Posts Tagged ‘Carole Wilson’

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.

La Forza del Destino, Holland Park Opera, OHP, August 2010

15 August, 2010

“Vengeance is mine”, saith the Lord, but the quest for revenge by the Calatrava family, personified by its son, Don Carlo, leads to deaths only in the family itself. In his dying throes, Carlo manages to kill his sister Leonora as she comforts him, but the person he most wanted to kill, namely his sister’s beloved Don Alvaro, lives on. Such is Alvaro’s fate, the power of fate being the theme of this opera, whose driving force is Verdi’s music.

The backdrop to Act III, all images OHP/ Fritz Curzon

I’ve always found it terrific stuff, and was delighted with the excellent musical direction by Stuart Stratford, whom I remember doing an equally fine job at Holland Park last summer with Katya Kabanova. Peter Auty was powerfully lyrical as Alvaro, and his soliloquy in Act III, when he pleads with an absent Leonora to pity his suffering, was superb. Mark Stone was a very strong Carlo, and the two of them together in Act III were wonderful. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Leonora was remarkable — she modulated her voice seamlessly from quiet passages to loud ones, and gave this role a powerful undertow of emotion. Among the other parts in this opera, Donald Maxwell was delightful as Fra Melitone, amusing, with perfect comic timing and a gloriously strong voice. No wonder I found him so good as the Major-Domo in Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden three months ago. Mikhail Svetlov sang well as Padre Guardiano, as did Carole Wilson as the gypsy Preziosilla, reminding me of her analogous role in Ballo last summer.

Alvaro holds the dying Leonora

The production by Martin Duncan works very well, with wonderful designs by Alison Chitty, whom I recall doing magical work for Birtwistle’s Minotaur at Covent Garden in April 2008. Here she did another piece of magic. Act III had a black cloth backdrop with chairs hanging in front, along with red cords stretching from floor to rafters at various angles. Lampshades hanging from the rafters were lit blue, and the chairs were projected onto the backdrop. Mark Jonathan’s dark lighting on this set produced the effect of a Kandinsky painting, which I thought entirely appropriate to the time in which the opera was set, namely early-mid twentieth century. Altogether this was a superbly designed production using little more than chairs as props — brilliant.

Congratulations to Opera Holland Park, a fitting production for this, the last night of their season.

Un Ballo in Maschera, Holland Park Opera, July 2009

19 July, 2009

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This Verdi opera is based on an 1833 play by French playwright Eugène Scribe (1791–1861), which in turn is loosely based on the death of King Gustav III of Sweden. He was the victim of a political conspiracy, and shot while attending a masked ball. The opera was first given in 1859, but in a different guise because the censor would not allow a king’s murder to be represented on stage, and the setting was transposed to Boston. The king was replaced by the colonial governor, renamed Riccardo, and his secretary Count Ankarström was renamed Renato. The fortune-teller Madame Arvidson (based on Ulrica Arfvidsson, the most famous fortune-teller in Swedish history) was called only by her first name, Ulrica. Legend has it that the king went to Madame Arfvidsson in disguise, as happens in the opera, and she warned him, “Beware the man with a sword you will meet this evening, for he intends to take your life”. After the king’s murder many of her clients were apparently scared away and she died in poverty.

This production by Martin Lloyd Evans, with designs by Jamie Vartan, set everything in the modern world, centred on the US Government. I found Act I a bit fussy with all the mobile phones and the rushing around, but I thought things improved later and gave a sense of reality to the drama. The key scene in the opera is the Act II midnight encounter between the king and Amelia, where they are surprised by Amelia’s husband Ankarström, and she veils her face. He has come to warn of the conspiracy, and as the king escapes he commands Ankarström to escort the veiled lady back to town without enquiring after her identity. Unfortunately the conspirators intercept them and when her veil comes away in the tussle, and Ankarström sees it is his wife, he joins the plot and the king’s fate is sealed. In this production, Amelia was disguised by sun glasses and a blond wig, rather than being veiled, and the encounter took place in the back-streets, with drug addicts and other ne’er-do-wells appearing and vanishing. Act III was back in the government building, and the scene between Ankarström and his wife, joined later by the conspirators, was very well played, with party guests entering through a metal detector. When the party was underway the guests stayed mainly behind a screen, which I thought focussed the drama well.

Rafael Rojas was to sing King Gustav (presumably the US President in this production) but being out of voice on opening night he acted the part, with David Rendall singing it beautifully from the orchestra pit, and the two of them combined their forces to perfection. Count Ankarström was Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson, whom I saw last year at Holland Park as Barnaba in La Gioconda, and the year before in L’amore dei tre Re; his voice was strong and fitted the part well, though he lost his pitch at one point. The vital role of Amelia was brilliantly sung by South African soprano Amanda Echalaz — she seems to be a coming star on the operatic stage. The page, portrayed as a young woman, was very charmingly sung by Gail Pearson, the fortune-teller by Carole Wilson, and the conspirators, Counts Ribbing and Horn by Paul Reeves and Simon Wilding. Peter Robinson conducted with great sensitivity to the singers, and I thought this was altogether a very fine Ballo.