Archive for the ‘Sept-Dec’ Category

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2010

19 November, 2010

As I took my seat on the first night a young man said to his neighbour that this was better than Puccini. On the other hand I know of someone who walked out of the dress rehearsal at the first interval saying this was not opera. My opinion falls in between such strikingly different reactions.

Gheorghiu and Kaufmann

Covent Garden has not produced Adriana Lecouvreur since its first performances in 1904 and 1906, not long after the Milan premiere of 1902, so I’m delighted they have now put on such a fine production by David McVicar. Sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel are complemented by Adam Silverman’s lighting, and the effect was excellent. Add to that two principal singers — Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann, both at the top of their game — who sang the same roles in concert at the Deutsche Oper Berlin last month, and we were all set for the best that this opera has to offer. Gheorghiu and Kaufmann were wonderful — she was dramatically terrific, exhibiting a lovely tone, and he sang like a god. They rose to the heights and parsed the quiet passages with superb control. Their duet towards the end of Act II was glorious, and anyone unfamiliar with opera would surely say, “This is opera”.

So much for the answer to one objection — but is it better than Puccini? I don’t think so. Puccini’s work was brilliantly theatrical, but one cannot say the same for this opera: political intrigue, mistaken identity, love triangles, jealousy, and those violets . . . oh, the violets that appear in Acts I and II, and again in deathly form in Act IV. If one of those ‘Konzept’ directors got hold of this, the flowers might be represented by a figment of the unconscious mind, but this is unlikely to happen because Adriana Lecouvreur is not an opera that attracts a multitude of different productions. I think the libretto cannot sustain an abstract production, but fortunately the music is better than the story. It’s pleasingly melodious, and from time to time it sounds as if it may really take off, but never quite does. That’s just the way it is, and no fault of Mark Elder who produced beautiful sounds and admirable tension from the orchestra. The audience were enormously enthusiastic about the singing, which helped create a buzz and must surely have helped inspire the performers.

Along with Gheorghiu and Kaufmann as Adriana and Maurizio, Alessandro Corbelli brought a wonderfully sympathetic dignity to the role of Michonnet the stage manager who loves Adriana, and acts almost as a surrogate father to her. Michaela Schuster sang beautifully in the part of the jealous Princess who sends Adriana the poisoned violets, and Maurizio Muraro sang strongly in the bass role of the Prince, with Bonaventura Bottone delightfully foppish as his servant the Abbé.

Michaela Schuster and Jonas Kaufmann

A wonderful production with superb singing and beautiful sounds from the orchestra. What more could one want? . . . Well, actually  a few cuts might not come amiss in Act III, which I found tedious. They already cut the Prince’s description of his work as an amateur chemist who has discovered a poisonous powder that induces delirium and death when inhaled, though this at least shows how the Princess gets hold of such a strange murder weapon. I would rather see the ballet cut — the music is hardly on the level of the Dance of the Hours, and it was choreographed deliberately as a mockery of bits of classical ballet, such as Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, with its ribbon dance and cat’s cradle. In the end it was all about the singing, and I’d be glad to see the abandonment of anything that detracts from that.

Further performances are scheduled for November 22, 25, 27 and 30, and December 4, 7, 10, with Angeles Blancas Gulin taking over the role of Adriana on Nov. 25 and Dec. 10, and Olga Borodina taking over as the Princess on Nov. 30 and Dec. 4, 7, 10. For more details click here.

The Master Builder, Almeida Theatre, Islington, London, November 2010

17 November, 2010

As the audience took their seats, one man sat alone on an almost bare stage. This was Halvard Solness, Master Builder, who worries about falling from the heights of his own success. Solness is the principal architect of his own building company, which he runs with a driving force and ruthless determination, while using and abusing others. One of these is the old man Knut Brovik, whose company he took over, another is Knut’s son Ragnar whose talents as an architect he refuses to recognise, and then there’s Knut’s fiancée Kaja who works for him, and adores him. At first we think there is some sexual liaison between Solness and Kaja — certainly his wife suspects it — but he happily accepts that guilt as a substitute for a far deeper guilt. Mrs. Solness is a sad and lonely woman who once lost her family home in a fire, later lost her baby sons, and now does her “duty” with little joy or enthusiasm.

