Limp, lacklustre conducting kills this Tosca
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 29th November 2013, Nicola Lischi
The opening chords of the Scarpia motif, limp and lacking in compactness, followed by the heaviness of the Angelotti, or “fugitive” motif were instantaneous harbingers of the dismal outcome of this Tosca performance. There is no beating around the bush: the blame must be squarely placed upon the shoulders of Nahel Al Halabi, a conductor of Syrian background, who trudged through the score showing no pulse, no vigour, no energy, let alone punch and verve. His whole conducting moved as if slowly and laboriously making its way through molasses, almost an exercise in word spelling. And it was not just a problem of tempos and rhythm, because also the dynamic range was flattened and ironed out. He moved ponderously, one note at the time, and this all happened at the helm of the Puccini Festival Orchestra, whose members could surely play Tosca in their sleep.
A brave endeavour, with mixed fortunes
Welsh National Opera, Southampton, 27th-29th November 2013, Mark Pullinger
I came late to The Tudors, the televisual romp charting the marriages of Henry VIII, aired by the BBC. It spawned renewed interest in this period of history with its larger than life characters, on which Welsh National Opera obviously hoped to capitalise in its ambitious venture to stage three of Donizetti’s Tudor operas (Il castello di Kenilworth the omission) in a single touring season. Likewise, I came late to WNO’s Tudor trilogy, catching the final performances of the tour at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton. Donizetti and his librettists played as fast and loose with English history as modern-day scriptwriters. Anyone anticipating a treatment as glamorous as the television bonkbuster would have been sorely disappointed though, its rich tapestry of characters and settings rendered almost entirely in funereal black in Madeleine Boyd’s all-purpose designs and costumes for all three operas. For such a colourful historical period, these stagings are perversely gloomy.
A Carmen beyond the routine
Teatro del Giglio, Lucca, 23rd November 2013, Nicola Lischi
Obviously a critically informed performance of an opera, let alone one such as Carmen, is only helpful if it does not remain a mere exercise in scholarship but is translated into a real living theatrical experience, which is what happened in Lucca. First of all, most of the merit must be credited to Carlo Goldstein, a young conductor who emerged only four years ago after winning the International Conducting Competition of Graz and has since then appeared in some of the most important opera companies and concert halls in Europe. Supported by the distinguished Orchestra della Toscana, he conducted with impulsiveness and colour, while still favouring relatively relaxed tempos, never forgetting that despite the tragic dénoument, Carmen is still an opéra-comique, and that it’s not its fault if early on it came to be viewed as the prototype of Verismo opera and thereby falsified. Goldstein conducted with a languorous but not languid grace, which for many critics defines the difference between Bizet’s opera and the tempestuous and exotic novella on which it is based.
WNO's über-traditional staging outclasses the Met
Welsh National Opera, Southampton, 26th November 2013, Mark Pullinger
Renée Fleming, our hostess with the mostest at the Metropolitan Opera’s latest cinema relay of Tosca a few weeks ago, urged us – as ever – to experience opera first-hand and to ‘come visit the Met’ or to support your local opera company. The Opera Britannia excursions budget wouldn’t get you as far as York, let alone New York, so my local company it was and performing the same opera too. Tosca is very much the safe, financial bolster to Welsh National Opera’s Tudor trilogy in its autumn season – a crowd-pleaser of a production excavated from 1992, but which seemed even older. In the event, it proved a good deal better than its big-budget competitor from the Big Apple, both in terms of action as well as much of the actual singing.
A curate's egg of a Herring
Barbican Hall, 23rd November 2013, Miranda Jackson
The BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrated Britten’s birthday weekend with a performance of the composer’s chamber opera Albert Herring, a dark satire on Little England. The libretto is based on a short story by Maupassant but written by Eric Crozier (the original director of Peter Grimes) and gives us a wonderful insight into rural life in England c. 1900. Small-town life in Loxford represents the old, pre-Great-War utopia in which there was an established hierarchy and everyone knew his place. Pre-1914 it was hugely important for the Lady Billowses of this world to maintain the innocence of young men such as Albert Herring as a means of keeping the old world order. You need a compliant underclass with aspirations for little more than heavenly reward for it to be possible to send a whole generation to war. When Albert Herring is appointed May King by the citizens of Loxford, part of his prize is an edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the ultimate Protestant manual on how to live a chaste and puritanical life. The incongruity of the gift provokes a titter of amusement in a modern audience.
