Posts Tagged ‘London Coliseum’

The Damnation of Faust, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2011

7 May, 2011

This is ostensibly a French opera sung in English, though it’s not really an opera but a légende dramatique by Hector Berlioz — a musical and vocal canvas on which a clever director can paint his own picture. And this is exactly what Terry Gilliam does by turning the whole thing into a history about the rise of Nazism in Germany from World War I to its expression in the violent anti-Semitism of 1930s and eventually the death camps of World War II.

Faust and Mephistopheles in the cube, all images Tristram Kenton

It all starts with a spoken prologue by Mephistopheles in which he talks about the desire to unlock the secrets of life saying, “there will always be a Faust”. Referring to a struggle, he then intones “My struggle translates in German as Mein Kampf“. This obvious reference to Hitler out of the way, he then seats himself stage left as Faust with his spiky orange hair hikes in the mountains carrying a massive cubical burden from which he opens out a large chalk-board replete with mathematical mumbo jumbo. He then meets Teutonic figures from German myth, but this is all just prologue, and as we watch Gilliam’s story unfold we are presented with one clever stage idea after another. For example towards the end, when Faust and Mephistopheles ride off on black horses to save Marguerite — who in this production has been transported to one of the death camps — they ride a World War II motorbike and sidecar, appearing to race across the front of the stage as the night-time scenery flashes past behind them. In the meantime we have been presented with high and low points from German history in the 1930s: the callous brutality of the brown shirts, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin with Leni Reifenstahl’s wonderful moving images of divers, the yellow stars for Jews, the horror of Kristallnacht in November 1938, and the transportation of Jews to concentration camps.

The journey to save Marguerite

In case this all seems too much, Gilliam dilutes it with comedy and choreographic invention worthy of a musical, as the blond athletes move in formation and sing in Latin, and the brown shirts perform at one point as if in an operetta. Peter Hoare’s Faust, with his high tenor voice, is costumed as one of them, but always with that frightful orange hair, looking rather like the dog-man he portrayed so well in the ENO’s Dog’s Heart late last year. Christopher Purves by contrast was a commanding Mephistopheles with his sonorous baritone and superb stage presence, and Christine Rice was a beautifully voiced Marguerite. The relatively small part of the student Brander, another brown shirt, was well sung by Nicholas Folwell. Musically this was wonderful, with inspired playing by the orchestra under the direction of Edward Gardner.

The sets by Hildgard Bechtler ranged from open air romanticism of a style to suit Der Freischütz, to utilitarian buildings and their interiors, all superbly lit by Peter Mumford. Good costumes by Katrina Lindsay and clever video designs by Finn Ross helped make this a remarkable staging, yet I feel discomforted by the huge range of production ideas, and wonder if it isn’t all a bit self-indulgent.

Faust and Marguerite fearing crowds outside

Of course, as a musical creation by Berlioz this is not exactly an opera, but more like a cantata, and it failed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1846 during its first performances. Only in 1893 was it successfully staged in Monte Carlo, and now Terry Gilliam has created it anew, using Berlioz’s wonderful music to tell the story of where German Romanticism and idealism took a badly wrong turn, leading to one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century.

Performances continue until June 7 — for more details click here.

Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), London Coliseum, March 2011

30 March, 2011

Stage versions of Cinderella are many and varied. In Rossini’s opera there’s a pompous stepfather, in Massenet’s a stepmother, and in Ashton’s classic ballet a father. But all agree that Cinderella’s mother has died, and in David Bintley’s new production we see a glimpse of her funeral during the overture. It’s a brief but poignant scene, well supported by Prokofiev’s music, as is much else in Bintley’s new creation — seen here in London for the first time.

The magic starts, all photos by Bill Cooper

The two stepsisters are played here as obnoxiously juvenile girls, their teasing easily turning to pushing and shoving, but they can also be funny and I loved the incidents at the ball with the major domo’s staff of office. Above all, however, is the nasty stepmother, brilliantly portrayed by Marion Tait. Her ball dress was stunning, and when the prince brings the slipper to the house she follows her awful daughters in trying it on . . . before Cinderella herself comes forward.