Gemma Arterton with Stephen Dillane, photos by Simon Annand

Solness has helped crush the dreams of several people, but this narcissistic man suddenly meets his match in Hilde Wangel, a young woman who hikes in from the wild, declaring he knew her once, kissed her and promised her a kingdom. She was brilliantly played by Gemma Arterton, portraying her as very attractive, assertive and a bit of a minx. She charms everyone, and is the one character in this performance who is quite obviously crazy. But isn’t Solness crazy too? He was played by Stephen Dillane as a down to earth man who knows his limitations, yet is too easily enamoured of Hilde. I would have preferred a more nuanced portrayal of his character: greater imperiousness at the start, followed by a gradual descent into confusion as he succumbs to Hilde’s insane dreams. How else is one to explain his extraordinary decision at the end to do something that everyone knows is impossible for him?

John Light as Ragnar

Among the rest of the cast, Jack Shepherd was very good as the sympathetic doctor, Patrick Godfrey was convincing and entirely reasonable as Knut, the fatally ill father, and John Light was superb as Ragnar his son, coming into his own towards the end when he’s ready to defy Solness. Emma Hamilton gave a fine portrayal of Kaja, and Anastasia Hille showed Mrs. Solness to be a sad, dutiful wife, suddenly at sixes and sevens when guests arrive while she wants to run to her husband to stop him climbing the scaffolding. But when she talked to Hilde about losing her precious dolls in the fire, saying “they were alive in my heart”, there was little of the powerfully repressed emotion that I expected. The spark needed to bring Solness and his wife to life seemed lacking, so the performance revolved very much around Gemma Arterton, who brought a magnetic personality to the role of Hilde, exhibiting the charm and life that this deranged young woman brings to the Solness household.

The translation of Ibsen by Kenneth McLeish felt entirely natural, and this production by Travis Preston, with minimalist designs by Vicki Mortimer, packed everything into an hour and three-quarters with no interval. With excellent lighting by Paul Pyant, this should have been a more intense experience than it was, but I attended a preview and perhaps things will warm up later in the run.

This production continues until 8 January 2011 — for details click here.

Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, November 2010

14 November, 2010

Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale shows the folly of a wealthy old bachelor marrying a pretty young wife, but some people never learn. Here the old fellow wants to do it partly to disinherit his nephew, and expel him from the house, because he doesn’t approve of the young man’s marrying a charming widow named Norina. He gets his come-uppance through the cunning of his ‘friend’ Dr. Malatesta, and what a come-uppance it is!

John Del Carlo as Don Pasquale, all photos by Marty Sohl

There are just four principals: the old fellow Don Pasquale, his nephew Ernesto, Dr. Malatesta, and Norina, sung by John Del Carlo, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Anna Netrebko, in that order, and they worked superbly together. There was electricity aplenty, and that marvellous Act 3 duet between Kwiecien and Del Carlo was carried off with wonderful speed and sparkle. But it wasn’t necessary to wait until then for the fireworks because Kwiecien had superb chemistry with Netrebko, starting from their first interaction in Act 1, which was sprightly and witty from start to finish. She was a delight to watch; her suppressed energy as a veiled convent girl when first introduced to Pasquale, followed by her charming ballet steps when she unveils and moves closer to him, belied her swift transformation into a termagant. But it’s all play-acting of course, and this production by Otto Schenk gave ample scope for fun. Del Carlo was wonderfully expressive as Pasquale, evincing our sympathy for this comical buffoon, and Matthew Polenzani gave a beautiful rendering of Ernesto’s Act 2 lament.

Polenzani, Netrebko and Kwiecien

With flawless singing from all four principals, and a wonderfully emotional rendering of Donizetti’s score from James Levine in the orchestra pit, this performance was terrific. Sets and costumes by Rolf Langenfass gave the right sense of genteel dowdiness to Don Pasquale and his household furnishings, yet a brightness and cheeriness to the other three characters.