A richly contemplative evening as classic production returns
English National Opera, 20th November 2013, Mark Pullinger
Confirmed Glassophiles will be delighted to see the return to the Coliseum of this superb production of Satyagraha, a non-narrative, abstract meditation on Mahatma Gandhi’s early life and struggles against racial discrimination in South Africa. On paper, it sounds a daunting prospect to the newcomer – an opera sung entirely in Sanskrit (as per the composer’s specifications, regardless of ENO’s mission statement) where the only surtitles are those projected from the auditorium to aid the chorus deliver its lines. The libretto is printed in the programme, but doesn’t represent an ideal skim-read before curtain-up. In reality, if you are willing to submit to Philip Glass’ haunting spiral of phrases and orchestration, it is a powerfully hypnotic piece of theatre drawing the observer in to Gandhi’s spiritual progress.
Slick and subtly disturbing supermarket nightmare
Glyndebourne on Tour, Milton Keynes, 19th November 2013, Sebastian Petit
And so to Milton Keynes, pursued by a perishing wind fit to crack the famous concrete cows. The Milton Keynes Theatre, as a venue, is one of the jewels in the ATG crown, big enough to house almost any touring product, with spacious and well-designed auditorium and foyers. Unfortunately it is marooned in one of those soulless retail areas surrounded by a sea of mediocre chain outlets which offer the same tat or that which passes for food in a thousand other identical areas the world over. Whether it was position or the icy blasts which accounted for the poorly populated house is hard to say. But opera audiences need to beware in straightened times, with a government almost wholly unsympathetic to subsidised art: to quote the hackneyed phrase “Use it or lose it”.
Cucchi's excellent New York setting let down by cast
Teatro Comunale di Firenze, 15th November 2013, Nicola Lischi
If Anna Bolena updated the dramatic characters of an opera seria, L’elisir d’amore - a comic and rustic rendering of the Tristan and Isolde tale – redefines the elements of the “commedia buffa” of the eighteenth century, giving birth to a new terminology. Thus, the specification of “melodramma giocoso” of Elisir acquires its meaning in the moving, pathetic and elegiac smile that perfectly counterbalances the “buffo” laughter of the classic comic opera. And Donizetti pushed this semantic subtlety of the words even further when he called Don Pasquale a “drama buffo”.
'Shabby little shocker' describes the production rather than the opera
Metropolitan Opera, 9th November 2013, Mark Pullinger
Putting tried and trusted productions out to grass and replacing them is always a gamble. ENO unveiled its new Magic Flute last week, a spritely filly though some will hanker after Hytner’s faithful old nag. When the opera is as iconic as Tosca and the production is Franco Zeffirelli’s, the stakes are raised. When the Royal Opera retired its Zeffirelli production, which had done sterling service since 1964, it replaced it with an utterly inoffensive one – handsome in its way. But when the Metropolitan Opera premiered Luc Bondy’s effort in 2009, there was a feeling that a backlash was inevitable, simply because it wasn’t Zeffirelli’s. This was my first opportunity to see Bondy’s staging, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t hesitate to call for the vet to put it out of its misery.
Stagecraft and illusion in McBurney's contemporary production
English National Opera, 7th November 2013, Mark Pullinger
For all the risk-taking in the operatic world, productions which are guaranteed bums-on-seats bankers are like Nibelung gold. To scrap not one but two such productions is a brave move for English National Opera this season. We shall see what Christopher Alden inflicts on Rigoletto in the spring, replacing Jonathan Miller’s famous Little Italy staging. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hytner’s much loved production of The Magic Flute has finally been laid to rest (after a few ‘absolutely your last chance to see’ revivals), replaced with this new one by Simon McBurney and Complicite, created at De Nederlandse Opera, co-producers, where it received its premiere last year. Stagecraft and the art of illusion are very much in focus in a contemporary telling of Mozart’s fairy tale pantomime which frequently delights.