Frog coachman, lizard footmen and mouse pages

The business with the slippers is very cleverly done, starting in the kitchen scene of Act I. Cinderella brings out a red box containing a portrait of her mother, and two pretty bejewelled slippers. The stepsisters suddenly enter and grab them, until more urgent matters claim their attention and Cinders can hide them again. Then when everyone’s gone, and she’s alone again, the fire suddenly springs to life and a barefooted old crone appears from nowhere, seated next to it. Cinderella gives her the precious slippers, catalyzing the magic. Bintley uses the slippers very skilfully and when Cinders returns from the ball she fishes out the red box again, hiding her remaining slipper. Once again the wretched sisters burst in again and grab it, but this time they are interrupted by the arrival of the prince himself, and Cinderella, unable to hide the box in its usual place, sits by the fire holding it. This seems an awkward moment for her while the sisters and stepmother try on the slipper, but then shyly and slowly she comes forward with the matching slipper. There is no rush, and this important moment is given full focus, creating a sense of wonder, well supported by Prokofiev’s glorious music.

Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay, Act III

The music is well used, and Bintley’s production manages to insert magic into moments that are sometimes missed, greatly helped by Koen Kessels’ wonderfully sympathetic conducting. Designs by John Macfarlane express the dichotomy between the cold looking kitchen and the mysterious world beyond for the seasons and the stars, glimpsed in the distant background of the ball scene. I loved the way the coach came together at the end of Act I, taking Cinderella off to the ball, and I loved the clock, as it came together in Act II, with its inner workings showing the rapid passing of time. Lighting by David Finn was excellent and I particularly liked the gradual visibility of the ball scene at the start of Act II.

The corps de ballet and soloists danced beautifully and Elisha Willis was a lovely Cinderella, showing refinement and strength in reserve, well deserving her very handsome prince in the form of Iain Mackay. Victoria Marr was a gentle fairy godmother, and the sisters were very amusingly portrayed by Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar — I particularly liked Ms. Cummerfield’s clumsiness at the ball, sickling her foot most horribly at one point. And throughout it all, Marion Tait as the stepmother, holds the stage with a nod and glance.

This production by David Bintley has moments of magic, and when you go you should buy a programme to read Neil Philip’s interesting essay on the myth of Cinderella, including a version connected with the folk tale aspect of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

Preview — Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2011

28 March, 2011

Following its world premiere in Birmingham last November, and Christmas Day BBC Television debut, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new production of Cinderella comes to London for the first time.

all photos by Bill Cooper

Choreography is by the wonderful David Bintley, with designs by John Macfarlane whose brilliant work on the Magic Flute was recently seen at the Royal Opera House. To top this, the lighting design is by David Finn, whose updated lighting for the Royal Ballet’s Giselle gives such a wonderful air of threatening magic to Act 2.

See my report after the first night on Tuesday, March 29.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, March 2011

23 March, 2011

With the recent success of the movie Black Swan, Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake is filling auditoriums, so tickets are getting scarce. In London at the moment both the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet have productions on stage, so there’s a choice. If you want to hear Tchaikovsky, then I’d go to the London Coliseum where Gavin Sutherland’s conducting drives the music forward in a dramatic way, and if you like designs and choreography, then I’d also go to the Coliseum to see the ENB’s production. Its choreography by Derek Deane, based on Ivanov and Petipa, works very well, as do the wonderful designs by Peter Farmer, most beautifully lit by Howard Harrison.

It’s remarkable how the sets and lighting create the sense of a mysterious outer world beyond the peasant domain in Act I, and the courtly world of Act III. In Acts II and IV we are of course in that outer world, lit by a full moon, and this production even gives us a glimpse of it during the overture by showing the evil Von Rothbart capturing a princess and turning her into a swan trapped by his spell.

all photos by Daria Klimentova

As for the dancing and movement on stage, the peasant pas-de-douze in Act I was charmingly performed, creating a sense of space and movement, and the pas-de-quatre, with Begoña Cao, James Forbat, Laurretta Summerscales and Max Westwell was terrific. The conducting gave a tremendous sense of rhythm and forward movement when Jane Haworth entered as Prince Siegfried’s mother, elegant and with a hugely engaging stage presence. The music fits Derek Deane’s choreography perfectly, and the lighting is magical for Arionel Vargas’s solo ‘soliloquy’ as the Prince, with a spot on him as the rest of the stage shades into irreality.

