Posts Tagged ‘Hanna Hipp’

Otello, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2012

13 July, 2012

We are surely lucky that this revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s wonderful 1987 production — the first since 2005 — was directed by the man himself, and it was hugely effective. The sets with those vast pillars help give the impression that a mere human tragedy is being played out against a world that will carry on as before, even though one man has succeeded in destroying first the happiness and then the lives of others.

Opening scene, all images ROH/ Catherine Ashmore

That man, Iago almost gave his name to this Verdi opera, and Lucio Gallo, who also sang that role in the previous revival, gave a riveting performance. In Act III when Otello reads out the message from the Doge that he is being recalled, and a successor appointed, Gallo showed a smug expectation that he would be the man. It is of course Cassio, but this fine acting helps give meaning to Iago’s evil schemes.

As Otello, Aleksandrs Antonenko made a very fine entrance with his Esultate!, going on to portray a gullible leader, and he and Gallo were a perfect match. After Gallo has brilliantly sung Iago’s Credo in Act II, their duet exhibited his cleverness, and Antonenko’s voice showed how very troubled Otello is. And their later duet gave a gloriously strong ending to that Act.

Otello arrives to quell the fight in Act I

Anja Harteros gave a very fine portrayal of Desdemona, and her soliloquy in Act IV was beautifully done, followed by a heart wrenching Ave Maria. Antonenko, Harteros and Gallo gave this performance immense emotional heft, and were well served by Antonio Poli as a delightful Cassio, Hanna Hipp convincing as Iago’s wife Emilia, and Brindley Sherratt showing fine gravitas as the ambassador from Venice.

Venetian ambassador arrives in Act III

Supporting the entire performance was the hugely sensitive conducting of Antonio Pappano, which allowed the music to swell forth when needed. The chorus were in fine form as usual, and this was a terrific performance in a production whose attention to detail helps Verdi’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s drama to move us enormously. There are lots of clever touches, such as the sudden change of lighting in Act IV after Otello has entered and placed his sword down, the Act III off-stage brass heard from the front corners of the auditorium, and the lightning in Act I that appears both on-stage, and off-stage from the front of the lower slips.

After a seven year absence this revival is not to be missed.

Performances continue until July 24 — for details click here.

Les Troyens, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2012

26 June, 2012

As the Euro crisis deepens, it is salutary to see Cassandra on stage — her foresight ever accurate but never believed.

The City of Troy, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

In the first part of this grand opera, Cassandra is the main character, superbly sung and acted by Anna Caterina Antonacci. It all starts with the chorus happily expressing their joy that the Greeks have been routed, but then Cassandra appears and the music abruptly changes mood. Les Grecs ont disparu! … but what dread plan lies behind their departure she asks. The first part leads up to the destruction of Troy, and is the perfect start to this great tale — pity Berlioz never lived to see it performed! A complete five-act production was first seen in Karlsruhe in 1890, 21 years after his death, but even then it was spread over two nights. Yet the whole thing takes a mere five and a half hours, including two half-hour intervals. Productions are rare, but it’s not the length alone — we’re used to that with Wagner — the trouble is you need a quiver full of first rate singers, including two brilliant performers in the mezzo roles of Cassandra and Dido, a Trojan horse, a ship, two walled cities, open countryside … oh, and two dance interludes.

The horse enters Troy to Cassandra’s consternation

Fortunately, David McVicar has overcome all difficulties in this new co-production with the Vienna State Opera, La Scala, and San Francisco Opera. He places the action in an undetermined time that could easily be seventeenth/ eighteenth century, which is not a problem. After all, scholarly opinion and tradition places the Trojan War about 1200 BC, Dido in the late ninth century, the founding of Rome in the mid-eighth century BC, and Troy had not yet been discovered when Berlioz wrote his opera. Costumes by Moritz Junge are wonderful, sets by Es Devlin (who is also designing the Olympic closing ceremony) are super, and lighting by Wolfgang Göbbel is magical. For instance in Act IV when Dido and Aeneas fully express their love, the model city that was on the ground turns upside down and suffused with a violet glow, its buildings twinkle with light as if it were the starry sky. The model city was a clever idea, and at the start of the second half when the Carthaginians sing with happy grace to their queen Dido, I almost expected her to respond Euch macht ihr’s leicht (Hans Sachs) … just kidding, but Moritz Junge’s costumes for this act reminded me of the final scene in Meistersinger, where Covent Garden’s staging includes model houses. Here, Dido tells us it is just seven years since she left Tyre to escape the murderer of her husband, and with the myth and history so well explained in Berlioz’s own libretto, this opera is Wagnerian in conception.

