
Scottish Opera and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company have set sail with a sure-fire summer hit with their delightful new production of The Pirates of Penzance. A real crowd pleaser, this production deserves the success that it will undoubtedly have.
It became quickly obvious during the overture that this was a production that we were intended to laugh at. The seagull saw to that, first being heard crying plaintively above the sound of the orchestra and then appearing on strings from the very top of the proscenium and flying around over an azure curtain.
English National Opera, 11th May 2013, Gavin Dixon
Carrie Cracknell, a respected theatre director, makes her operatic debut with this ENO Wozzeck. The work demands much of its interpreters, not least a visual conception as compelling as the drama within the music. That’s exactly what it gets, in a production that moves the action to a present-day British army barracks, instilling claustrophobia, social decay and abusive power hierarchies at every turn. Cracknell treats all of her singers as real actors, leading to psychological insights that are all too rare from an opera that is more often played for its shock value. Edward Gardner also seeks, and regularly finds, details and subtleties in the work with his precise and measured reading. But the impressive intellect behind this production, both on the stage and in the pit, never obscures the work’s sheer emotional power. Everything builds towards the searing conclusion, in which the graphic visuals are fully the equal of the intensely powerful music.
Barbican Hall, 8th May 2013, Sebastian Petit
Entering the Barbican Hall foyers I suspected I might have, in a senior moment, turned up on the wrong night. While not quite yet colonised by tumbleweed, the foyers were horribly unpopulated considering the centre was hosting a recital by a big name artist like Magdalena Kožená. The rich variety of musical life in our capital can often result in deserving events failing to attract the level of support they deserve. This was clearly the case last night with the lures of the all-star (minus 1) Don Carlo and the opening of Liam Scarlett’s latest excursion into the world of nightmare leading to a less than half-full hall at the Barbican.
Oper Stuttgart, 5th May 2013, Faye Courtney
Cannibalism, self-mutilation, mad axe murderers, two-headed genetic mutants and women wearing clingfilm – just a few of the things you don’t usually expect to see in your average production of Parsifal. Welcome to the crazy world of Calixto Bieito, whose brilliant and disturbingly nihilistic interpretation of Wagner’sBühnenweihfestspiel is most definitely not for traditionalists, the squeamish or those of a sensitive disposition. For all its sublime music, Parsifal is Wagner’s most dramatically inert opera - yet incredibly, Bieito has somehow achieved the near impossible feat of creating a 5 hour long theatrical experience where it’s impossible to be bored for a single minute.
Oper Stuttgart, 4th May 2013, Faye Courtney
I’m not personally convinced that Wagner wrote Der fliegende Holländer because he was secretly trying to make some kind of anti-Capitalist ‘statement’, but try telling that to Calixto Bieito, a director who never lets trifling little details like the composer’s intentions stand in the way of creating a controversial piece of Regietheater, or as some may translate it - ‘Eurotrash’. Though his shock tactics are guaranteed to divide critics and public alike, you can’t deny that Bieito’s productions are usually intensely theatrical and thought-provoking affairs. However, in the case of his Dutchman for Oper Stuttgart the whole basic concept of a bunch of badly behaved businessmen in a rubber dinghy sadly fails to hit the mark.
Opera North, Leeds, 4th May 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
My earliest prevailing image of oratorio - particularly those of George Frederick Handel - is of instrumental textures like clotted cream and the full-throated roar of serried ranks of choristers dressed in flowing white gowns or black evening tails stacked up behind a swollen orchestra in an ornate Victorian Town Hall; or (alternatively) one of the great northern chapel choirs with organ or harmonium accompaniment delivering the annual performance of Messiah, Judas Maccabaeus or Saul.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 2nd May 2013, Nicola Lischi
The most amazing thing about this performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlois that it took place at all. The troubles that have been plaguing the Fondazione del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino are well known and this writer has already mentioned them in other recent reviews. The bottom line is that, without going into details, the Maggio ended up in such a sorry state that a few months ago the Italian government had no choice but to place an external commissioner, Francesco Bianchi, at its helm, so as to shed light on the actual extent of the deficit and try to save the sinking ship.
Cambridge Handel Opera, 30th April 2013, Sandra Bowdler
Cambridge saw an outstanding performance of Handel’s Atalanta, which could compare with anything from a major company. The production, singing and music were all next to flawless, and it was a Baroque production with a slight tongue in cheek style which delighted the audience. Atalanta was written to celebrate the marriage of the Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha to Frederick Louis (or Friedrich Ludwig), the son of King George II of England, in London in 1736. This context is necessary to understand some of the features of the opera, in particular why the plot is considered to be remarkably fluffy, even by the standards of Baroque opera.
Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, 29th April 2013, Gavin Dixon
The Mariinsky company is very proud of this production of Shostakovich’s The Nose. And so they should be, as this is a spectacular staging that plays to all the company’s strengths. It is a rollercoaster from beginning to end; bizarre and surreal, but also dynamic and constantly inventive. The production premiered in 2004, and after completing its run was taken on tour by Valery Gergiev to Stockholm, Paris, London (the Barbican) and Berlin. Then, in 2009, it was chosen as the work to launch the Mariinsky’s own label. Now, The Nose returns to the Mariinsky stage, this its first revival in four years.
English National Opera announced their new season this morning, boasting ten new (or ‘new to the UK’) productions and four classic revivals. Film director and Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam returns to ENO to lend his talent to a new production of Berlioz’s rarely performed Benvenuto Cellini, with the American rising star Corrine Winters (this season’s stunning Violetta) taking the role of Teresa – the cast also includes Michael Spyres in the title role and Willard White and will be conducted by ENO Music DirectorEdward Gardner. If it’s anywhere near as good as Gilliam’s wacky but brilliant Damnation of Faust then we should all be in for an extraordinary evening.
English National Opera, 29th April 2013, John E de Wald
By his very ubiquity on operatic stages, Puccini can be a difficult composer to get right. Of his works, La bohème is surely the most hackneyed and the most capable of inducing cynicism, not through its own vice so much as sheer familiarity with the plot and the music. Done well, Puccini’s virtuosic talent for melody and naturalistic vitality soars as in little else; and through its intelligent stage direction, scintillating orchestra, and superb cast of principals, this excellent revival of Jonathan Miller’s ENO staging reminds us of just how good the opera can be.
St John's Smith Square, 27th April 2013, Miranda Jackson
In December 2008 the great dramatic soprano, Elizabeth Connell, stepped into the breach and took on the role of Turandot in the Royal Opera House production when the leading lady was indisposed. At the time she was playing the role of Hansel and Gretel’s Mother. What a contrast: from impoverished wife of an alcoholic husband to indomitable princess. It was a stellar cast in the Humperdinck with Sir Tom Allen as her husband, but the role of Turandot has to be one of a handful of roles which an aspiring dramatic soprano yearns to tuck under her bejewelled belt.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 27th April 2013, Mark Pullinger
I come not to bury Dessay, but to praise her. Anyone who witnessed last season’s screening of La traviata from the Met featuring Natalie Dessay would have approached this cinema relay of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto starring the French coloratura soprano as Cleopatra with extreme caution. Indeed, those who listened to a Youtube recording of what is purportedly Dessay singing ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ on the opening night of the run could well have returned their tickets. For one performance she withdrew, resulting in Danielle de Niese, whose sex-kitten of a Cleopatra won her worldwide fame when David McVicar’s riot of a production was first seen at Glyndebourne, stepping in to save the show. Yet, despite some evidence of vocal frailty, Dessay emerged largely victorious to fight another day.
LSO, Barbican Hall, 25th April 2013, Dominic Wells
For this, one of his numerous 70thBirthday concerts, Sir John Eliot Gardiner chose to deliver an all-Stravinsky programme with an ancient Greek theme: Apollon musagète, and Oedipus Rex. Joining him on stage were the London Symphony Orchestra and, for the second work, the gentlemen of the conductor’s own Monteverdi Choir – a vocal ensemble beyond superlatives. This combination of conductor and ensembles has worked well in the past in other Stravinskian repertoire, including one of the best versions of the Symphony of Psalms I have ever heard (originally on DG but re-released at budget price on Brilliant Classics: 9015) and arguably the greatest CD-recording of The Rake’s Progress (DG 459 648-2). For the most part, the high standard of those recordings was evident last night in London’s Barbican Hall.
C Major Entertainment, Mark Pullinger
Kasper Holten faced something of a critical backlash (not from these quarters) for his use of dancer doubles in his recent Royal Opera production of Eugene Onegin, yet their use in this opera isn’t unique – Stefan Herheim did the same in Amsterdam. Both employed flashback techniques to explore the memories of the protagonists looking back on their past. In his production for the Polish National Opera, but filmed in Valencia, film, theatre and opera director Mariusz Trelinski adds a new twist. Who is the mysterious figure clad in white, with deathly pallor, stalking Tatyana and almost directing events?