Whoever did the subtitles had the wit to use a bit of Cockney rhyming slang in the phrase ‘trouble and strife’ towards the end, when Norina refers to the perils of a wife. That is not the only bit of London in this opera, because the author of the original story was born in Westminster in 1572. This was Ben Johnson whose play The Silent Woman was taken up by Angelo Anelli for Stefano Pavesi’s opera Ser Mercantonio, and that in turn led to the libretto by Donizetti and Giovanni Ruffini for this delightful opera.

Johnson’s play was also the basis for Richard Strauss’s opera Die Schweigsame Frau, and I’d love to see the Met do that live in HD — any chance?

Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

7 November, 2010

In an interesting and informative essay in the programme, Richard Wigmore discusses this Mozart opera, and writes, “Don Giovanni revolves around the tensions of class, sex and aristocratic abuse of power”. I agree, but this production takes a different tack. The Don appears more as a bumbling academic, and the supper to which the Commendatore is invited at the end is a picnic of bread rolls served from a couple of small plastic shopping bags. Giovanni and Leporello have no table and chair, but sit on the stage and bread rolls are thrown.

Leporello and the Don, all photos by Donald Cooper

During the overture men in strange masks prowl the stage while a circular and dramatically lit metal contraption is lowered from above, and an electric storm rages in the background. But despite the electricity this Don lacked magnetism. Iain Paterson, whom I recall singing a sympathetic and powerful Amonasro in the  ENO’s  Aida two years ago, and a strong Mr. Redburn in Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd this past summer, sang with warmth and strength, but lacked the cutting edge for the Don. And while his stage actions showed suitable nastiness, he gave the appearance of being too nice a guy to release his amoral testosterone-inspired aggression on the world. As the Don’s long-suffering servant Leporello, Brindley Sherratt sang very strongly and gave a fine depth to the evening, just as he did as Sparafucile in Rigoletto last year, and as the monk Pimen in Boris Godunov the year before. He also gave an excellent comic sense to the role, and while he is equally at home singing the murdered Commendatore — which he did at Glyndebourne this year — that small but important role went to Matthew Best who sang it superbly.

The Don with Zerlina

As the pretty Zerlina, whose wedding to Masetto attracts the Don’s amorously intrusive attentions, Sarah Tynan did a wonderful job. This is the same singer who was so good as Adina in The Elixir of Love earlier this year, and Ilia in Idomeneo this summer. She is a delight to watch, and I loved the Irish brogue of John Molloy as Masetto. The role of Donna Elvira, an ex-lover who won’t let Giovanni go, was to have been sung by Rebecca Evans, but she was suffering a bad throat, so Sarah Redgwick stepped in and made a fine substitute. As Donna Anna, whose rape by the Don starts during the overture, Katherine Broderick sang strongly but with a vibrato edge that I did not care for, and it affected her diction. Robert Murray sang her fiancé Don Ottavio, a rather thankless role that was not helped by his costume as the only man on stage wearing a business suit.

The Don meets his nemesis, the Commendatore

This production by Rufus Norris with sets by Ian MacNeil had some nice aspects — I liked the dripping water on the murdered Commendatore as he lies slumped in a drinking trough, I liked the Don’s wooing of Zerlina, and I thought the projected images that Leporello produces when he recounts his master’s conquests, warning Donna Elvira what a cad he is, were a clever innovation — but the plethora of good ideas was all a bit too much for me. The director, Rufus Norris is new to the opera world, though well-known as a theatre producer, and I think the ENO is reaching out to theatre-goers who are relatively unfamiliar with opera. This staging may appeal to younger audiences, though not so much perhaps to those familiar with other Don Giovanni productions.

In the orchestra pit, Kirill Karabits gave an enjoyable and well-nuanced performance of Mozart’s music. Singing in English demands good diction, and the singers did so well here that the surtitles became superfluous.

Further performances are scheduled for November 6, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 27, 29, and December 1, 3 — for more details click here.

