Posts Tagged ‘Alan Opie’

Double Bill: Zanetto/ Gianni Schicchi, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2012

7 July, 2012

Mascagni, friend of Puccini and composer of the hugely successful Cavalleria Rusticana, produced more than a dozen other operas. Cav was his second, and L’amico Fritz (OHP last year) the third. Now Opera Holland Park have produced a later one, Zanetto which, like Fritz, suffers from a very weak libretto. But it was gloriously sung by Janice Watson as the wealthy, celebrated, but lovelorn Silvia, and Patricia Orr as the young itinerant musician, Zanetto, who enters her apartment as if sent by fate. He needs looking after, and enquires after the fabulous Silvia, having heard of her fame and wealth. Both protagonists are fearful of love. He sings that it is better to be a dragonfly on the breeze, and although she yearns for a suitable man, this one seems to need a mother or sister, so she advises him to keep away from the famous Silvia. Such is the plot.

Zanetto and Silvia, all images OHP/ Fritz Curzon

Watson and Orr gave this dramatically flat piece a good showing, singing beautifully to the music’s charming lyricism, but what can one do with the wearisome libretto? As Zanetto turned to leave her, two birds flew into the stage rear, as if on cue, and we left this sad vignette knowing a little better why Mascagni’s operas went nowhere after a brilliant start. But we were well set-up for Puccini’s comedy that followed.

Gianni Schicchi is huge fun, though the preliminaries in this staging seemed a bit drawn out, with Buoso groaning relentlessly until his final breath. After the relatives made a right royal mess of the room searching for the will, it all suddenly changed when Jung Soo Yun as Rinuccio burst into song on the glories of Florence. His poetic phrasing was riveting, and the music swelled forth.

O mio babbino caro

As his beloved Lauretta, Anna Patalong was delightful and her O mio babbino caro emerged entirely naturally as she blocked her father’s way to stop him walking out — a pleasant change from the recent Covent Garden production where Schicchi is already outside the room and the aria is delivered directly to the audience.

This opera is perfect for a small venue such as Holland Park, and with Alan Opie as a very engaging Schicchi the three main roles carried it forward with huge wit and lyricism. The relatives were a mixed bunch, but I liked Simon Wilding in the bass role of Betto, and Carole Wilson sang a magnificently strong contralto as Zita.

Good direction by Martin Lloyd-Evans, with designs by Susannah Henry, and exquisite lighting by Colin Grenfell, made the best of both operas, to say nothing of the superb conducting by young Associate Conductor Matthew Waldren.

Performances continue until July 14 — for details click here.

The Death of Klinghoffer, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2012

29 February, 2012

This opera has sparked controversy at its first staging in London. Why?

All images by Richard Hubert Smith

The essential story is that in 1985 an Italian cruise ship at dock in Alexandria was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists, who seem to have had a confused idea about freeing prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of the people on the cruise were away at a tour of the pyramids, leaving mainly women and children on board, along with a 70-year old American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer in a wheelchair. The terrorists ended up negotiating some kind of deal for landing the ship in Syria after shooting Klinghoffer in the back and dumping him and his chair overboard.

Klinghoffer and wife

The opera itself, created by John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, serves to remind us of an unedifying spectacle in the recent history of terrorism, and the anti-semitic remarks made by the Palestinians surely do not reflect the opinions of either composer or librettist. The production by Tom Morris, with sets by Tom Pye, hews closely to the concept embodied in this creation, but does the whole thing work?

Five years ago I saw a rather lovely Adams opera called  A Flowering Tree, based on an old Tamil story, a far cry from the days when he went out of his way to tackle political issues. Nixon in China was wonderful, and Klinghoffer and Dr. Atomic have been acclaimed by some. Part of the problem with Klinghoffer may be that Alice Goodman delivered her libretto in pieces, the choral parts first, and as a result the whole work is structured around six choruses, making it a cross between an oratorio and an opera.

The choral pieces are conceived in pairs, like the days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis where days 1, 2, 3 are paired with days 4, 5, 6. Here though the first pair, the chorus of Exiled Palestinians and chorus of Exiled Jews, comes in the Prologue. The Ocean chorus and the Night chorus end scenes 1 and 2 of Act I, and their counterparts, the Desert chorus and the Day chorus end scenes 1 and 2 of Act II.

Conducting by Baldur Brönnimann brought out the beauty of these choral passages, which form the musical strength of this work, and some of the solo performances came off well, particularly Alan Opie as Klinghoffer. Richard Burkhard gave a strong performance as the principal terrorist and Jesse Kovarsky did a nice dance number to complement his singing as another terrorist, but the strength of Adams’ creation is musical rather than theatrical.

Jesse Kovarsky in the dance number

Video projections by Tom Pye helped this rather static opera, sometimes showing the wake of a moving ship, sometimes the background to the choruses, and perhaps a semi-staged version in somewhere like the Festival Hall would work well too. But certainly the production fitted the opera, unlike the Rusalka now playing at Covent Garden.

Performances continue until March 9 — for details click here.