The four cygnets

In Act II, Fabian Reimair’s Von Rothbart moved dramatically, with great presence, and Elena Glurdjidze was a marvellous Swan Queen. Her pas-de-deux with Arionel Vargas, just before the cygnets enter, was beautifully done and she ended it with a palpable sense of regret that she is still trapped by Von Rothbart. His dramatic reappearance in Act III with his two scabrous, bald-headed followers, provided a much needed antidote to the tension between the Prince and his mother, which was very well portrayed.

Elena Glurdjidze as the black swan

When Elena Glurdjidze reappears as the black swan, Von Rothbart exudes elegance and seriousness, before taking a more active — perhaps too active — part in the amorous attraction of the prince towards his scheming daughter. The pas-de-deux between Prince and Black Swan had tremendous rhythmic energy, brilliantly supported by the orchestra under Gavin Sutherland. There was only a slight disconnect between dancer and conductor here, but the forceful playing of the orchestra is the way it should be done, and in Act IV as the Prince enters, the drums beat for all they are worth.

This was a hugely enjoyable performance, and finding tickets is well worth whatever effort it takes. Performances at the Coliseum continue only until March 26 — for more details click here.

Parsifal, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2011

17 February, 2011

Easter comes late this year but Parsifal is early, and stepping into the warmth of the London Coliseum from a washed-out winter’s day was a treat. As the first bars came out of the orchestra, Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting showed the clarity and quality Wagner’s music demands, and sent tingles down my spine.

Gurnemanz and knights, early Act I, all photos by Richard Hubert Smith

Act I opens to a scene like something from ancient history. This was the Sumerian KUR, the distant land of the dead, where all is clay. The knights of the Grail are grey in costume and skin, as if made of clay, and into this ancient land beyond the normal world I almost expected the Sumerian goddess Inanna to come breezing in, as she does in the saga of Inanna’s Descent. But it was Kundry who arrived — the only splash of colour in this wasteland, until Parsifal himself enters.

Journey to the Grail in Act I

When Gurnemanz decides that perhaps this young man, who can’t even remember his own name, is the chosen fool who will bring redemption, he takes him to the ceremony of the Grail. Here Parsifal and Gurnemanz are beautifully lit, swaying side by side as if walking, while Parsifal marvels at how swiftly he moves though scarcely taking a step. I love Gurnemanz’s reply, “Du siehst mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit” (You see my son here space turns into time). It was rendered here, as in other translations, by “You see my son here space and time are one”, though Wagner produced this opera in 1882, before the theory of relativity. However, I liked the translation by Richard Stokes, and John Tomlinson sang Gurnemanz with such wonderful diction that the surtitles were superfluous.

In fact all the singing was clear, and when Stuart Skelton as Parsifal sang the word spear in Act III he gave it a tremendous power and lyricism, turning the simple fool of Act I into a truly heroic tenor. Iain Paterson gave Amfortas real heft, both vocally and physically, and Andrew Greenan gave a rich bass tone to Amfortas’s father Titurel in Act I. Both the first and third acts were superb, though Act II suffered slightly by comparison, with Tom Fox as Klingsor and Jane Dutton as Kundry. But the real heroes in this performance were John Tomlinson, and Mark Wigglesworth with the orchestra. I don’t know how Tomlinson does it, but his rendering of Gurnemanz was so gripping that he made the long monologues seem short.

Amfortas with the body of Titurel in Act III

Of course Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production helps enormously. As that huge boulder rotates during the walk to the Grail in Act I it reveals a bluish light from behind, giving a cosmic feel to the movement of Gurnemanz and Parsifal. And when Parsifal acquires the spear in Act II and uses it to strike the ground, he brings demolition to Klingsor’s magic realm. Then in Act III there is a wonderful moment as Amfortas reaches into the pit inhabited by figures of clay, and drags out the body of his father. This is just before Stuart Skelton’s gloriously sung Parsifal mentions the spear, cutting through the death-like immobility of the knights. Only Parsifal, Gurnemanz, and perhaps Kundry, show any sympathy with Amfortas, and when Kundry and Parsifal walk off, beautifully lit, into the distance they have created the redemption that ends Wagner’s final opera.

The audience reaction was thunderous applause, and in case the ENO do not revive this production again, it’s well worth the price of a ticket, and train ticket if you live outside London. Performances continue until March 12 — for more 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.

