Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Tipton’

Royal Ballet Triple: Electric Counterpoint, Asphodel Meadows, Carmen, Covent Garden, May 2010

5 May, 2010

Pennefather and Nuñez in Scarlett's fine new ballet Asphodel Meadows, photo by Johan Persson

Asphodel Meadows is a very interesting new ballet by Liam Scarlett, to Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra. There were fourteen dancers plus three principal couples, one for each movement of the concerto. The first was beautifully danced by Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather with lovely elegant movements, the second more spicily by Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside, and the third fluidly and fast by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. Costumes were leotards for the boys and simple skirts and tops for the girls, bluish/beige for the fourteen dancers, with dark brown, charcoal, and crimson, in that order, for the principals in the three movements. I thought the designs by John Macfarlane were excellent, as was the lighting by Jennifer Tipton. It all lasted a little under 25 minutes and was a delight to watch. The title is interesting. Asphodel is a type of lily, and the name is from ancient Greek. Meadows of asphodel appear in Homer’s Odyssey (Book XI, line 539), where Odysseus travels to Hades and encounters the shades of dead heroes.

Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson in Electric Counterpoint, photo by Dee Conway

This new ballet was sandwiched between works that were performed within the last two years. The programme started with Christopher Wheeldon’s Electric Counterpoint, to music by Bach and Steve Reich, played by Robert Clark on the piano and James Woodrow on the solo guitar. It appealed to me much more than when I saw it in early 2008, though the cast was almost identical, with Edward Watson, Sarah Lamb, Leanne Benjamin and Eric Underwood — last time, Benjamin’s role was performed by Zenaida Yanowsky. In the first part each dancer appears alone, starting with Sarah Lamb. There is a wall facing the audience on which is projected another version of Sarah Lamb, dancing as if she were a mirror image. Gradually, however, the dancer and her image go disconcertingly out of phase with one another, but later there is little connection between dancer and image. During this first section, along with the piano music by Bach, there is a recorded voice-over by the dancer who is performing, giving personal details of their life and motivation. In the second part the wall facing the audience vanishes and there is another wall at an oblique angle, with four doors through which the dancers appear. The electronic music is accompanied by guitar, and there is pas-de-deux work as well as solo dancing. It lasts thirty minutes, which I found well spent, and I liked the designs by Jean-Marc Puissant and the lighting by Natasha Chivers.

After seeing this, followed by Asphodel Meadows, the evening didn’t need spoiling with Mat Eks’ dreadful Carmen, and I’m delighted they put it as the third item on the bill, so I could happily leave.

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2010

28 April, 2010

If you yearn for an Aida with rich Egyptian tapestry, animals, jugglers, and massive processions, this is not for you, and that may be why several audience members booed the production team at the end. But if you want the drama Verdi and his librettist created then this performance certainly gave it. David McVicar’s fine new production strips away the Egyptian baggage and places events in an ancient time of masculine combat, female sexual energy, and human sacrifice. Verdi had been pestered for an opera for the new opera house in Cairo, hence the Egyptian setting, but apart from using a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia as a background to the libretto, there is nothing particularly Egyptian about this story. It’s a drama about love, loyalty, jealousy and power in an ancient martial setting, and this production is reminiscent in some ways of the warrior culture in ancient Japan. The director is anxious it not be thought of as Egypt, and by stripping away that backcloth, he gives us a more abstract interpretation devoid of sentimental attachment to any particular time or place.

Act II, scene 2, Royal Opera photo Bill Cooper

Perhaps the people who booed objected to the lesbian orgy, or the intercourse between ten women and one man, or the ritual murder of men by women who have just embraced them. Any one of these things may seem over the top, but they fit the visceral energy of this production, whose integrity allows the singers to give their utmost.

All the principals sang strongly:  Micaela Carosi as Aida, Marco Vratogna as her father Amonasro, and Giacomo Prestia as Ramfis the high priest, but three performances were outstanding. Robert Lloyd came over extremely well in the minor part of the king, and Marianne Cornetti gave a rip-roaring portrayal of his daughter Amneris, dominating the stage with her voice and her presence. It was a memorable performance, as was that of Marcelo Alvarez as Radames, the military leader who loves Aida but is loved by the jealous Amneris. He sang so naturally, with effortless power and lyricism, it felt as if he were simply talking — what an extraordinary ability. This was the first night, so there are further performances if you can get tickets, but when the Royal Opera revives this production in less than a year’s time, Marcelo Alvarez will be a hard act to follow.

His first serious aria, which sweeps into the well-known Celeste Aida, appears very early in the opera, so it’s not easy to pull off well, but he started calmly and built up with terrific effect. He was helped by Jean-Marc Puissant’s designs, which left him entirely alone on stage in front of a large screen. The screen has a rotating base that can be turned to introduce or exclude other performers, or it can simply be lifted out of the way, and the effect is to create a space that might be intimate at one moment or open to a large crowd of performers at others. There were roughly 150 performers in total, so plenty of work for the wardrobe department, and I loved the costumes by Moritz Junge. Likewise the relatively dark lighting by Jennifer Tipton, and I liked the way Aida was portrayed more as a princess than a mere slave to Amneris.

Production aside, the opera would be nothing without its music, and Nicola Luisotti did a superb job with the orchestra. Their playing was well matched with what was happening on stage, and just to take one example, the cellos sang with enormous suppressed energy in Act III as the priests, dressed in greyish beige robes with enormous grey headdresses, paraded slowly across the stage. It’s just a small vignette, but there are many more such things, all very carefully thought out. With a production of such integrity, along with excellent singing and superb musicianship from the orchestra pit, this is arguably the finest Aida I’ve seen.

Performances continue until May 16.