Glyndebourne Festival, 19th May 2013, Sebastian Petit
What an utterly joyous evening! Even a darkening sky and a chilly interval picnic failed to diminish the fizzing pleasure of this first revival of Richard Jones’ 1940s Falstaff (revived here under Sarah Fahie). Originally playing to rather mixed notices but now with an almost entirely new cast the production coalesced into a superbly sharp, detailed and hilarious experience. The cast worked as a tautly wound ensemble who appeared to enjoy every minute and centred round the astonishing Laurent Naouri as Sir John Falstaff.
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 Luis Pasqual’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.
Opera North, Leeds, 16th May 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
In the glorious summer of 1947, Glyndebourne Festival Opera House, the setting for the premiere of Benjamin Britten's chamber opera Albert Herring, must have seemed the very antithesis of post-war austerity Britain. It might be hard to imagine the aristocratic Lady Billows having to produce a ration book; but the whole population had to do so to purchase basic foods such as eggs, bread, milk and sugar. Meanwhile, society was going through immense change as the old order, and with it the rigid class structures, slowly began to erode. Given Britten's distaste of the class system, it is unlikely that he composed Albert Herring solely as a light-hearted rural romp designed to light up people's lives during the post-war drabness. Glyndebourne's founder John Christie is said to have heartily disliked the piece, dismissing it saying "This isn't our kind of thing, you know”. Perhaps Christie's reaction was not surprising, as the sharply drawn characters are parodies of familiar establishment figures and their servitors.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
English National Opera, Barbican Theatre, 12th April 2013, Dominic Wells
The implementation of 3D technology in cinemas over the last several years seems to polarise spectators. I’ve been surprised at just how vehemently some of my friends feel about it, claiming it not only adds nothing to the film, but actually detracts one’s attention from the drama. I agree that in some contexts 3D is a bit of a gimmick – not a gimmick that irritates me necessarily, but one that I would happily do without. In other contexts, however, it undoubtedly becomes an integral part of the film, and genuinely adds to the cinematic experience. I am pleased to say that the stunning use of 3D technology in the second half of Dutch composer and director Michel van der Aa’s new opera, Sunken Garden, falls in this latter category.
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 6th April 2013, Nicola Lischi
While the names of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two high-profiles judges who were murdered by the Mafia in 1992, may not ring a bell to international audiences, in Italy they are revered as authentic modern heroes. As it happens with all martyrs, their sacrifices are also viewed with some discomfort by a certain segment of the political class. It would have been logical for this opera to premiere in Palermo, where the two judges were born, worked and died, but in the programme notes composer Antonio Fortunato and librettist Gaspare Miraglia recount with unconcealed sadness the many obstacles, hostilities and the closed doors they met in their efforts to have their work performed in the Sicilian capital.
Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 4th April 2013, Kelvin Holdsworth
An underwhelming lead and a mismatched cast make Scottish Opera’sDer fliegende Holländer something of a mixed bag. However, one stunning voice and an absolutely electric chorus offer some good reasons for seeing this new production. Scottish Opera attempts to bring the Dutchman home at last in this production which is set on the east coast of Scotland, as per Wagner’s first draft, before he decided to change the opera’s setting to Norway. Thus, the original Scottish names of the characters are used - Daland becomes Donald and Erik the huntsman becomes George the minister. Sadly, someone missed a trick not renaming Senta as Senga, the local diminutive backslang for Agnes, and Senta remained Senta throughout.
Royal Opera, 30th March 2013, Mark Pullinger
The linking of the names Verdi and Abbado have yielded many fine operatic results over the years, including several outstanding ones. Claudio Abbado has an innate understanding of Verdi and has conducted memorable performances and recordings over a number of decades. However, it wasn’t Claudio in the pit, but his son, Daniele Abbado, in the director’s chair for a new production of Nabucco. Blandness was never something I associated with Abbado Snr’s Verdi, but Abbado Jnr’s is unremittingly dull, at least in this effort. Thankfully, there were ample musical compensations, not least a decibel-busting Abigaille from Liudmyla Monastyrska and a dramatically vivid portrait of the title role by veteran baritone Leo Nucci.
Welsh National Opera, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 23rd March 2013, Mark Pullinger
As Lieutenant Pinkerton peruses his new house, a traditional Japanese construction with sliding shoji paper doors, purchased on a 999 year lease – with an option to renew each month – he takes souvenir snaps on his camera. The sepia tones of Reinhart Zimmermann’s set, framed by cherry blossom, along with the drained colour of the costumes, give this production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly a nostalgic period feel evocative of turn-of-the-century photographs. Joachim Herz’s production for Welsh National Opera is even older than David Pountney’s for The Cunning Little Vixen which is also revived on this tour, but there’s ample evidence in both that productions needn’t be pensioned off when long in the tooth when they are still effective pieces of theatre.
Welsh National Opera, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 21st March 2013, Mark Pullinger
I hold a special place in my heart for David Pountney’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. It was my introduction to Janacek, my introduction to opera in English translation and entailed my first visit to the Coliseum (with Susan Gritton and Sarah Connolly among the cast). I vividly remember the experience bowling me over. I can think of few operas which bring a lump to the throat so quickly and moments such as the opera’s close with the inevitable turning of nature’s cycle, are magical. Could this revival for Welsh National Opera cast the same spell? Given its first performance when I was still at primary school, Pountney’s production has now reached its venerable thirties, but still emerges fresh as the proverbial daisy with a splendid new cast headed by Sophie Bevan in her role debut as the Vixen.
Royal Opera, 20th March 2013, Mark Pullinger
Whatever they slipped into Maurizio Benini’s Horlicks after Act I of this revival of Tosca, it worked a treat. For much of the first act he seemed comatose, sucking the life from Puccini’s score. ‘Recondita armonia’ resembled a turgid tug of war between conductor and tenor Yonghoon Lee, making his Royal Opera debut, to see who could drag the tempi back even further, the orchestra playing with lead in their boots. Suddenly, in Act II, Benini and his band were galvanized and the performance caught fire. In truth, there had been intermittent sparks and flickers in Act I with the arrival of Kristine Opolais in the title role. I missed her sensational house debut as Cio-Cio-San two years ago, but reviewing her disc of Suor Angelica made me determined not to commit the same mistake twice.