Keenlyside and Mattila excel in fine revival
Royal Opera, 31st October 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
Whatever reservations or animadversions I have to express about this revival of Wozzeck at the Royal Opera House, of which rather more anon, I think I’d still like to make it absolutely clear from the outset that if you have any serious interest in opera – or perhaps, rather, interest in serious opera - you should, without fail, make certain you attend at least one of the remaining performances on 5th, 8th, 12thand 15th November. Because, all theatrical considerations aside, this is the most musically accomplished account of the score I’ve heard in an opera house since 1989, strong enough to overcome and largely nullify a staging that both constricts and contradicts Berg’s own boiled-down version Georg Büchner’s unfinished source play.
Our critic sniffs out anarchic Shostakovich in HD
Metropolitan Opera, 26th October 2013, Miranda Jackson
Described at the time as “an anarchist’s hand grenade,” The Nose was not well received and soon disappeared from view, although Malko, one of Shostakovich’s teachers at the Conservatoire, recognised the quality of the score. It was composed in 1927-28 and given a concert performance, against Shostakovich’s better judgment, in 1929: “The Nose loses all meaning if it is seen just as a musical composition. For the music springs only from the action...It is clear to me that a concert performance of The Nose will destroy it.” It received its staged premiere in 1930 in what was then Leningrad. It is thought a single score survived in the USSR in the library of the Bolshoi Theatre, where it was re-discovered in 1974 by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. Meanwhile, performance materials must have survived in the USA as the opera received its professional premiere at Santa Fe in 1965.
A production so good it practically defies description
ROH2, 24th October 2013, Miranda Jackson
The experience of hearing Music Theatre Wales perform The Killing Flower by Salvatore Sciarrino at the Royal Opera’s Linbury theatre on October 24th was so good it practically defies description. If you are in a position to travel to Llandudno on November 2nd or Swansea’s Grand Theatre on November 26th, do so and I personally guarantee you will not regret it. The Linbury had been re-aligned so that we, the audience, along with the performers felt as if we were in an alchemist’s crucible, such was the unparalleled intensity of this experience. Those who didn’t fall by the wayside were rewarded with a performance of pure gold.
A primitive, earthy, '80s classic
ROH2, 21st October 2013, Miranda Jackson
Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek is a re-working of the Oedipus myth, perhaps the finest tragedy to survive from Ancient Greece and contains the traditional elements of pollution (miasma) and catharsis. Music Theatre Wales’ award-winning production at the Linbury Theatre (described by the composer who was present as “amazingly powerful”) presents a distinctly modern dénouement about transcendence and the power of love.
Haunting imagery in this fine revival
Opera North, Leeds, 17th October 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
Opera North is celebrating the Britten centenary in style, presenting a trio of his operas in their autumn season concluding with Death in Venice which is being seen in Leeds for the very first time. The production was originally directed by Yoshi Oida and first staged at the 2007 Aldeburgh Festival starring Alan Oke and this talented tenor reprises his interpretation in Leeds, under revival director Rob Kearley.
Royal Opera, 17th November 2013
Thomas Allen's Venetian production doesn't quite catch fire
Scottish Opera, Glasgow, 15th October 2013, Kelvin Holdsworth
Scottish Opera has produced a solid and pleasing Don Giovanni but one which, though it contains some fine singing, takes few risks and makes few demands of its audience. Sir Thomas Allen sang the title role for years so knows the piece inside out, therefore this opportunity to direct the work must presumably be a distillation of the insight and wisdom that he acquired though working with countless others on different productions.
Things began well enough with a strange masked figure suddenly appearing centre stage and beckoning the audience in during the initial doom laden chords of the overture. The mask was the first clue that we had been transported to Venice.