Songs from a Hotel Bedroom, Linbury Studio, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2010

5 November, 2010

Kurt Weill is the composer of two operatic works that I like very much — The Threepenny Opera (Berlin, 1928) and Street Scene (New York, 1947) — along with lots of glorious songs from other stage works. I was delighted to hear many of those songs in this drama created by Kate Flatt and Peter Rowe, with choreography by Ms. Flatt.

The main idea is a love affair between Parisian chanteuse Angélique, and American song-writer Dan. Their relationship catches fire in various hotel bedrooms, but is doomed in the more mundane world of careers and the prospect of homemaking. What I particularly liked about the show was the clever use of two tango dancers, who express the protagonists’ emotions by their movements, demonstrating physical passion and ardour, or distancing and yearning, after each song is over.

Nigel Richards and Frances Ruffelle, photo by Caroline True

Frances Ruffelle sang Angélique with a wistful melancholy, and her voice had a gloriously smoky quality with a cutting edge that was quintessentially Weill. Nigel Richards came over forcefully as Dan, but I thought his voice was too strongly miked-up at times. The tango dancers, Amir Giles and Tara Pilbrow, were wonderfully sensuous, helped by Kate Flatt’s excellent choreography, and the atmospheric lighting by Anna Watson that allowed the singers to fade away as the dancers came on, making the combination of the two very effective.

As for the songs themselves, I loved the early ones from the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus with lyrics by Ogden Nash. She did a great job with Foolish Heart, followed by the duet Vive La Difference, and later by I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Other songs followed, including One Life to Livefrom Lady in the Dark with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and It Never Was You from the 1936 musical Knickerbocker Holiday. When he returns to her, with not much time left to live, she sings To Love You And To Lose You from the even earlier musical Johnny Johnson. These songs, and more, are all Kurt Weill and were very well played by the band whose members were all in costume and joined in the action on stage. The production helps to bring the songs to life and makes for a charming hour and a quarter, with the singing very well complemented by the choreography and lighting.

I’m delighted the Royal Opera House has put this on. Performances continue on November 4, 5 and 6 (mat. and eve.) — details here.

Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

27 October, 2010

When Nino Machaidze sang Juliet’s fourth Act aria, Amour ranime mon courage she rose beautifully to the heights of emotion, and the tension was sustained in Act 5. This is when Romeo finds her in the tomb, drinks poison and she awakes so they can sing together, which they did superbly.

Romeo dies in the Capulet tomb, photo by Bill Cooper

It was a glorious ending, and Ms. Machaidze was obviously delighted with the well-deserved applause, though she had made a wobbly start with Je veux vivre dans ce rêve in Act 1, which expresses Juliet’s desire to remain in her girlish state. It was delivered with a harsh tone and excessive vibrato, more suitable for Tosca than the young Juliet, but in fairness to the singer it was her Covent Garden debut in this role, and she was understandably nervous. Her performance gained strength and subtlety as the evening progressed, and by the end she was terrific. Piotr Beczala as Romeo was inspired throughout. His voice was strong, well-controlled and romantically lyrical, and he seems to have an excellent knack for portraying impassioned young men — in 2009 I admired him as Rodolfo in Boheme at Covent Garden, and Edgardo in the live Lucia broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.

The chorus was very powerful, particularly in Act 3, and the soloists produced excellent support. Ketevan Kemoklidze was wonderful as the Montague page, as was Alfie Boe as Tybalt, and Vitalij Kowaljow was a very fine Frère Laurent. Simon Neal sang strongly in the small part of the Duke, and Darren Jeffery as Capulet and Stephane Degout as Mercutio, portrayed their roles most convincingly. This production by Nicolas Joël, with designs by Carlo Tommasi, gives a sense of power and imperviousness to the Capulet house. What it failed to give was a convincing sense of emotion that might have been helped by concentrating on some small details. For instance Juliet is evidently in a state of distress when being conveyed to the altar, and collapses as she gets close to it, but the priests stood motionless until kneeling. Surely some expression of surprise and concern would not come amiss from the extras playing these roles.