UC Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, 18th March 2013, Mark Pullinger
Pole-dancing in early Verdi? Things are clearly looking up in the world of Regietheater! A red telephone box parked stage right in University College Opera’s annual production indicated that this wasn’t going to be your traditional I Lombardi alla prima crociata, Verdi’s fourth opera. In fact, strike the ‘alla prima crociata’. For reasons expounded by both director and producer in the programme, the Lombards weren’t launching a religious crusade in Jerusalem in this production, but were instead involved in a spot of 1960s East End gang warfare, with the fraternally fractured clan less Lombards, more Kray twins. Pagano, having knifed his pa instead of brother Arvino, turns into a hippy peace warrior residing beneath a railway arch. And the infidel enemy which has captured his niece, Giselda? Well, she’s been kidnapped by a gang running a lap-dancing club. Roll over, Giuseppe.
Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 17th March 2013, Mark Pullinger
There are fairies at the bottom of der Garten. On the Wagner-Verdi bicentenary dual carriageway, the Chelsea Opera Group charabanc trundled into town for the first of its celebrations to offer up a rare slice of early Wagner (Verdi is served by Alzira later in the season). COG is an unpredictable vehicle at the best of times – it can run smoothly (a fine original version Simon Boccanegra, featuring a lovely soprano) and at times it can judder to an abrupt halt (a truly memorable Traviata for all the wrong reasons). This evening, whilst the cornering was occasionally treacherous and the wheels threatened to come off on more than one occasion, the resulting performance of Die Feen was still rather enjoyable, both for the opportunity to sample Wagner’s first opera and for some spirited vocal performances.
London Handel Festival, Britten Theatre, 13th March 2013, Miranda Jackson
In the reality TV show Made in Chelsea we often see the young jetsetters popping over to the Côte d’Azur or maybe Portofino to take in some sun, sea and engage in testosterone-fuelled aggression. In Paul Curran’s production of Handel’s Imeneo the action is set in a 5 star resort and spa hotel in the present day, overlooking the azure sea and in amongst Grecian pillars on castors, cleverly designed by Gary McCann. The first character we see is Argenio, sitting on a bench engrossed in his smart phone. The chorus comprises the hotel staff offering manicures, facials and exotic drinks at cocktail hour.
English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, 9th March 2013, John E de Wald
L’assedio di Calais is something of a curiosity. Written by Donizetti at his peak as a composer, immediately following the hugely successful Lucia di Lammermoor, it premiered at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1836, achieved several performances during the decade in which it was written and then virtually disappeared from the operatic stage until the late twentieth century. Though a few smaller performances have taken place in living memory and a good recording of the work was released by Opera Rara in 1988, English Touring Opera is touting their staging as the first professional production in the UK.
La Monnaie, 8th March 2013, Antony Lias
Half-naked nuns, Eurotrash and a stunning debut from Elisabeth Meister; what more can you ask of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia? Well, if Lucrezia had accidentally slipped some of her poison into director Guy Joosten’s mug of Ovaltine I don’t think anyone would have been unduly upset and we might have been spared the travesty of his otiose and banal Regie.
Royal Opera, 8th March 2013, Miranda Jackson
It is almost a decade to the day since I last had the pleasure of hearing/seeing a production of a contemporary opera which, in my humble opinion, was damn near perfect in every respect. On that occasion it was Perelà, uomo di fumo by Pascal Dusapin at the Bastille, at the end of which the orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris broke with precedent and applauded the composer.
After the passion and suicide of Tosca, the Royal Opera House is now offering…the passion and suicide of George Benjamin’s Written on skin.
English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, 8th March 2013, Mark Pullinger
Considering Simon Boccanegra is haunted by memories of the sea, we don’t get much in the way of salt or spume in James Conway’s new production of the 1881 revision of Verdi’s great opera for English Touring Opera. Indeed, Boccanegra’s piratical past is wiped from the production, updated to post-war Italy for no discernible reason whatsoever, until the Council Chamber scene, where a couple of ropes and a suspended model boat must suffice for mementos of his dodgy ‘black marketeer’ past. But then, what role has he been elected to? Every mention of ‘Doge’ is excised from the surtitles (although it remains in Piave’s and Boito’s text sung by the cast), replaced with the title Prime Minister. An Italian PM in post for 25 years? And they say opera stretches credulity…
English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, 7th March 2013, John E de Wald
One of the pleasures of any new production of Così fan tutte is surely discovering the directorial approach which has been adopted. The bifurcation inherent in the radiant, sensitive score paired with a libretto that is by turns callous, misogynistic and simply trifling does not make for easy synthesis. Does one play up the sexism of its commentary on the supposed fickleness of women? Does one emphasise the cruelty of Don Alfonso’s manipulation of his two young friends and their manipulation of their unwitting beloveds in turn? Or does one gloss over more troubling elements in the hope that a good cast and Mozart’s music will render any extrinsic psychological probing unnecessary? English Touring Opera's new staging under director Paul Higgins feels revelatory by its very simplicity.
Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, 1st March 2013, Nicola Lischi
The Teatro Carlo Felice of Genoa continues its Verdi celebration with this production of Rigoletto. Rolando Panerai, after almost seven decades of activity as a singer (and one he does not seem to be eager to quit since he will be Gérmont père in the upcoming Traviata) made his debut as a stage director at the age of eighty-eight. With the assistance of the much more experienced Vivien A. Hewitt, as expected, the veteran artist offered an utterly traditional, safe production that was not however boring or trite. He announced in a press conference his intention to keep faithful to “them”, that is Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, and so he did.
Royal Opera, 2nd March 2013, Miranda Jackson
In this reprise of Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production of Tosca at the Royal Opera House, revived by Andrew Sinclair, we are transported back to Roma in 1800. Paul Brown’s simple designs are beautifully evocative of the Eternal City and the costumes place us securely in the period of the Napoleonic Wars when Italy, rather like today, had a change of government almost once a year. Each new regime heralds further disillusionment with government, fails to address the huge divide between aristocracy and peasantry and seemingly has little impact on the normal lives of ordinary mortals.