Romeo and Juliet, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2011

6 January, 2011

Just to make sure we understand the fateful denouement, four figures of fate appear at the beginning and end, but apart from this, and the final reconciliation between Capulets and Montagues, it’s Shakespeare with Prokofiev’s glorious music. The choreography by Rudolf Nureyev lacks the understatement of Kenneth Macmillan’s version, but fully makes up for it in masculine strength and bravado, coupled with sheer inventiveness that helps define the characters of Juliet and her cousin Tybalt, along with Romeo and Mercutio on the Montague side.

Daria Klimentova and Vadim Mutagirov, photo by Annabel Moeller

The dancing was superb indeed. Vadim Mutagirov made a wonderfully elegant Romeo, and danced like a god. Daria Klimentova as his Juliet played the role to perfection, and her evident dislike of Daniel Kraus’s anxious and clingy Paris came over very well, particularly her distress with the wedding dress in Act III. Juliet’s fondness for Tybalt is expressed in a brief pas-de-deux in Act I, and Fabian Reimair was the kind of Tybalt one could almost feel sorry for — a fiery impulsive young man whose skill with the sword is insufficient to match his angry intentions. Juliet’s shock and lamentation at his death was wracked with emotion. Max Westwell danced strongly as Benvolio, and Juan Rodriguez was superb as Mercutio in a role that is played partly as a comic act but with an added sense of drama when he is mortally wounded by Tybalt, and his friends see his death throes as mere play-acting, which they applaud. Rodriguez — a last minute replacement for Yat-Sen Chang — was entirely convincing in the role, and Paul Lewis was outstanding as Lord Capulet, showing perfect timing and fine musicality. The whole cast danced beautifully, both in the solo parts and the ensemble pieces.

Nureyev’s choreography gives a real edge to the fight scenes, and the punch-up in Act I sets the stage for the extraordinary enmity we witness between two feuding families. He first created the production for this company — known then as the London Festival Ballet — in 1977, dancing the role of Romeo himself. This revival is staged by Patricia Ruanne and Frederic Jahn, who were the original Juliet and Tybalt. It has a thrilling energy, just like Nureyev himself, and is only slightly undermined by the frequent changes of scene, and the dream sequences. The dancers are all utterly committed to acting their roles, and I only wish the Company would get rid of those supers who appear front-stage at the sides in Act II, spoiling the body language expressed by the rest of the cast.

Prokofiev’s music has been slightly rearranged, partly so that additional parts of the story can be expressed, such as the attack on Friar John who carries Lawrence’s letter to Romeo in Mantua. The news of Juliet’s apparent death is brought to Romeo by Benvolio, and the arpeggios that express Juliet’s frenzied frustration in Act III before she consults Friar Lawrence, reappear here to express Romeo’s appalling distress, along with very physical choreography between him and Benvolio. There is much to enjoy and absorb in this fine production, and Gavin Sutherland brought out the power and beauty of the music after a sluggish start during the introduction.

Performances continue until January 15 — for more details click here.

Nutcracker, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, December 2010

11 December, 2010

Nutcracker is based on a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann that beautifully interweaves the real world with the magical world, all under the enchanting influence of Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer. On the other hand Tchaikovsky’s ballet creates a greater distinction between the two worlds, and linking them more intimately is a potential challenge for any production. This one by Wayne Eagling involves some interesting ideas. For example, the mouse king is not killed in Act I but lives on into Act II, clinging to the carriage of a balloon that takes Clara and the Nutcracker away from the snow scene at the end of the first Act. He’s then killed during the second Act in a small theatre on stage, which serves as a background for the character dances.

In the Hoffmann original the Nutcracker is a magical version of Drosselmeyer’s nephew, a feature represented in Eagling’s production by having the two characters interchange on stage several times. For instance during a pas-de-trois for Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer and Clara, the Nutcracker transforms into the nephew and dances with her alone. And rather than having Clara as an onlooker during the festivities of Act II, she is a participant, coming on during the Arabian dance to release a prisoner from bondage, and later dancing with her prince as if she were the sugar plum fairy. The Spanish, Chinese, and Russian dances, along with the dance of the flowers, are of the usual type, but the dance of the mirlitons becomes a pas-de-quatre for three boys and a girl who represents a butterfly that eventually falls prey to Drosselmeyer’s net. These aspects of the production help to link the real and the magical, but I missed any representation of the Mother Ginger episode whose music I love. I also missed the final bars at the end, which were cut to leave everything quietly as it was in the prologue, with the exterior of the parents’ house on stage, and Clara and her brother creeping out for some fresh air.

