Posts Tagged ‘Claire Rutter’

Tosca, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2011

27 November, 2011

Catherine Malfitano’s production of Tosca opens with a bang, not just from the excellent conducting of Stephen Lord, but the sudden appearance of the escaped prisoner Angelotti, centre stage at the rear of the church. He turns and flies forward, a dramatic move that sets the scene for this most theatrical of operas.

All images by Mike Hoban

Cavaradossi’s entrance is low key — he is after all just a painter coming to work on a mural — but when Gwyn Hughes Jones bursts into his first aria on the beauty of women, his impassioned lyricism catapulted this performance immediately into the top division. The duet with Matthew Hargreaves as Angelotti was brilliantly delivered, showing us the political facet of Cavaradossi’s personality.

Cavaradossi and Sacristan

Scarpia’s entrance with his henchmen, and security guards in black top hats, is a fine piece of staging helped by the excellent lighting design of David Martin Jacques. As Scarpia himself, Anthony Michaels-Moore reprised the role he sang in the first run of this production in May 2010. This attractive but deadly man evinces real desire for Tosca, combined with cool-headed cunning. The evil depth that one sometimes sees is not emphasised, but then this drama is far bigger than the characters, and I find the representation by Michaels-Moore to be spot on.

The sacristan can often appear a mere bumbling idiot, but Henry Waddington gave him some depth as a churchman who thoroughly dislikes the secular nature of the French under Napoleon, happy to think that the forces of ‘freedom’ have been defeated and more than ready to help Scarpia find the rebel Angelotti. This production gives us the political dimension of Verdi’s opera, and the forces of tradition are well exhibited by the appearance of the cardinal in his vast red cloak towards the end of Act I.

Scarpia in sybaritic mood

As Acts II and III proceeded to draw the drama to its tragic conclusion, Claire Rutter came into her own as Tosca, after a disappointing performance in Act I. This is where Tosca sets the sequence of events off on a disastrous track by her own cupidity and misplaced jealousy, yet the charm of this great singing actress was most notable by its absence, though her reactions during the torture scene in Act II, and her singing of vissi d’arte, made up for it. The torture scene off-stage is entirely realistic, and it takes four of Scarpia’s men to carry in the ample body of Cavaradossi after he has collapsed. Gwyn Hughes Jones’ fine singing of Vittoria re-ignites his political aspect, and the realism of his execution in Act III was something to behold, with flashes of gunpowder from the muskets.

Tosca just before her fatal fall

The conversation between Cavaradossi and the Carceriere at the start of the third act was beautifully done, showing there is still some decency in the Castel Sant’Angelo, and I liked the horseplay between the guards before the final scene. After Cavaradossi lies dead, Tosca throws herself backwards over the parapet, and the curtain closes on a terrific production.

If you saw this in its first run in 2010, go again to hear a world-class performance by Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi, with the orchestra superbly directed by Stephen Lord.

Performances continue until January 29 next year, so don’t miss it — for details click here.

Lucrezia Borgia, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2011

1 February, 2011

A mother’s anger leads unintentionally to the death of her adored illegitimate son. Shades of Verdi’s Rigoletto here, where a father’s anger leads to the death of his beloved daughter, but there are strong differences. Where Rigoletto is a physically ugly man with a hunchback, Lucrezia Borgia is a beautiful woman, now in her early forties. It’s a wonderful vehicle for a great soprano, but that’s not how it was played here.

Michael Fabiano as Gennaro, photos by Stephen Cummisky

The director, Mike Figgis has made a film about Lucrezia, and he imports several scenes from the movie into his staging of the opera. The purpose is to give some background from Lucrezia’s early life, which is not in the opera, but the effect was disorientating, like a Renaissance painting with several vanishing points. In fact we were also treated to projected images of paintings in which the figures started moving. This was supposed to give background to the background, but I felt myself in some avant garde Gesamtkunstwerk (mixed languages intended) that was attempting to educate me in the attitudes of the time.

The background to Lucrezia is that she was the daughter of a man who became pope, and the sister of a man who was a psychopath. Both supposedly had incestuous relations with her and she, like a true Borgia, took a delight in causing the death of others. At least that is what the movie showed, but where does this leave the opera?

Alastair Miles and Claire Rutter as Alfonso and Lucrezia

The part of Gennaro, Lucrezia’s lost son, whom she seeks out in the Prologue, was strongly portrayed and sung by Michael Fabiano, and his friend Orsini was beautifully sung by Elizabeth DeShong. Lucrezia’s third husband Alfonso was well sung, though rather woodenly portrayed, by Alastair Miles, and much though I have admired Claire Rutter in other roles, I found her a disappointing Lucrezia who avoided the high notes at the end. As for Lucrezia’s father and brother, who are so prominent in the movie sequences, they are simply not in the opera.

Costume designs of the period by Brigitte Reiffenstuel were excellent, and the sets by Es Devlin were wonderful. I loved the dual throne in Act I, which reappeared in Act II, and I thought the small proscenium arch in Act II, which widened later, showing a stage within the stage, was a clever idea. Lighting by Peter Mumford was very well done, giving a sense of irreality at appropriate moments. Conducting by Paul Daniel lacked a sense of drive, partly perhaps because of the various interruptions for the movie sequences.

The chorus in black cloaks, acting like a Greek chorus, formed a strong background to the drama, reminiscent of the chorus in Rigoletto. That opera is almost always a success, and it would be good to counterbalance it occasionally with Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, but apart from clever production ideas one needs a very strong soprano, and the music must be played for all it’s worth rather than used as a background, which is what happens in movies.

Performances continue until March 3rd — for more details click here.