Of course this wedding ceremony is one of several differences from Shakespeare. The libretto by Barbier and Carré is based on the Bard, but takes various liberties, including the ending: a final duet before Juliet kills herself, and no appearance of Paris at the tomb. I prefer Shakespeare, but Gounod’s music is strongly evocative of the drama, and was beautifully conducted by Daniel Oren. He started with enormous bounce, and showed a very gentle style in the right places, particularly the beginning of Act 2 in the garden where Piotr Beczala’s performance of Romeo’s cavatina Ah!  lève-toi, soleil! elicited huge applause and moved the performance into a higher gear.

Further performances are scheduled for October 29 and November 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, 17, with Maria Alejandres as Juliette on November 11 and 17. For more details click here.

La Bohème, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, October 2010

19 October, 2010

This is the first time I’ve seen Jonathan Miller’s 2009 production, and I was enchanted. The sets and costumes by Isabella Bywater, based on images of Paris from about 1932 by the famous Hungarian photographer, sculptor and filmmaker Brassaï, are wonderful. The roofs stretching into the distance, though merely painted on a side screen, look entirely solid, and I loved the way the set opens out to transform the bohemians’ garret into the café Momus. With superb lighting designed by Jean Kalman, this is a magically authentic production.

Act III photo by Robert Workman

As I felt the energy of the orchestra in the first few bars I sat back to enjoy the musical direction of Stephen Lord, and wasn’t disappointed. After Mimi came on he opened out the music most charmingly, and Mimi herself was the star of the show, gloriously sung by Elizabeth Llewellyn, making her ENO debut. This is a young woman to watch out for, and according to the programme she will sing the Countess in Figaro at Opera Holland Park next summer. I look forward to it. Her Rodolfo was Gwyn Hughes Jones whose noble tenor voice could have used more vulnerability and enthusiasm. Roland Wood was a convincing Marcello, and I loved his duet with Mimi in Act III. His difficult lover, the effervescent Musetta, was strongly sung and performed by Mairead Buicke, though her diction was lost in the vibrato. For those who prefer their La Bohème in Italian, I’m inclined to agree, but I did rather enjoy Amanda Holden’s translation.

The four bohemians interacted well together, and their horseplay in Act IV, before Musetta comes into the apartment to announce Mimi’s fateful entrance, was perfectly done. This production never goes over the top, but it creates fun, emotion and pathos at the right places, and for those who saw it last year, it’s worth revisiting just to hear the young Elizabeth Llewellyn. Further performances are scheduled for: Oct 20, 23, 28, 30; Nov 3, 5, 12, 18, 25; and Jan 22, 25, 27, with Alfie Boe singing Rodolfo in the January performances. For more details click here.

La Valse/ Invitus Invitam/ Winter Dreams/ Theme and Variations, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2010

16 October, 2010

The high point of this lovely mixed bill was Theme and Variations, created by Balanchine in 1947 for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch. The following year Ms. Alonso founded the Cuban National Ballet, and now at almost 90 years old did us the honour of attending, and appearing on stage at the end flanked by Monica Mason and Carlos Acosta. More on him later when we come to Winter Dreams, but in the meantime, what wonderful dancing from Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin in Theme and Variations. Their main pas-de-deux was flawlessly executed, and Polunin’s solo, involving a double tour-en-l’air followed by a pirouette — repeated perfectly time after time in perfect harmony with the music — elicited cheers from the audience. This was a wonderful show of classical dance, and indeed Balanchine intended this ballet: “to evoke that great period in classical dancing when Russian ballet flourished with the aid of Tchaikovsky’s music.” The dancing from the entire cast was excellent, and it’s only a shame that the music — the final movement of the Suite No. 3 for Orchestra (opus 55) — was unevenly conducted by Barry Wordsworth. It was lifeless at the beginning but too loud when the trombones all roared into action, though it settled down later.