Metropolitan Opera, 2nd March 2013, Mark Pullinger
This was the Met event for which the opera world had waited with bated breath; a new production of Wagner’s final music drama with a cast to (potentially) die for. In this bicentenary year, let me begin by declaring that I am far from a committed Wagnerphile, although certainly not a Wagnerphobe – my shelves groan with plenty of recordings, of which Das Rheingold and Die Walküre are the most played, but Götterdämmerung, Parsifal, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser are works with which I never feel I’ve really connected. My operatic vote usually goes to one Giuseppe Verdi, with whom Wagner shares his 1813 birth year, but a Parsifal cast boasting Jonas Kaufmann in the title role was too good an opportunity to miss. So, with apologies to those of my readers (and colleagues) who bat for the other (Wagnerian) side, I humbly offer the following cinema relay report.
English National Opera, 25th February 2013, Faye Courtney
After sitting through three harrowing performances of ENO’s brilliant but blood-splattered Medea, it made a refreshing change for me to attend something at the Coliseum where the entire cast actually makes it to the end of the opera alive and well. Jonathan Miller’s vintage production of The Barber of Seville has clocked up eleven revivals in the past 25 years but still fits the bill perfectly if you’re looking for an enjoyable evening of light-hearted, good old-fashioned comedy. This latest revival boasts the delightful Lucy Crowe as a dazzling Rosina and her performance alone is incentive enough for a repeat viewing, even though some of the other principals are less than ideally suited to their roles.
Teatro del Giglio di Lucca, 23rd February 2013, Nicola Lischi
United we stand, divided we fall. This seems to be the motto that the three leading Tuscan regional opera companies, the Teatro Verdi of Pisa, the Teatro Goldoni of Livorno and the Teatro del Giglio of Lucca, have adopted by joining forces for some of their productions. The latest effort is a mise-en-scène of a real rarity, Napoli milionaria by Nino Rota, with Eduardo De Filippo's libretto based on his play (in English changed into Side Street Story). Lucca had this time the honour to host the première; Livorno and Pisa will follow shortly. De Filippo's original theatre drama was written at the end of the Second World War, in 1945; in 1950 the author transposed it to a movie, and Rota provided the sound track.
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 15th February 2013, Nicola Lischi
Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello is one of those operas bound to give nightmares to general managers of major opera companies whenever they decide to present it. The most obvious hurdle is to find a protagonist able to survive one of the most arduous roles in the entire tenor repertoire; given the complexity of the score, it is also an opera that has always attracted the greatest conductors, even those of Germanic extraction who normally keep at arm’s length from most of the Verdi canon, if not almost the entirety of the Italian repertoire.
Metropolitan Opera, 16th February 2013, Dominic Wells
Never have I been so confused after an opera as this Met performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. My confusion stems not from the esoteric symbolism employed by the production, nor the complexity of the music. It is, rather, a reaction to the Met audience, who at the end seemed to be celebrating with tremendous gusto one of the most ill-conceived opera productions I have ever seen. Set in 1960s Las Vegas, visually it was an absolute travesty and a slap in the face to Verdi in this, his anniversary year.
The Royal Opera, 16th February 2013, Gavin Dixon
The first appearance by the ‘B’ cast in the current run of a Bohème that’s been in rep since 1974 hardly makes for a red letter day, so The Royal Opera can be forgiven for programming this debut as a Saturday afternoon matinee. Perhaps the decision was intended to downplay the fact that the stellar ‘A’ cast will no longer be appearing, or perhaps they were banking on a more sympathetic reception from the Saturday afternoon crowd for the lesser-known leads. The show was certainly well received, with Puccini’s knockabout humour and tear-jerking both having their desired effects, at least on the audience in the amphitheatre where I was sitting.
Scottish Opera, Glasgow, 15th February 2013, Kelvin Holdsworth
The start of Scottish Opera’s new production of Massenet’s Werther is deceptive. As the curtain goes up we have a pleasant enough scene. A wooden structure is present with what look like rickety stairs. Snow soon starts to fall at the rear of the stage – snow that will continue to fall for much of the production. Pretty soon, a troop of pretty children appear and are being taught to sing a Christmas carol by their father. A finely gift-wrapped box is passed from one character to another and one starts to expect that by the time we meet our hero Jonathan Boyd as Werther, he will be complaining that his tiny hand is frozen and that we will be hearing all about pretty romantic love in a cold garret, whilst pretty urchins churn out one Christmas ditty after another. The whole thing seemed to set us up for a night of Christmas slush derived from the still fast-falling snow, even though Act I is supposed to be set in July!
English National Opera, 15th February 2013, Sebastian Petit
Ever since English National Operaannounced this new production of Charpentier’s Medea, I had eagerly anticipated the chance to see such a rarely performed work in the theatre. ENO has assembled a mouth-watering cast headed by one of the world’s most compelling singing actresses, conducted by an internationally acknowledged baroque specialist and directed by one of the most consistently successful opera directors currently working. How could it possibly go wrong? My first doubts surfaced when studying various recordings in preparation for reviewing the production: the music, often achingly beautiful, seemed to insufficiently convey the horror and drama of this Tarantino-esque Greek bloodbath.
Opera North, 14th February 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
Purcell's Dido and Aeneas was first staged by Opera North in November 1978 during the company's inaugural season and starred Ann Murray as the forsaken heroine. It is almost as long since Lesley Garrett's last appearance with the company as Charlotte in Massenet's Werther (1982). As something of a belated homecoming for one of Yorkshire most famous daughters, Opera North has mounted a new production of La voix humaine - Poulenc's monologue based on Jean Cocteau's gripping play.