The happy people of Carthage surrounding Dido

The singing was terrific. Eva-Maria Westbroek was a gentle yet powerful Dido, Bryan Hymel gave a remarkable performance as Aeneas, and their rapturous duet in Act IV came over beautifully, enhanced by lovely changes of lighting. Hanna Hipp sang with great feeling as Dido’s sister Anna, and Brindley Sherratt was a striking vocal presence as her chief minister Narbal. Fabio Capitanucci came over strongly as Cassandra’s fiancé Coroebus, and Barbara Senator was entirely convincing as Aeneas’ son Ascanius. Excellent performances in all the solo roles, not just vocally but in terms of movement and stage presence. For example, Pamela Helen Stephen had huge presence as queen Hecuba of Troy, and Jihoon Kim was very effective as the ghost of Hector.

This massive team effort, with its magnificent chorus, was held together with consummate skill by Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit, and as he said in a recent interview, this is just the sort of project the Royal Opera House should be undertaking. Quite right, and though there were some boos for the production team at the end, I didn’t understand why — it was a remarkable achievement. The Trojan horse’s head from the end of the first part was matched by a similar human torso and head at the end, which I took to indicate future battles between Carthage and Rome, brought on by Dido’s ritual curse of Aeneas and his descendents, and her foreknowledge of the mighty Hannibal.

A minstrel sings for Dido and Aeneas

McVicar’s production somehow manages to make sense of a world we have lost, where ghosts urge people on to great deeds, and gods issue commands. Perhaps some of our political leaders today would love to justify their actions as heeding urges of ghosts or gods, but in this remarkable story that’s what happens, and the production brings it to life. The Royal Opera have needed to score a goal, and they’ve got one here — it’s a beauty.

The performance on 5th July will be streamed live on The Space, available at thespace.org, or by viewing on TV (Freeview HD channel 117). It will also be broadcast live on French television — information at www.mezzo.tv .

Performances at the Royal Opera House continue until July 11 — for details click here.

La Traviata, with Bobro, Grigolo and Gavanelli, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 23 January 2012.

24 January, 2012

This performance on January 23 was to have been the first of two with Ermonela Jaho as Violetta, and Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo, but Ms. Jaho was unwell and her place was taken at the last minute by Slovenian soprano Bernarda Bobro, making her debut at Covent Garden. She has recently sung the role in Estonia, Schleswig-Holstein and Stuttgart, and worked with the Royal Opera House cast throughout the rehearsals, so she was well placed to fit into the production, and gave a fine performance.

Vittorio Grigolo and Bernarda Bobro

This reminds me of 17th January 2008 when Ermonela Jaho took over from Anna Netrebko in the same production. Act I is a tough one to pull off for Violetta, veering from party girl to someone who wonders whether she should continue disdaining love in favour of her life of arid pleasure. Ms. Bobro’s voice sounded a bit light here but her top notes were glorious, and in the scene with Paolo Gavanelli as Alfredo’s father in Act II she really came into her own, both of them beautifully restrained, yet dismissive and finally respectful of one another. Great stuff, preceded of course by Vittorio Grigolo giving vent to his frustrations and his boundless love for Violetta. Huge applause from the audience, and at the end of the opera Mr. Grigolo came forth to claim his due, holding his heart and opening his arms to centre, left and right. His singing was superb, as was his acting in Act III as Violetta is dying. He stood rooted to the spot, until his father gestured to him to go to her.

Paolo Gavanelli as Germont

This Richard Eyre production still works very well indeed. It has an intimate quality sometimes lacking in Traviata, and in the final act I love the big mirror where Violetta sees fleeting visions of her past life. Hanna Hipp was lovely as her maid Annina, and the way Jean Kalman’s lighting falls on her and Violetta at the start of the final act is a work of art.

With fine musical direction from Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit, the principals, Bobro, Grigolo and Gavanelli were wonderful together. It’s always interesting to see how the baritone plays Afredo’s father — there are so many possible interpretations — and Paolo Gavanelli gave it a memorably restrained gravitas. But main plaudits must go to Bernarda Bobro who was surely not expecting to be on stage, and her very pretty voice infused the role of Violetta with a quiet tragedy. At the end she looked so young, and so washed out, that one could believe her life had come full circle far too soon. The frail one could live no more.

The other performance with the same cast is on January 25, again with Bernarda Bobro as Violetta  — for details click here.