Minghella's arresting, glossy production returns
English National Opera, 14th October 2013, John E de Wald
Launched at English National Opera in 2005 and now back for its fifth revival at the Coliseum, Anthony Minghella’s production of Madam Butterfly has become something of a familiar face in London. A co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York and the Lithuanian National Opera, the work is a visual feast; polished, alluring and vibrant; without doubt, it remains one of the most striking on-stage sights in town. Co-directed with Minghella’s wife, Carolyn Choa, it was the only opera staged by the director more commonly known for his work in film - his more prominent credits include The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley - and indeed, there is more than a touch of the cinematic in its boldly painted colours and flowing, stylised tableaux.
A glass half-full
State Opera of South Australian, Adelaide, 12th October 2013, Sandra Bowdler
It is hard to think of another opera as gloomy and portentous as La forza del destino, one of Verdi’s late-ish operas (1862), set in Spain and Italy during the Wars of the Austrian succession in the mid-eighteenth century. Like those wars, the opera is incredibly complex and straining of one’s credulity, but this Opera Conference (a partnership of Australian opera companies) production has gone for a boots and all approach in bringing it to the stage. The thrust of the opera is that the ultimate destiny of us all is death which cannot be avoided, and the production has taken this message to heart with great gusto, festooning the stage with memento mori of every kind. Not only a giant skull, dominating the opening and many subsequent scenes, but a chorus dressed in black robes with death masks appear at different points, and indeed the whole cast appears with deathly makeup including black eyes for all. Apparently the directorial team wanted to throw a hint of zombie into the mix, certainly catching a 21st century Zeitgeist, if not exactly an 18th or 19thcentury one.
A good Melitone and conductor cannot save this Forza
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 11th October 2013, Nicola Lischi
La forza del destino is a profoundly probing opera about allegiances: to parents, to lovers, to family, to country, to God, to oneself. Destiny drives its characters apart from those they feel most closely bound. Preparing to escape her beloved home with her lover, Leonora describes herself as an orphan, and very soon she is one. Alvaro is an orphaned Peruvian of Incan ancestry, living incognito in Spain and Italy. Carlo is forever trying to regain through vengeance that family honour lost to him when his father is killed and his sister, as he prefers to believe, dishonoured. It is no accident that in this opera of doomed allegiances the lovers meet only twice - at the beginning and at the end – and that three of the greatest passages in the work are monologues in which the characters reveal, directly or by inference, their lonely defencelessness. Beyond all this there is an allegiance to God, but that can be consummated only in death, as the final moments make clear.
Despite taking the scissors to Cavalli's score, a fine performance
English Touring Opera, Britten Theatre, 10th October 2013, Llyr Carvana
Sex, infidelity, failed assassinations, disrespectful servants and a decidedly un-21st Century view of human deformity;English Touring Opera’s season of Venetian operas continues with Cavalli’s Jason (or Giasone, to give the original Italian title), first performed in 1649. Composed for the first public theatre in Venice, the Teatro San Cassiano, Giasone went on to be one of the most popular operas of the 17th Century, with no fewer than 12 manuscript copies having survived (there are only two for L’incoronazione di Poppea in comparison). That so many of Cavalli’s works survive mean they offer an unrivalled view of the development of opera over thirty years, from around 1640 until 1670, covering the change of opera’s function from courtly entertainment, as with Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, through the opening of the public opera houses as general entertainment and on to placing Venice as the operatic capital of Europe. No mean feat.
A vivid, humorous, fast-paced romp
English Touring Opera, Britten Theatre, 8th October 2013, Miranda Jackson
The last of English Touring Opera’s trio of Venetian operas is Handel’s Agrippina, composed for the 1709 carnival season. These operas, very much in the spirit of Carnival, were the cutting-edge art of the day, the equivalent of the Biennale in bringing an international audience to Venice. Not only were they offered for the first time to a paying public rather than a coterie of aristocrats, but were part of the liberal zeitgeist, a reaction against the constraints of Rome and the Vatican in a city where, during carnival, you could transcend class, social and even sexual barriers. Handel went to Venice to steep himself in this new Italian style of entertainment; as a result, Agrippina contains depictions of lust, bawdy jokes, travesty characters and a pretty outrageous plot. It also has a wonderfully ironic libretto by the clearly worldly Cardinal Vicenzo Grimani, translated brilliantly by ETO’s General Director, James Conway.