WNO, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 8th February 2013, Bethan Dudley Fryar
Welsh National Opera’s new Lulu is a free-spirited, creatively challenging production of immense power and an evening that has lingered in the memory, celebrating David Pountney’s role as Chief Executive and Artistic Director of WNO. This is a production which affirms WNO’s ability to shock, titillate and create impact and charm with intelligent glamour. The Free Spirit theme unites WNO’s Spring 2013 season in the form of Lulu, Cunning Little Vixen and Madama Butterfly and on the opening night of Lulu there was much anticipation for this new production, sealing director Pountney’s somewhat maturing, yet contemporary,enfant terrible status.
Teatro Comunale di Firenze, 5th February 2013, Nicola Lischi
After inaugurating the new season just weeks ago with an old production of Die Walküre, even for the second opera of the season, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, plagued by cash problems and interior turbulences (just a few days ago the General Manager was replaced by an external commissioner), has wisely opted to resort to yet another revival. Fortunately, just as in the case of the Wagner opera, the choice fell on a production of Don Giovanni that received rave reviews when it was first presented (and never revived) in 1997 at the Festival di Ferrara on the occasion of Claudio Abbado’s first approach to the Mozart masterpiece.
The Royal Opera, 4th February 2013, Mark Pullinger
The Royal Opera House is devoted solely to Tchaikovsky at present, with thirteen consecutive performances of Onegin playing on the Covent Garden stage. In a neat flourish of double programming, Tchaikovsky’s opera – or Lyric Scenes – are running alongside a revival of John Cranko’s excellent ballet, which also uses music by Tchaikovsky, but entirely from other sources. In Cranko’s version of the Letter Scene, he has Tatyana dance with a ‘dream vision’ of Onegin, who appears through her bedroom mirror. Having seen the ballet last week, I jested with my co-editor that a pas de deux for Onegin and Tatyana might well be on the cards once again for the opera. I wish I’d placed a bet, for that’s exactly what happened!
English National Opera, 2nd February 2013, Mark Pullinger
Red curtains peel apart tentatively to reveal a chair… and another set of red curtains. And that, in essence (save for a stack of books) is it for the set and props department in Peter Konwitschny’s spare, pared-down version of Verdi’s La Traviata for English National Opera. Life for Violetta is a performance and as each set of curtains draws aside, we get to see the layers of her character stripped away until the final scene. When the last curtains part, there remains only the black void of certain death into which she staggers – there are no more curtains to hide behind. Unbelievably, this co-production (with Graz) was Konwitschny’s directorial debut in London and it was always bound to be a controversial one, which generates added interest and debate.
Opera North, Leeds, 31st January 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
There is an underlying poignancy to the origins of La clemenza di Tito. This opera seria was the very last opera that Mozart composed; the cash-strapped, terminally ill composer interrupted work on the Requiem and Die Zauberflöte to respond to a commission from the Bohemian Estates to honour the coronation in Prague of Leopold ll as King of Bohemia. La clemenza is said to have been composed within the astonishing time frame of eighteen days. The opera's premiere took place at the Estates Theatre in Prague on 6th September 1791 and was not an immediate success, in part because opera seria had become an outmoded form of the genre. The Empress Maria Luisa is alleged to have dismissed the piece as “una porcheria tedesca” (German rubbish). Just three months later Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died, and on March 1st 1792, the opera's raison d'être - King Leopold ll himself went to his grave.
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 27th January 2013, Nicola Lischi
Sandwiched between two big Verdi dramas with important names (last month’s Nabucco and the upcoming Otello), Le nozze di Figaro offers the Teatro Verdi di Pisa the opportunity to showcase young artists graduated from the Progetto LTL Opera Studio, a programme that has been cultivating and nurturing fresh talent for the last twelve years for the opera companies of Livorno, Pisa and Lucca. Normally employed in smaller parts, this time they had the honour and onus to demonstrate readiness (or lack thereof) to be under the spotlight in one of the most popular works in the entire operatic repertoire, in roles that for their lengths and hurdles have often been cause of anxiety for much more experienced singers.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 20th January 2013, Nicola Lischi
Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen was last seen in Florence in 2008 in a highly and justly acclaimed production by La Fura dels Baus, an avant-garde Catalan theatrical group now famous all over the world, a team of visionaries and provocateurs that have been standing out for their ingeniousness as well as technological talent. Their approach to the Ring, co-produced by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Palau de les Arts of Valencia, is one of respect, admiration and provocation; they start with the literal sense of the libretto, using machines on which the singers literally fly, dart, go up and down in the air, but above all working with an extremely sophisticated video technology.
Metropolitan Opera, 19th January 2013, Mark Pullinger
A blood-drenched lion and gryphon grapple over the crown in John Macfarlane’s arresting frontcloth for the Metropolitan Opera’s first production of Maria Stuarda, the second of Donizetti’s ‘Tudor trilogy’, never intended as such, of course, but leapt upon by opera companies keen to flex their bel canto muscles. This is the second instalment of David McVicar’s cycle, following last year’s Anna Bolena, and although still on the conservative side in terms of production, this was a good deal more striking, even via the cinema. The frontcloth wrangling points to the key Act II confrontation between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, pure fiction invented by Friedrich Schiller but none the worse for that, culminating in Mary’s insult ‘Vil bastarda’ which so upset the censors at the Naples premiere before Ferdinand II (whose queen was a Stuart descendent) had it banned. Sparks didn’t quite fly at the Met, but a dramatic tension was sustained throughout the performance, the only question mark of which dangled over the casting of the two protagonists.
The Royal Opera, 17th January 2013, Gavin Dixon
Harrison Birtwistle’s The Minotaur comes a small step closer to repertory status with this, its first revival at The Royal Opera. The work’s premiere in 2008 fulfilled the considerable expectations heaped on it by the composer’s previous, and equally successful, ROH commission, Gawain. The company’s commissioning policy has been struggling to come up with anything fresh in the intervening years (Anna Nicole excepted), so a second outing for The Minotaur is welcome indeed.
Opera North, Leeds, 16th January 2013, Geoffrey Mogridge
Opera North has previously performed Verdi's penultimate masterpiece, or at least Act l, in a concert performance at Leeds Town Hall back in 1994 in which it was paired with the first Act of Turandot. I still remember being blown away by the sheer visceral force of Verdi's astonishing storm tossed opening to the piece sung by the combined Opera North Chorus and Leeds Festival Chorus (at least 200 singers in total) with Edmund Barham as a stentorian Otello, Susan Bullock as a meltingly tender Desdemona and Donald Maxwell as a vulpine Iago, and the English Northern Philharmonia - as the ON Orchestra was then known - conducted with luminous intensity by Mark Elder.
