Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Crowe’

The Barber of Seville, English National Opera, London Coliseum, February 2013

26 February, 2013

This witty Jonathan Miller production, under the baton of Jaime Martín who is making his British operatic debut, is full of lively energy. Revival director Peter Relton has produced excellent team work, with exemplary diction, led by that great singing actor Andrew Shore as Dr. Bartolo. He was a hoot, and the whole cast was highly amusing without ever being over the top.

Happy ending, all images ENO/ Scott Rylander

Happy ending, all images ENO/ Scott Rylander

Lucy Crowe made a delightful Rosina, vocally secure with her pretty frills and trills, and Benedict Nelson’s portrayal of Figaro gave a great sense of clever improvisation as he finds a way round all difficulties to assist Count Almaviva win her hand. As Almaviva himself, Andrew Kennedy serenaded Rosina with great vocal warmth, singing strongly in his duet with Figaro, and the entrance to her home as a drunken soldier was amusingly done. The vernacular translation helps as Almaviva quietly verifies his identity to the real soldiers and their commander says, “Back off chaps”.

Bartolo and Rosina

Bartolo and Rosina

David Soar as Basilio was terrific, and the translation allows him perfect insouciance after his “Calumny” aria when Bartolo proposes a different method of handling things, “As long as I’m paid I couldn’t care tuppence!” During that aria as Basilio sings of his plans rising to a crescendo that will produce explosions, the orchestra entered fully into the spirit of things with wonderful musical bangs. Martín’s conducting was a bundle of joy, and as the sextet from the end of Act I built in intensity there was a huge bounce to the music. Included in the sextet is Katherine Broderick as Bartolo’s maid Berta, who sang very strongly in her bold Act II aria.

Jonathan Miller’s production with its excellent lighting celebrates its 25th year, and is full of wonderful moments — I loved the noisy locking of the door at Bartolo’s house early in Act I. But what really brought this performance to a state of perfection was Andrew Shore’s handling of Bartolo. His long aria (For a doctor of my standing …) in Act I was very wittily delivered, and as he gets increasingly upset and falls down he produces awkward strangulated sounds. Wonderful fun, and in Act II when he nods off during the singing lesson and shows confusion about the place in the music, his brief falsetto was brilliantly done. However many times you have seen Rossini’s Barber go again for this untouchable example of how to perform Bartolo.

Performances continue until March 17 — for details click here.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne, May 2012

21 May, 2012

Standing outside in the grounds of Glyndebourne facing the ha-ha near the new statues of hunting dogs, one looks to the left and sees a green hill just like the one on stage; and in front of the stage hill is a tree made of pieces of wood.

Dragonflies, all images by Bill Cooper

The stage tree lends an air of simple magic to the forest scenes and appears in varied clothing, sometimes bare, sometimes with buds or full foliage according to the season, and this is where it all happens. Animals appear in the tree, and beneath its roots the badger makes his home, only to be evicted later by the vixen. And while the tree stays in place throughout, the inn appears from nowhere, its walls moving rapidly into place in pieces, and it disappears just as quickly.

Vixen trapped by the Forester

These wonderful set designs by Tom Pye, along with Paule Constable’s gloriously varied lighting, and Maxine Doyle’s choreography for the animals, give a marvellous sense of reality to the natural world. When the vixen and the fox meet, fall in love and get married, the dance for the forest’s inhabitants has the quality of a spring ritual, hinting ever so slightly at the Rite of Spring, and in Act I the movements for the cockerel and hens are a delight. Dinah Collin’s costumes are excellent and those for the hens, portrayed as prettily sexy girls in high heels, are inspired.

Vixen and Fox in love

Melly Still’s production has the great quality that the natural world of the forest is primary and the humans mere appendages, here today and gone tomorrow. That is the heart of this opera — humans age and cope with disappointment and loneliness, while the animals go on forever. The young vixen is trapped by the forester, taken from the wild, escapes, finds a mate, and creates a huge family. Later she is shot by the poacher, but in the end another young vixen appears, progeny of the earlier one. While the schoolmaster regrets lost love, the priest talks of Xenophon’s Anabasis, but the animals have no such emotions or history to depress or sustain them, and for them the point of life is life itself. There is wisdom in nature, and one of the great poems in Czech, Mai (meaning May) extols its mysterious powers. Janaček was strongly drawn to the natural world, and his music and libretto, written when he was nearly 70, are superb. It first became known to us through its German translation by Max Brod, which yielded the English title, but the original is Vixen Sharp Ears, and in the Czech Republic it is Janaček’s most popular opera.

The wedding

Visually this production is a knock-out, and Vladimir Jurowksi conducted the London Philharmonic with huge spirit. Lucy Crowe sang and performed the Vixen beautifully, with Emma Bell giving a fine performance of the Fox, and Sergei Leiferkus singing an excellent Forester. Adrian Thompson was a wonderfully vocal Schoolmaster, with Misha Schelomianski showing depth as both Priest and Badger, and William Dazeley singing strongly in the bass role of the poacher. The animals, portrayed by singers, dancers and children, were brilliant, and this was a great team performance, with Thomasin Trezise delightful as the main hen. None of the cast was Czech, except Lucie Špičkova, who gave a fine portrayal of the dog, but they sang in the original, so surtitles were essential.

If you saw this at Covent Garden two years ago, go again because this production is quite different, but equally valid. It’s wonderful fun.

Performances continue until June 28 — for details click here.

Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera, a second view, December 2009.