About as historically accurate as 'Carry on Henry' but strongly cast
Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, 6th October 2013, Llyr Carvana
O Dduw, I’m back on home turf - returning to Cardiff to attend Welsh National Opera’s ambitious mounting of three of Donizetti’s four Tudor themed operas. Having seen Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda the previous evenings, this new production of Roberto Devereux was a welcome and interesting undertaking by the company, and with only three evenings involved, less of a bladder buster than a Ring Cycle. My bel canto bore side laments the omission of the Rossinian Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth from 1829, however it did mean we were spared the horror of a soprano aria scored for harp and glass harmonica, an aria that could be best summed up as ‘an effective piece of claptrap’.
Netrebko's stellar Tatyana worth the wait!
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 5th October 2013, Mark Pullinger
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. Whether advised to distance herself from Russian repertoire for fear of being typecast; whether the focus on bel canto was because she’d been told it would build her technique, who knows, but the Fair Maid of Krasnodar kept us waiting. There have been tantalising glimpses; a Letter Scene on disc and a gripping final duet in concert, opposite Dmitri Hvorostovsky, which only whetted a desire for more. It was only this spring – in Vienna – that Netrebko sang her first Tatyana, again opposite Dima, before opening the Metropolitan Opera’s new HD season. Bozhe moi, the wait was worth it!
Alden's psychobabble misses the point of Strauss' fizzing operetta
English National Opera, 30th September 2013, John E de Wald
Johan Strauss composed that most famous of operettas, Die Fledermaus, in the Vienna of the early 1870s. The work had its premiere at the Theater an der Wien in 1874, only a stone’s throw away in time from the Vienna of Freud, fin-de-siècle decadence, and the stylish worlds of Art Nouveau and Deco. This chronological proximity forms the basis of director Christopher Alden’s new ENO production; the opulent vivacity of Strauss’s mercurial score paired with undertones of Freudian psychoanalysis and Deco boldness. A co-production with the Canadian Opera Company, Alden’s take is visually arresting and ideologically provocative. Too clever by half, perhaps.
Opera North's Festival of Britten continues with scintillating Dream
Opera North, Leeds, 28th September 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
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. What a delightful choice of repertoire for Opera North's Festival of Britten season to programme this sparkling comic opera alongside Peter Grimes and Death in Venice.
Poppea transported from Imperial Rome to Stalinist Russia
English Touring Opera, Britten Theatre, 28th September 2013, Llyr Carvana
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.
Monteverdi meets The Sopranos
Barbican Hall, 28th September 2013, Miranda Jackson
I have witnessed something extraordinary. Four hundred years after it was commissioned by the Duke of Mantua, Monteverdi’s Orfeo - the first surviving work worthy of the epithet “opera” was presented at the Barbican as verismo; and, more to the point, it worked. Picture if you will the Spiriti infernali of Hades singing “O powerful King of the eternal shades” while sporting Aviator sunglasses and a decidedly dishevelled Orpheus rolling about with a wine bottle, wasted after a night of binge drinking. This might sound like your idea of Regietheater hell, in which case you may prefer to look away now.
No harbour shelters peace in Jurowski's hands
Royal Festival Hall, 28th September 2013, Stephen Jay-Taylor
It’s a good job that Vladimir Jurowski is a Russian émigré rather than citizen, or doubtless this – or indeed any other Britten opus – would be forbidden by the dead-eyed KGB spook still dictating Mother Russia’s political and cultural agenda. Where, one wonders, will this insistence on wholesome heterosexuality leave poor old Tchaikovsky? Well, that’s a problem for the Land of the Midnight Knock to resolve. Meanwhile, back at Sodom Central on the South Bank, the London Philharmonic Orchestra opened its 2013/14 season under its Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor with an elaborately costumed and directed semi-staging of Britten’s career-making 1945 opera, Peter Grimes.