Metropolitan Opera, 5th January 2013, Mark Pullinger
Coming less than a year after the Royal Opera’s production, news of this revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2003 Met staging of Berlioz’s epic Les Troyens didn’t exactly – on paper at least – set the pulse racing, causing me to predict that this Met screening would be a bit ordinary in comparison. Thankfully my forecasting skills are more Mystic Meg than Cassandra! In the event, it surpassed expectations in many respects. Musically, I found most of the performances superior to Covent Garden’s forces (with one notable exception), while the production was solid without offering anything spectacular. No nostril-flaring, fire-snorting Trojan horse on duty here, unfortunately.
Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, 23rd December 2012, Nicola Lischi
Turandot having been staged in Genoa only months ago, the only raison d’être for such a close revival was the presence of Daniela Dessì in the title role. Ms. Dessì, one of the most popular and beloved sopranos in Italy, was supposed to have made her debut as the Icy Princess in the last revival, but cancelled on short notice. In one of the very rare cases where indisposition was not claimed, she declared that she wished to follow her husband, tenor Fabio Amiliato, in a tour presenting Woody Allen’s latest film, where he had a starring role. She pledged that she would honour her “native” theatre (she hails from Genoa) with her debut in such a pivotal role, and now she has kept her promise.
Nuovo Teatro dell'Opera, Florence, 21st December 2012, Nicola Lischi
It is still stormy weather for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. After last month’sTurandot, which was performed in a semi-staged version, it was Gianni Schicchi’s turn to suffer the indignity of a compromised performance. To add insult to injury, on opening night (which I did not attend) the ballet chosen as a companion to Puccini’s one-acter, Il mago di Oz, was performed in a severely mutilated version because of a strike involving dancers, the pianist and part of the technical staff.
Royal Opera, 17th December 2012, Mark Pullinger
When Mimì is in more robust vocal health than Rodolfo in Act III of La bohème, something is sadly amiss. On his last appearances at Covent Garden, Rolando Villazón’s tenor was noticeably smaller than before his vocal trials of recent years, but he still made quite an impression as Werther. Now, playing another poet, Villazón’s voice sounds positively tiny. He was completely overwhelmed by the orchestra in ‘Che gelida manina’, although much of it contained some lovely singing, his naturally Italianate voice phrasing tenderly. He hit real difficulties in Act III, however, choosing to either transpose high notes down an octave or (in one case) ducking them entirely.
Metropolitan Opera, 15th December 2012, Dominic Wells
It is perhaps because of its hybrid nature that Verdi’s Aida commands respect and admiration from so wide an audience. Ever since its Cairo premiere in December 1871, it has been considered by many to be the very epitome of grand opera at its most spectacular. If you were introducing someone to opera for the very first time, this would certainly be one of the main candidates, especially in a society and an age where the visual has an ever-increasing dominance over the aural. Yet the other side of Aida’s coin is infinitely more intimate, substituting pomp and grandeur for that much-loved, tried-and-tested rhetorical technique of a love triangle.
Theâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, 11th December 2012, Miranda Jackson
When Vinci’s Artaserse premiered in Rome in 1730, all five principal roles (including two female characters) were sung by men, led by the fabled castrato Carestini. In the 18th century, castrati were the equivalent of Rossini bel canto tenors but to write significant roles for as many as three primi uomini in a single opera is at best reckless (witness Rossini’s Otello, rarely performed, certainly not by three singers of comparable quality.) Dear reader, it’s time to transport yourself to the Theâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris some 280 years later.
Metropolitan Opera, 8th December 2012, Mark Pullinger
Making his belated Met debut at the age of 63, David Alden’s production of Un ballo in maschera features a single, strong central concept – that of Gustavo as a risk-taking playboy king, signalled by a giant fresco of the falling Icarus on the tilted ceiling. Oscar, his perky page, sometimes dons these angelic wings. Gustavo takes one risk too many and gets his wings burnt. His Ballo for ENO in the 1980s scandalized the opera world. This production was inoffensive.
The Royal Opera, 6th December 2012, Stephen Jay-Taylor
It must be Christmas: a turkey the size of a 747 last night belly-flopped on to the Royal Opera House’s stage, plucked, stuffed, overcooked and most assuredly dead beyond any hope of resuscitation. All around me, people yawned, nodded, snored and left at the intervals. That, of course, is the advantage of having paid: you don’t have to sit through it. I, alas, had not, and therefore had no option but to sit through the whole sorry mess from 6 to 10.30, and then have the thrilling joy of having to tell you all about it afterwards. First things first: let’s lay the greatest blame where it actually belongs, on the work itself.
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 4th/ 6th December 2012, Nicola Lischi
It is a wonder Nabucco (or better, Nabucodonosor, as it was originally titled) was ever composed. Even though he had a contract from La Scala, Verdi, who had recently lost his wife and remaining child to a mysterious disease, had no appetite for work. The Nabucco libretto languished in a corner of Verdi’s room for five months while the depressed composer read cheap novels. One day he picked it up and was struck by the last scene (Abigaille’s death), which, contrary to the more popular version according to which he supposedly threw onto a table the libretto, which miraculously opened exactly at the page of “Va’ Pensiero”, was the first one he composed, and in three months he had completed the opera.
English National Opera, 1st December 2012, Miranda Jackson
There are so many reasons to recommend English National Opera’s revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of The Mikado as the perfect seasonal entertainment. Judging by the audience on Saturday night, it seems to appeal particularly to same gender couples and lots of grannies; but ENO is also offering three matinées in this run, so do think about taking the children. Under David Parry’s baton and with some fine opera singers slumming it (and slumming it very well,) even the most recalcitrant of teenagers should be engaged by this delicious combination of expertly performed music, comedy and joie de vivre.