The prologue — during the orchestral overture — started very well with ice skaters in front of the parents’ house, but Act I didn’t really gel on the first night. Things warmed up in Act II and the pas-de-deux between Daria Klimentova as Clara, and Vadim Muntagirov as her prince, was terrific. His lines were beautifully clean and their dancing had real élan. There were also some wonderful performances in the character dances particularly Shiori Kase in the Chinese dance, and the leading flowers Begoña Cao and Sarah McIlroy with their partners Daniel Kraus and James Forbat danced beautifully.

The designs by Peter Farmer gave a sense of solidity to the real world, and a lightness of touch to the magical. The Christmas tree grew while the mice were dancing and then transformed itself into a snow-covered tree for the rest of Act I. This is a Nutcracker interweaving the real and the magical, though the first night may not have shown it to best advantage, and the orchestral playing under the baton of Gavin Sutherland seemed a little uneven. It will surely settle down later, and performances continue until December 30 — for more details click here.

A Dog’s Heart, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

23 November, 2010

It’s 113 pages in my translation — Bulgakov’s novel I mean — and I wondered how it would convert to an opera. But it did, and it works, brilliantly.

The Dog in the Apartment, all photos by Stephen Cummiskey

A Dog’s Heart is a striking exposé of the massive Soviet experiment instigated by Lenin and Trotsky. Bulgakov tells of a senior physician, eminent for rejuvenating the bodily functions of his patients, who picks up a stray dog. The animal, woefully undernourished and mistreated, is ready to die of hunger in the winter snow, but the medical professor takes him back to his apartment and treats him well. When a young man dies in an accident, they harvest his pituitary gland and testicles, and implant them in the dog. The result is a new man, a rude, aggressive, dishonest man who creates havoc. The good and peaceful dog has become a menace to a society that welcomed him but unwisely tried to turn him into something else. It was an experiment with results that its creator had not been prepared for. His life has been turned upside down, and there appears to be no solution.

Professor and Dog

It may sound an unpromising subject for an opera, and I wondered whether the result would convey all the bizarre aspects of the story. But it did! The composer, Alexander Raskatov has created a multi-faceted ‘polystylistic’ score that does justice to the serious nature of the professor, the wild nature of the dog/man, and the insidiously destructive nature of the new regime. Raskatov has not previously been a well-known composer, having spent several years reconstructing Schnittke’s ninth symphony after that composer’s death in 1998, but this opera — his first — will surely put him on the map. It was first produced earlier this year at the Dutch National Opera, and will apparently move to the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg next year. The libretto in Russian by Cesare Mazzonis hews closely to Bulgakov’s original story, and is heard here in translation by Martin Pickard.

The production by Simon McBurney — a collaboration between Complicite, Dutch National, and the ENO — is riveting. There is perpetual action and movement without in any way detracting or distracting from the music, and the puppetry by the Blind Summit Theatre is excellent. The dog comes to life and elicits our sympathy, and the set designs by Michael Levine give just the right atmosphere, helped by Paul Anderson’s lighting and the costumes by Christina Cunningham. I loved the operation on the dog being done by silhouettes, the wacky dance movements by Zina the maid, and the projection designs by Finn Ross. This is McBurney’s first opera direction and I hope he does more.

The new man (left) creates havoc

For those who want to read something other than a mere synopsis of Bulgakov’s magical satire — which was written in 1925 but banned by the Soviet authorities until 1987 — the programme contains an excellent essay by James Meek. He refers to Bulgakov’s ability to shift the narrative perspective, which I think is well reflected in Raskatov’s polystylism, and he gives an excellent summing up of the hubris in the great Soviet experiment, and its comparison to the medical experiment carried out by the professor and his assistant Dr. Bormanthal. As the professor says, “These hands have turned a harmless friendly dog into a monster”. A monster who shouts about his ‘rights’, like a yobbo taunting a respected teacher, and comes out with Soviet expressions such as ‘bourgeois filth’ when referring to cats. What can the professor do about it all? If you haven’t read the book I won’t spoil it, but as the professor says, almost at the end, “Animals revert to their own nature”.