Bieito delivers a dramatic, yet frustrating Fidelio
English National Opera, 25th September 2013, Sebastian Petit
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.
Andris Nelsons conducts Elektra with panache and vitality
Royal Opera, 23rd September 2013, Antony Lias
I must be one of the few people alive who actually relishes Strauss’ toxic and violent score. I hear lyrical beauty, torment and grandiosity that is hard to match in the entire operatic repertoire. In 102 minutes (apologies for clock watching, but it has its uses, especially when it compares favourably to the great recordings) we heard the full extent of The Royal Opera’s orchestra, bringing out all of the stunning nuances of Strauss’ masterwork, illuminating the gruesome tone painting of the score. Andris Nelsons conducted with real panache and vitality. The last eight bars, which we are all used to hearing as a thunderous, crashing and searing climax to the opera, were performed so slowly that it jolted you into thinking that a different conclusion was indeed possible.
A real case is made for a Donizetti rarity
Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, 20th September 2013, Nicola Lischi
Composed immediately after a masterpiece such as Roberto Devereux, Maria de Rudenz represents the gloomiest side of Italian Romantic melodrama, whilst Lucia had been its eminently elegiac aspect. The opera was a fiasco at its Venetian prémiere in January 1838. Despite an unusual captatio benevolentiae in the libretto by Salvatore Cammarano (Corrado, one of the leading characters, sings Venice’s praises describing the Serenissima as “stupor del mondo, ed incantato specchio del tuo ciel di zaffiro”, that is “wonder of the world, and enchanted mirror of your sapphire sky”), the audience of the Teatro La Fenice vehemently booed the new opera, although acceptance of the new work increased in later performances.
Maltman's striking Almaviva leads excellent McVicar revival
Royal Opera, 16th September 2013, John E de Wald
It has become de rigueur for the Royal Opera House to eschew the grand opening night spectacles of New York or Milan and launch its season instead with the safety of a favourite revival. Though London was last year gifted with the somewhat bolder in scope revival of Wagner’s Ring, this season marked a return to form with reiterations of Turandot and David McVicar’s Le nozze di Figaro. This was the production’s fourth reprisal at Covent Garden since 2006, and if familiarity left opening night evoking more routine than occasion, it was nevertheless the type of routine the Royal Opera does best; featuring a solid cast, strong orchestral playing, and a staging that is, while familiar, still capable of surprise nonetheless.
Fast, furious, frothy and frenetic LSO season opener
Barbican, 15th September 2013, Mark Pullinger
At first glance, marking Verdi’s bicentenary with a concert performance of Rigoletto may seem a tad unimaginative of the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s an opera you can catch most seasons elsewhere in the capital and the opportunity to explore a rare early opera has been eschewed. However, during its summer decampment to Aix-en-Provence, the LSO played pit band for Robert Carsen’s new production, set in a circus with Rigoletto as a clown, so it perhaps makes for a natural choice, even if most of the principal singers hadn’t made it back across La manche. What a bracing season opener it made under conductor Gianandrea Noseda! If it’s subtlety and nuance you want in your Verdi, best look away now, for this was fast, furious, frothy and frenetic.
Interpretations which have matured like fine wine - a vintage revival
Opera North, Leeds, 14th September 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
This latest revival of Phyllida Lloyd's acclaimed 1950s costumed production for Opera North, originally premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in October 2006, is inevitably tinged with sadness following the sudden death of Richard Angas during rehearsals. The veteran bass had been preparing to reprise his inimitable portrayal of Swallow, the lawyer. He was seen here most recently as a gleeful, sepulchral-toned Adam Goodheart in Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore. Opera North has dedicated this series of performances of Peter Grimes to the memory of Richard Angas, whose unmistakeable voice and towering stage presence were sorely missed last Saturday evening.
Lindstrom's ice princess rises above this brash, kitsch production
Royal Opera, 9th September 2013, Antony Lias
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.