Metropolitan Opera, 1st December 2012, Dominic Wells
Earlier this year I reviewed a Barbican concert performance of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito for Opera Britannia, which was scheduled to include mezzo superstar Elina Garanca in the role of Sesto. Unfortunately she pulled out several weeks prior to the performance, with Alice Coote stepping in for her. It was a memorable evening for all the right reasons, not least Coote’s phenomenal contribution, and I mentioned in that review that it was hard to conceive that Garanca could have bettered her fellow mezzo’s interpretation. Still, it was nice to have a second chance to hear Garanca in the role for this Met Live in HD production, broadcast live to London’s Waterloo IMAX cinema.
Metropolitan Opera, 28th November 2012, Eli Jacobson
When discussing last season’s new production of Don Giovanni which premiered at The Met in October 2011, director Michael Grandage said that several members of the audience would be seeing the opera for the first time. Grandage felt that a straightforward production set in the period is the best choice for them. However, Don Giovanni is not an opera that plays itself. Audiences are too sophisticated today to be satisfied with a mere straightforward concert in period costume approach. Da Ponte’s episodic libretto has to be animated from within, guided by some sort of concept or we just have a series of disjointed events ending in hellfire (quite realistic in this production – you actually feel flashes of heat on your face from three quarters of the way back in the orchestra!).
Teatro Nuovo dell'Opera, Firenze, 27th November 2012, Nicola Lischi
According to the original plan, the revival of Zhang Ymou’s celebrated production of Puccini’s Turandot should have been the very first opera to be performed at the Nuovo Teatro dell’Opera of Florence, a brand new venue that was officially inaugurated with a concert conducted by Claudio Abbado one year ago. Since the Fondazione Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, like almost every opera company in Italy, struggled in this financial climate, it became impossible to complete by the scheduled deadline this theatre, which is currently fully functional for concerts but not for staged operas. Thus, it was decided that the old Teatro Comunale would be once again called for duty, but unexpectedly asbestos was found in the main hall of that theatre, and the local health department ordered its temporary closing.
Opera Theatre Company, Dublin, 24th November 2012, Terry Blain
“I don’t think any of us are naïve enough to think that there could be a Happy Ever After after such cruel games….”. That’s director Orpha Phelan speaking, in her programme note for Dublin-based Opera Theatre Company’s new staging of Così fan tutte. Many, if not most, productions ofCosì now factor in that element of discomfiture at the opera’s conclusion, and Phelan’s is no exception. There is no “bella calma” in her dénouement - the two women flounce off truculently into the wings, body-language bristling with outrage, while the three men and Despina attempt to rustle up a modicum of insouciant merriment as Da Ponte and Mozart, with uncomfortable promptitude, lower the curtain.
Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, 24th November 2012, Nicola Lischi
For the inauguration of its 2012-13 season, the Teatro Carlo Felice of Genova, has opted to stage Don Giovanni in a co-production with the Teatro Sociale of Rovigo and the Opera Giocosa of Savona, the venue where the production premiered last summer. One of the main points of interest was Giovanni Di Stefano’s approach to the score. Already in the Overture it was possible to detect one of the fundamental elements of Di Stefano’s conducting, and more specifically a sort of solemnity obtained without excessive agitation or a stubborn pursuit of the so-called “dramatic” side of this legendarily multi-faced opera.
English National Opera, 21st November 2012, Sebastian Petit
Calixto Bieito is a name to strike terror or nascent outrage into the hearts of traditional opera goers. His Berlin Entführung scandalised audiences with copious nudity, simulated sex and mutilation. His Holländer involved numbing violence and numerous fridges and his Parsifal included a nude scene for the aged bass playing Titurel. Suffice to say he is unlikely to be troubling audiences at the Met or any other of the largely conservative US houses. So it was with some trepidation that I headed to see his new production of Carmen at English National Opera. I worried needlessly – the production, while a world away from the picture book Spain of Zefferelli, is true both to Bizet and Mérimée’s novella.
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 16th November 2012, Nicola Lischi
As the second title of its current season, the Teatro Verdi of Pisa has settled on another evergreen, La traviata, in a production shared with other Tuscan opera companies, that I had already seen and reviewed at the Festival di Torre del Lago (previously known as Festival Pucciniano) just a few months ago.
Paolo Trevisi’s utterly traditional production benefited from the move into the indoor venue.
The Royal Opera, 13th November 2012, Sebastian Petit
The main lesson from this revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of L’elisir d’amore seems to be that if you mount a production around a star singer it’s best to avoid casting two notorious scene stealers (three if you count the dog) in other parts. Although centred around Roberto Alagna’s return to a bel canto role after years of rather mixed fortunes in much heavier roles, the memories that most of the audience are likely to take away with them relate to the almost cartoon-sexy Adina of Aleksandra Kurzak and the monumental (in every sense) Dulcamara of Ambrogio Maestri.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 10th November 2012, Mark Pullinger
It’s something akin to hurricane season in New York. Following the wild storm which opens Verdi’s Otello, broadcast from the Met a fortnight ago, Superstorm Sandy lashed the city, only to be replaced by a more localised tempest raging at the hands of Prospero as Thomas Adès’ opera swept in via a production by Robert Lepage, previously seen at the Grand Théâtre de Québec. Lepage’s Ring cycle for the Met has been criticized for lacking any central concept. Here, the central concept seemed stronger, though he doesn’t always do anything with it, as the old theatre within a theatre ruse was mined once again. But a strong cast, headed by Simon Keenlyside as Prospero, a role which he created for the Royal Opera world premiere eight years ago, held much promise for a cinema screening in a less-blustery Hampshire.
English National Opera, 5th November 2012, Mark Pullinger
The progress of Vaughan Williams’ Bunyan-inspired opera hasn’t exactly gone unhindered in the past sixty years. Its 1951 premiere at Covent Garden as part of the Festival of Britain wasn’t a great success and its appearances since then have been tortuously intermittent. One could argue that The Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t an opera at all; there is little that is operatic about it, with no formal arias as such or duets, but plenty of work for the chorus in a narrative which is less linear, more a sequence of tableaux. Vaughan Williams preferred to call it a ‘Morality’. He was adamant, however, that his work belonged to the opera house and not ‘relegated to the cathedral’. That it’s taken over sixty years for the ‘first full professional performance’ since its premiere (note ENO’s careful wording) is astonishing, so a production by Yoshi Oïda at the Coliseum is welcome, doubly so when it is simply and sensitively produced.