The first item — Ashton’s choreography for Ravel’s La Valse — was beautifully performed by the company. The music was completed in 1920, encouraged by a commission from Diaghilev, who then rejected it as “untheatrical” and not a ballet but “a portrait of ballet”. Since then it has been choreographed many times, most notably by Balanchine in 1951, and Ashton in 1958. Ravel envisaged La Valse as set at the imperial court of Vienna in 1855, and saw it as “a choreographic poem … a sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz … the mad whirl of some fantastic and fateful carousel.” The waltz themes in the music are subject to unexpected modulations and instrumentation, but the conducting did not quite bring out the macabre quality of Ravel’s creation, though the dancing was, as I said, excellent.

Winter Dreams with Acosta and Nuñez, photos by Johan Persson

 

Winter Dreams, to music of Tchaikovsky arranged by Philip Gammon, was beautifully performed by Gammon himself at the piano, along with a small band at the rear of the stage, playing traditional Russian music, and including traditional Russian instruments. This ballet by Kenneth MacMillan is a distillation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, but its genesis was a pas-de-deux for a gala celebrating the ninetieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 1990. After he’d created it MacMillan said, “When I saw it, I realised that this was the farewell between Masha and Vershinin from Three Sisters, and I had to go on and make Winter Dreams”, which he did in 1991. The central pas-de-deux was superbly performed by Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta as Masha and Vershinin, and Masha’s husband was wonderfully portrayed by Jonathan Cope. The other two sisters were beautifully danced by Mara Galeazzi as Olga, and Laura Morera as Irina, and the whole cast performed with elegance and emotion. The ballet is not a rendition of Chekhov’s play, but recreates its melancholy and atmosphere of quiet despair.

Invitus Invitam with Benjamin and Watson

The new item on this mixed bill was Invitus Invitam by Kim Brandstrup, a ballet inspired by the relationship between the Roman emperor Titus, and Berenice, queen in the Roman province of Judaea. Racine created a play Berenice on the story of their ill-fated love. When Titus’s father Vespasian died it seemed he would be free to marry Berenice, but public opinion was against marriage with a foreign queen, and Titus chose duty to Rome over his love for Berenice. The ballet involves three meetings between them. In the first she senses something is amiss, in the second she knows it but resists it, and in the third they meet for the last time before parting forever. The title comes from a single sentence in Suetonius where he says that Titus, who passionately loved Berenice and intended to marry her, let her go invitus invitam (against his will, against her will). Berenice and Titus were danced with subtlety and restrained emotion by Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson, and this was a fine sequel to the unworldly quality of La Valse. The setting by Richard Hudson, with clever lighting by Lucy Carter, involved lines, circles and spirals appearing on a vast blackboard, with rulings like a piece of graph paper, showing mathematical constructions of angles. This created an atmosphere of calculation and inevitability, and later morphed into brick walls from the Royal Opera House’s Rigoletto set. On the other hand the presence of two people with notes, who seemed to be preparing the scene, suggested that things might always have gone differently, but that is life. It always seems more inevitable in hindsight. Music was by Thomas Adès after Francois Couperin.

That the Royal Ballet could put on these four works in one evening, and do them all to perfection, is a testament to the strength of this company. A single ticket buys an eclectic evening’s entertainment, and further performances will take place on October 18, 22, 28 and 30 — for more details click here.

The Duenna, English Touring Opera [ETO], Royal Opera House Linbury Studio, October 2010

14 October, 2010

What fun this is! When I go to a comic opera I smile sometimes but towards the end of this romp, written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, I was laughing out loud. Actually it’s more Singspiel than opera, and none the worse for that. The music is delightful, written largely by Thomas Linley and his son Tom Linley, who wrote more of it than anyone else. Young Tom Linley was born the same year as Mozart (1756), but died in an accident when he was 22. He and Mozart met in 1770 and became friends, and as the music historian Charles Burney wrote that year about his travels in Italy, “The ‘Tommasino’, as he is called, and the little Mozart, are talked of all over Italy, as the most promising geniusses of this age.” The music for this charming comedy was written in 1775.