Man becomes Dog again

The music was beautifully conducted by Garry Walker, and the singing was excellent from the whole cast. It was a team effort, and I find it difficult to single out individuals, but Steven Page as the professor carried the role off to perfection. Dr. Bormenthal was well portrayed by Leigh Melrose, Zina the maid by Nancy Allen Lundy, Sharikov the awful man/dog brilliantly played by Peter Hoare, and the dog’s voice was shared by counter-tenor Andrew Watts and soprano Elena Vassilieva, who also sang the cook.

If you want something a little spicier than Covent Garden’s new production of an opera they have not produced for over a hundred years — I refer to Adriana Lecouvreur — then go to this new ENO production. Instead of the violets in Cilea’s plot for Adriana — a late romantic device that doesn’t convince — we have a scientific experiment that serves as a great metaphor for all pseudo-scientific attempts to create a brave new society, and in that sense carries a timeless message. This is the type of production that the English National Opera does very well indeed, and they have excelled themselves. Congratulations.

Further performances are scheduled for Nov. 24, 26, 30 and Dec. 2, 4 — for details click here.

Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

7 November, 2010

In an interesting and informative essay in the programme, Richard Wigmore discusses this Mozart opera, and writes, “Don Giovanni revolves around the tensions of class, sex and aristocratic abuse of power”. I agree, but this production takes a different tack. The Don appears more as a bumbling academic, and the supper to which the Commendatore is invited at the end is a picnic of bread rolls served from a couple of small plastic shopping bags. Giovanni and Leporello have no table and chair, but sit on the stage and bread rolls are thrown.

Leporello and the Don, all photos by Donald Cooper

During the overture men in strange masks prowl the stage while a circular and dramatically lit metal contraption is lowered from above, and an electric storm rages in the background. But despite the electricity this Don lacked magnetism. Iain Paterson, whom I recall singing a sympathetic and powerful Amonasro in the  ENO’s  Aida two years ago, and a strong Mr. Redburn in Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd this past summer, sang with warmth and strength, but lacked the cutting edge for the Don. And while his stage actions showed suitable nastiness, he gave the appearance of being too nice a guy to release his amoral testosterone-inspired aggression on the world. As the Don’s long-suffering servant Leporello, Brindley Sherratt sang very strongly and gave a fine depth to the evening, just as he did as Sparafucile in Rigoletto last year, and as the monk Pimen in Boris Godunov the year before. He also gave an excellent comic sense to the role, and while he is equally at home singing the murdered Commendatore — which he did at Glyndebourne this year — that small but important role went to Matthew Best who sang it superbly.

The Don with Zerlina

As the pretty Zerlina, whose wedding to Masetto attracts the Don’s amorously intrusive attentions, Sarah Tynan did a wonderful job. This is the same singer who was so good as Adina in The Elixir of Love earlier this year, and Ilia in Idomeneo this summer. She is a delight to watch, and I loved the Irish brogue of John Molloy as Masetto. The role of Donna Elvira, an ex-lover who won’t let Giovanni go, was to have been sung by Rebecca Evans, but she was suffering a bad throat, so Sarah Redgwick stepped in and made a fine substitute. As Donna Anna, whose rape by the Don starts during the overture, Katherine Broderick sang strongly but with a vibrato edge that I did not care for, and it affected her diction. Robert Murray sang her fiancé Don Ottavio, a rather thankless role that was not helped by his costume as the only man on stage wearing a business suit.

The Don meets his nemesis, the Commendatore

This production by Rufus Norris with sets by Ian MacNeil had some nice aspects — I liked the dripping water on the murdered Commendatore as he lies slumped in a drinking trough, I liked the Don’s wooing of Zerlina, and I thought the projected images that Leporello produces when he recounts his master’s conquests, warning Donna Elvira what a cad he is, were a clever innovation — but the plethora of good ideas was all a bit too much for me. The director, Rufus Norris is new to the opera world, though well-known as a theatre producer, and I think the ENO is reaching out to theatre-goers who are relatively unfamiliar with opera. This staging may appeal to younger audiences, though not so much perhaps to those familiar with other Don Giovanni productions.

In the orchestra pit, Kirill Karabits gave an enjoyable and well-nuanced performance of Mozart’s music. Singing in English demands good diction, and the singers did so well here that the surtitles became superfluous.

Further performances are scheduled for November 6, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 27, 29, and December 1, 3 — for more details click here.