Britten Sinfonia, Barbican, 3rd November 2012, Dominic Wells
I was intrigued from the outset by the description of a ‘Multimedia Staged Concert’ of Oliver Knussen’s double-bill of children’s fantasy operas, Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!,given at London’s Barbican Centre. Which media, specifically, would be employed? And more importantly, how would this stand up against the exemplary ‘traditionally’-staged Glyndebourne production from the 1980s, now available as a DVD?
West Australian Opera, Perth, 3rd November 2012, Sandra Bowdler
The last time I reviewed a performance of Madama Butterfly in Perth (in 2000), I remarked that “feeling a certain level of deja vu, I dug out my 1993 program to check it was indeed the same production” and indeed it was, and here it is again. It is a serviceable and attractive set (courtesy Kenneth Rowell), with more than a nod to Impressionism in the colours and light, blue-green tints and water lilies near the front of the stage. In other respects, it is a fairly conventional take on a more than familiar story, with efficient blocking but (and I noticed this last time) a certain static effect in Act I, allied (also again) with a lack of evident electricity between the lovers. Happily Act II, and particularly Act III, ratcheted up the interest considerably.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 26th October 2012, Eli Jacobson
When I started going to the opera in the 1980s, I felt that I was seeing a golden age of Mozart singing. There were problems with Verdi and Wagner singing but there was an abundance of young and veteran singers who were master Mozarteans. This abundance of riches continued, in my estimation, until around 2001 when I noticed a downward shift.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 27th October 2012, Mark Pullinger
‘One that lov'd not wisely but too well’ could aptly be directed at Semyon Bychkov’s approach to Verdi’s miraculous setting of Shakespeare, which gazed adoringly far too often in this revival of his penultimate opera, Otello. Colossal sets and a largely static production seemed to provoke the conductor into a reading of the score carved in granite, leaving no doubt about the greatness of the work, but perhaps the reverence with which it was treated didn’t exactly serve Verdi and Boito’s drama well. The two lead roles disappointed, one in terms of dramatic engagement, the other in terms of vocal quality, so it was left to a third to salvage the evening with an unexpectedly wonderful performance.
Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Woking, 24th October 2012, Mark Pullinger
My word, here’s a refreshing novelty: Dvorak’s beloved Rusalka set not in a brothel nor a chic hotel, but in a lake, and with Vodnik as her sympathetic (rather than abusive) father. We even had a cauldron for Jezibaba’s spell! It may well be an opera ripe for all sorts of Freudian interpretations – and they range from the deeply searching to the crass – but Melly Still opts for a straight, clear narrative in her Glyndebourne production of 2009, revived here as part of the autumn tour. Her fairy tale is no Disneyesque fable, but a dark, disturbing one where cruelty is not confined to the human world, the wood nymphs being a bloodthirsty lot.
Sydney Conservatorium, Sydney, 19th October 2012, Sandra Bowdler
Daisy Bates is an iconic Australian figure whose image has changed considerably over the years. Various details of her life have been clarified over the years by researchers, as she was herself not exactly a stickler for the truth. Born in Ireland, she migrated to Australia in 1883 aged 24, had various “marriages” (at least one bigamous) and returned to England and became a journalist. In 1899, she returned to Australia and began spending time with Aboriginal people, functioning as both welfare worker and anthropologist. After a time, she began to live in remote bush camps on her own, while ministering to Aborigines and collecting data about them and their way of life.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 4th/ 17th October 2012, Eli Jacobson
Verdi’s Il Trovatore has a musical vitality that keeps it viable in an operatic landscape where the singer is no longer supreme and blood and thunder romantic melodrama is passé. The Met presented a fall revival of David McVicar’s production (a co-production which premiered at the Met in 2009 but was performed earlier in Chicago and later in San Francisco) as the occasion for several role and house debuts. McVicar and set designer Charles Edwards and costume designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel move Verdi’s the setting from late medieval Spain to the Napoleonic era, a Goya-inspired nightmare world ravaged by perpetual war with all the casual violence and brutality that arises from that situation.
Linbury Studio, 17th October 2012, John E de Wald
The Jette Parker Young Artists of the Royal Opera House are a group of young singers at the forefront of their careers. They serve two years at Covent Garden furthering their training and performing throughout the year in the company’s operas. Every year, a Meet the Young Artists week of programming is announced to give Covent Garden audiences the opportunity to hear the Young Artists on their own outside the main house. They are an impressive bunch of singers, as they proved most readily in this double bill of two starkly different chamber operas.
English National Opera, 17th October 2012, Steve Silverman
This was the first night of the revival of Rufus Norris’s controversial 2010 production, and I had been warned that I would not like it one little bit. In fact, I was going to hate it. “Too ugly for Mozart.” Consequently it came as something as a shock when I found myself becoming utterly captivated by it. For those who like their Wolfgang powdered, pomaded and perfumed, it may well prove to be a bridge too far. However, given that the little Austrian genius did not, in actual fact, fall off the lid of a chocolate box, and that he was an earthy, vibrant individual with a highly developed scatological sense of humour, I suspect that he would have rather approved of this staging.
Opera North, Leeds, 18th October 2012, Geoffrey Mogridge
Franz Schubert's Symphony No 9 The Great C Major was famously described by Robert Schumann as being of "heavenly length" - a description that I would unhesitatingly apply to the operas of Leos Janacek. Including a twenty minute interval, The Makropulos Case runs for just over two hours and Janacek does not waste a single bar - every note contributes to the dramatic development of the opera. From the outset he evokes an atmosphere of febrile activity which rarely lets up for the duration of the piece.