The story is full of misunderstandings and furious assertions of irrevocable decisions, but the essence of the plot is quite simple. The wealthy Don Jerome has a son and a daughter, Ferdinand and Louisa, who are in imminent danger of losing their lovers. One because her father is about to send her to a convent, and the other because Don Jerome rejects Louisa’s choice of the genteel but impoverished Antonio. He wants her to marry the dreadfully silly, but wealthy Isaac Mendosa. The Duenna is Louisa’s guardian in the household, but the two of them change places with hilarious results.

Richard Suart as Don Jerome was absolutely super. Assertive and irascible, he sang and spoke superbly. His diction was brilliant as was that of the whole cast. Nuala Willis as the Duenna was enormous fun, playing her part with relish, and Adrian Thompson as Isaac Mendoza gave an excellent portrayal of a wealthy by smug little twerp who thinks he’s frightfully cunning. Adam Tunnicliffe as the masquerader is on the stage much of the time, and his movements were delightful, helping the drama silently as if he were a single-person Greek chorus.

The Duenna and Don Jerome

The designs by Adam Wiltshire are glorious. The stage set-up with screens, and people appearing in frames to read letters they wrote, is really inspired. Marvellous lighting by Guy Hoare, all directed by Michael Barker-Caven, with the ETO Baroque Orchestra directed from the harpsichord by Joseph McHardy. It’s a pleasure to see English Touring Opera in London, and know that they will be taking this delightful production to other cities. It deserves to be a sell-out everywhere.

Two more performances at Covent Garden are scheduled for October 15 and 16 (matinee), after which it will tour to the following venues: Theatre Royal Bath, Oct 18 and 19; Malvern Theatres, Oct 22; De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, Oct 27; Exeter Northcott, Oct 30; Cambridge Arts Theatre, Nov 4 and 5; Harrogate Theatre, Nov 8; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Nov 27.

Rigoletto, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

12 October, 2010

A wittily malicious jester has a daughter he adores, who means everything to him, but loses her through his own vengeful actions in planning the murder of her seducer, the libidinous Duke of Mantua. The duke gets many of the best tunes, but the most important character is the jester, Rigoletto, and we are lucky in this new run to have Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the role. He was sensational, both in singing and acting . . . those little jumps, apparently balanced on his sticks, were extraordinary, befitting a jester who is also a truly tragic character.

 

Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto, photos by Johan Persson

 

In the small role of Count Monterone, who curses Rigoletto, Michael Druitt was very powerful, and as he is led away to prison — for cursing the Duke too — he regrets that his curse was ineffective. In response, Rigoletto’s “Non, vecchio, t’inganni — un vindice avrai” (No, old man, you’re wrong — you’ll be avenged) was brilliantly delivered by Hvorostovsky. Patrizia Ciofi as his daughter Gilda sang with a beautiful lyricism, and her last words, “in cielo, vicina alla madre — in eterno per voi . . . preghero” (with my mother in heaven I will always pray for you) were heart-rendingly delivered. She sang the same part beautifully three years ago at Covent Garden, but this time I felt she inhabited the role more convincingly. Raymond Aceto as the hired assassin Sparafucile also reprised his excellent performance from three years ago, and Wookyung Kim was once again the duke, though I’m afraid his voice doesn’t do it for me. He lacks the effortless insouciance that this role demands.

 

Hvorostovsky and Ciofi

 

As to David McVicar’s production, revived by Leah Hausman, I have got used to the rather grim set, which is cleverly rotated, sometimes almost imperceptibly slowly, and I love the lighting by Paule Constable. Costumes by Tanya McCallin are very good, but the one thing I dislike is that orgiastic first scene of Act I . . . bare breasts, naked bodies, men behaving like dogs on leads . . . it all seems gratuitously over the top. Good fun for the participants, but it looks a bit contrived, and not in keeping with Verdi’s music at that point in the opera.

However, the music was authentically performed in great Verdi style under the baton of Dan Ettinger, and further performances with this cast are scheduled for October 14, 16, 19, 21, 23.