Barbican Hall, 24th April 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
If, like me, you attended Sunday’s “Flórez and Friends” concert at the Barbican – as opposed to sitting through oceans of orchestral filler in the RFH in order to dribble over the unfeasible length of Jonas Kaufmann’s ‘Wälse’ – you may be forgiven for wondering how an audience already in a state of chronic, uncritical delight could possibly be pleasured any more. In which case, you needed to be at tonight’s solo recital, the latest tranche of Juan Diego Flórez’s Barbican residency, which comprehensively proved the time-honoured adage “it ain’t over until the sooty-lashed one sings at least four encores”. The nubile bounced around, whooping; the mature squirmed with satisfaction in their seats, emitting the odd low moan; I shouldn’t be at all surprised if the lame weren’t seen dancing in the aisles, and the dead – always a fair percentage of any opera audience – weren’t newly-risen. Indeed, anyone suffering with scrofula could well have been cured merely by touching his immaculately tailored trousers (though I’m still working out how to explain this to the police).
South African soprano Elizabeth Connell (1946 - 2012) was acclaimed for her performances of the great Strauss, Verdi and Wagner heroines. On Saturday 27 April a special concert to honour her memory will be held at St John's, Smith Square, with all proceeds being donated to the Musicians' Benevolent Fund as well as the Elizabeth Connell Prize, an annual award for young dramatic sopranos.
Barbican Hall, 21st April 2013, Sebastian Petit
There are times in every critic’s life when they enter a place of entertainment in a less than exalted frame of mind, wishing fervently that they were not required to sit in judgement on whatever artistic offering is being given that night. This was undoubtedly the case with me tonight as I entered the Barbican Hall. Despite the fact that I had been looking forward to this concert for nigh on six months, a combination of a rotten night’s sleep and an overlarge dinner had put me in a distinctly un-sunny mood. Had what followed been of poor or even average quality it would likely have received a fairly un-indulgent review. Fortunately the evening was so far up the scale of excellence it is in danger of receiving a rave.
Royal Festival Hall, 20th April 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Daniele Gatti was the Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for 13 years, from 1996 onwards: and the net result of his long and faithful devotion to them was to end up occupying a kind of twilight existence, seen somehow as not central to the city’s musical activities, having allied himself to the Cinderella of London orchestras. Happily for him, the rest of the world was rather more aware of his worth, and no sooner had he left than he was ensconced at Bayreuth, La Scala and the Met, as well as consolidating his position as a favoured guest with most of the great international orchestras. But after having conducted his way through most of the Verdi repertory at the ROH throughout the 1990s as the House’s Principal Guest Conductor year-in, year-out until the closure, he only reappeared there in 2001, promptly to vanish for the next eleven seasons. When he finally returned last year, to lead the new Falstaff, he was greeted with a homecoming hero’s sense of welcome. And something similar could be sensed tonight, at the Southbank-resident Philharmonia Orchestra’s major contribution to this year’s ongoing Verdi bicentenary celebrations.
Royal Opera, 16th April 2013, Sebastian Petit
Mozart and Schikaneder’s bizarre opera can be told in almost any way a director chooses - from Peter Sellars’ disastrous Glyndebourne LA freeway “retelling” through Julie Taymor’s Lion King spin-off to various “traditional” versions which seem little removed from pantomime. Fortunately David McVicar’s production pays the work the compliment of treating it seriously. And if the comic aspects recede to give way to the serious thread of the story I, for one, am not going to quarrel with that decision. Most importantly, this emphasis allows the two leads, often reduced to dully serious interludes between the Papageno scenes, to blossom and grow as characters.
Barbican Hall, 16th April 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
When this pair of concert performances of Britten’s most ingeniously crafted opera – literally, variations on a theme - was first announced early last year as part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s 2012/13, the conductor was meant to be Sir Colin Davis, the band’s Principal Conductor from 1995 until 2006 (after which he became its tirelessly hands-on President). Alas, illness intervened, and the last performances he gave with the LSO in their home hall were the two Der Freischützen almost exactly a year ago - the first of which I reviewed here - followed by dual outings of Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts in St. Paul’s Cathedral in July, his absolute public dernière (and a rather more fitting use of the building than that in which it presently finds itself embroiled, hired out for a has-been politico’s overblown obsequies). Sir Colin was too ill to conduct, or even attend, his own 85th birthday concert last September, and we had all long-since been advised that he would not be conducting these Turns of the Screw, entrusted instead to Richard Farnes, the Music Director of Opera North.