State Opera of South Australia, Adelaide, 13th October 2012, Sandra Bowdler
Beethoven’s only opera is considered by many to be a unique pinnacle in the operatic world, standing alone from its predecessors, contemporaries and successors alike. It has been said that it is only considered a great opera because of who composed it, a great composer but not a natural creature of the theatre. Operas however do not survive in the lyric theatre repertoire on the name of their composers alone (eg Haydn, Schubert), and Fidelio has a solid performance history, and can provide a gripping night at the opera. It is not produced with great frequency in Australia compared with the usual war horses, and certainly the house was not packed out for this premiere Adelaide performance, but it is good to see it done outside the Sydney-Melbourne axis.
Teatro Verdi di Pisa, 14th October 2012, Nicola Lischi
In the wake of the resounding success of the last season, which was completely sold-out, the Teatro Verdi of Pisa opened with one of the most popular works in the entire repertoire, leaving space for more unconventional operas for later in the season. The choice has fallen on Puccini’s “Unfinished One”, Turandot, in a production that has been one of the most critically praised at the Festival Pucciniano of Torre del Lago in the past decade.Turandot is an extremely multifaceted opera, where fantastique and melò, tragedy and comedy coexist; the score, melodious and atonal, reflects the variety of genres and the research of new instrumental, vocal and harmonic effects.
English Touring Opera, Linbury Studio, 13th October 2012, Miranda Jackson
Although completed in 1979 and premiered the following year at the Edinburgh International Festival, The Lighthouse by Sir Peter Maxwell Daviesfeels and sounds very much a contemporary opera. I think it says a lot about the consistent quality of production offered by English Touring Opera as well as the bond it has forged with its core audience that a challenging piece like this was not only sold out at both of its Linbury performances, but that our Master of the Queen’s Music chose to attend both performances and was clearly delighted with the interpretation.
Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, 12th October 2012, Nicola Lischi
Maria Stuarda is not one of those Donizetti opere serie (not too numerous, to be truthful) that enjoyed continued interest in the nineteenth century. Its very birth was quite laboured. Written in 1834 for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, its rehearsals were plagued by the incessant bickering between the two primadonnas, as Giuseppina Ronzi De Begni (Maria) did not appreciate Donizetti’s composing another role of almost equal stature, that of Elisabetta, for soprano Anna Del Sere.
Opera North, Leeds, 13th October 2012, Faye Courtney
After three weeks of overdosing on Wagner’s Ring in London, I travelled up to Leeds for a temporary reprieve from the Teutonic turmoil and to wallow in some gloriously slushy French romanticism. And opera doesn’t get much slushier than Gounod’s Faust, here performed by Opera North in an innovative new modern-dress production directed by Ran Arthur Braunand Rob Kearley, which ruthlessly strips the piece of all supernatural aspects and its melodramatic grand opera feel, yet tells the story from a gripping and totally believable contemporary angle which all of us can relate to in the money-obsessed world we live in today.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 13th October 2012, Mark Pullinger
Why would a major opera house open two successive seasons with Donizetti? The pastoral comedy of L’elisir may contrast well with the dark tragedy of last year’s Anna Bolena, but it doesn’t really offer spectacle on the scale expected by the Met’s standards, even on the big screen cinema relay. The truth, of course, lies behind the principals; this is the second successive season opener to feature Anna Netrebko and she and co-stars Mariusz Kwiecien and Matthew Polenzani were originally engaged to star in the new (to the Met) Deborah Warner production of Yevgeny Onegin, which has now been shunted back to open next season. Besides which, director Bartlett Sher offers us a version of L’elisir more sober than usual, barring the Bordeaux with which Dulcamara dupes poor Nemorino into believing is a magical elixir.
English Touring Opera, Linbury Studio, 5th October 2012, Miranda Jackson
I first learned about the Terezin ‘cultural ghetto’ when I came across Pavel Haas’ String Quartets, released in 1994 as part of the Decca ‘Entartete Musik’ series.Viktor Ullmann, composer of The Emperor of Atlantis, subtitled ‘Death goes on strike,’ was a talented pupil of Schönberg. The music in this opera, which he wrote while interned in Terezin, sits somewhere on the spectrum between Schönberg and Kurt Weill. Weill, of course, escaped Nazi persecution by fleeing to the USA and two of Ullmann’s children survived the war, thanks to the Kindertransport.
English Touring Opera, Linbury Studio, 4th October 2012, Mark Pullinger
Director Christopher Rolls plays with the straightest of bats in this new production of Albert Herring for English Touring Opera. To get an idea of his approach, you need do little more than read Eric Crozier’s libretto, with its detailed stage instructions, for that is pretty much how the production plays out, which will be music to the ears and balm to the souls of many operagoers who despise directors tinkering with their favourite operatic fare. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen a production of anything which is so faithful to the stage direction, the costumes or the spirit of the opera. So why did it fail to fully ignite?
Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, 4th October 2012, Terry Blain
"Whatever is, is right". The entire plot ofJephtha depends on this uncompromisingly rigid assertion of law-bound, Old Testament obeisance to Divine authority. Its crucial importance is hammered home by Handel as the mantra is repeated, like a grim-faced prelate pummelling a pulpit, in the great chorus concluding Act II, where the Israelite community struggles to rationalise how its stunning, God-led military victory over the Ammonites can suddenly be devastatingly compromised by the need for their commander to kill his daughter as a sacrificial thanks-offering.
Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, 3rd October 2012, Terry Blain
Have you ever heard an audience laugh out loud during the overture to Così fantutte? No, I hadn't either. It happened in Cardiff's Millennium Centre, on the opening night of Welsh National Opera'sfirst revival of last year's new production. And the reason? A pair of dummy Westies out for walkies, scooting around the stage on stick-leads, their chorus-member masters desperately attempting to prevent them snapping the muzzles off one another.
Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2nd October 2012, Eli Jacobson
A successful new production often depends on the chemistry between the cast and the director. When casts change and staff directors take over the reins, the blocking and physical business is recreated but not the character exploration that motivated it. Richard Eyre’s successful Carmen, which premiered in the 2009-2010 season, has managed to retain dramatic freshness and point in its second season in revival. The theatrical intelligence and sophistication of Eyre’s direction provided a solid underpinning for a pair of exciting and highly individual protagonists.