24 December, 2009

This was my second view, on the last night of the run, and although Soile Isokoski was clearly better in Act I than she was on the first night, I found the whole performance underwhelming. Once again it was Lucy Crowe as Sophie who was the star of the evening, along with Peter Rose as a refreshingly young looking Baron Ochs, behaving like an ill-mannered frat-boy. I’m afraid I just wasn’t wowed by Ms. Isokoski as the Marschallin, nor by Sophie Koch as Octavian. In Act III it was Lucy Crowe who really pulled at the heart strings, showing how devastated her character Sophie felt by the evening’s charade. Yet it should be Octavian and the Marschallin’s moment. Octavian nearly tripped when stepping backwards, and his/her complete lack of reaction to this emphasised just how much the movements were unnatural and choreographed. However the trio at the end was gloriously sung, and well worth waiting for.

As for the conducting, there was plenty of variety from Kirill Petrenko in the orchestra pit, and I liked the colouring of Act I, with the disharmonious noise in the levée scene contrasted with other parts of that act. But I felt that some of the high points in the opera went missing, particularly the entrance of the Marschallin in Act III. Admittedly, Soile Isokoski lacked the required stage presence, but this is where the orchestra should really raise our emotions, and it failed to do so.

This production of Rosenkavalier is a good one, and I look forward to seeing it again at Covent Garden. As Octavian they might consider hiring Daniela Sindram who was outstanding in February 2009 in the production I saw at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. I would also love to see Kate Lindsey do the role if she adds Strauss to her repertoire, having just seen her as a very fine Nicklausse in the Met’s Hoffmann.

Review — Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera, December 2009

8 December, 2009

Wonderful period sets and costumes for this 1984 production by John Schlesinger, revived by Andrew Sinclair, are the background for an enchanting evening. With Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko giving Strauss’s music more colour than I ever remember hearing, this was a musical feast. The star of the show for me was Lucy Crowe as Sophie, the girl whose wealthy father wants to marry her off to the nobility in the form of the boorish Baron Ochs. He was very well sung by Peter Rose, who gave him just the right nuances, without going over the top. As the knight who rescues Sophie from this appalling mismatch we had Sophie Koch as a strong-voiced Octavian, but I would have preferred more masculinity in her portrayal. She compared unfavourably in this respect to Daniela Sindram, whom I saw doing the same part in Berlin earlier this year, but the presentation of the silver rose and the duet with Sophie in Act II was beautifully done. The Italian intriguers, Annina and Valzacchi, fed up with getting no payment from Ochs, turn to assist Octavian in taking him down a peg or two, and were very well played by Leah-Marian Jones and Graham Clark. In this production we see Octavian actually writing the letter to Ochs at the rear of the stage. This was all very well done, and I thought Act II came over brilliantly, helped of course by the simply wonderful set.

The audience seemed enthusiastic about Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski as the Marschallin, but the friends I know who liked her were seeing this opera for the first time. Having seen far better Marschallins, such as Anne Schwanewilms in Chicago in February 2006, I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. I found her voice too harsh in Act I and she lacked finesse and flirtatiousness with Octavian, though she certainly sang well in the trio at the end of Act III. Unfortunately, Lucy Crowe who had sung so well in the last two acts, seemed to tire right at the very end and lost her pitch, but this was the first night. The other disappointment was Thomas Allen as Faninal, Sophie’s wealthy father, who was surprisingly lacking in stage presence and vocal gravitas. But Wookyung Kim as the tenor in Act I  sang like a god.

Altogether this was a success, and it may be that some of the weaker points will be corrected in later performances. Watch this space two weeks hence.

Glyndebourne 75th Anniversary Concert, Glyndebourne, June 2009

19 June, 2009
Fireworks after the concert

Fireworks after the concert

This lovely concert, celebrating 75 years since the founding of the Glyndebourne Opera in 1934, featured several singers who are performing this season, mainly in Falstaff, but also in RusalkaThe Fairy Queen and Giulio Cesare. It also featured others with a strong Glyndebourne connection, such as Gerald Finley, Sarah Connolly, Emma Bell, and Kate Royal, who were all in the Glyndebourne chorus at one time, along with such luminaries as Thomas Allen, Sergei Leiferkus, Felicity Lott, and Anne Sofie von Otter. The orchestra played stirringly under the baton of music director Vladimir Jurowski, and I particularly liked the performances of Thomas Allen as Figaro in Act I of Rossini’s Barber, of Gerald Finley as Wolfram in Act III of Tannhäuser, of Sergei Leiferkus as the eponymous character in Rachmaninov’s Aleko, of Anne Sofie von Otter singing the habañera from Carmen, of Felicity Lott and Thomas Allen singing the delightful duet between Hanna and Danilo at the end of Lehar’s Merry Widow, plus Felicity Lott, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Lucy Crowe in the final trio from Rosenkavalier. A list of what was performed is given below — unfortunately Brandon Jovanovich was unable to sing, so his excerpt from Werther and his presence as Otello in the first item were cancelled. Apart from this the only disappointment was Danielle de Niese as Norina in Act I of Don Pasquale, whose voice seemed somewhat screechy in a cavatina that lacked the charm and subtlety it ought to have had.

Otello: Paolo Battaglia as Montano, Gerald Finley as Iago, Alasdair Elliott as Roderigo and Peter Hoare as Cassio sang the beginning of Act I before the entry of Otello.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Thomas Allen sang Largo al facotum, Figaro’s description of his own occupation in Act I. This was delightful and really got the evening going.

L’italiana in Algeri: Marie-Nicole Lemieux went from suffering to scheming in Isabella’s Cruda sorte! from Act I.

Don Pasquale: Danielle de Niese sang Norina’s Quel guardo il cavaliere, but seemed to be trying too hard.

La clemenza di Tito: Sarah Connolly sang Sesto’s Act I aria Parto, parto ma tu, ben mio to his beloved Vittelia.

Idomeneo: Emma Bell as Elletra joined the Glyndebourne chorus singing Placido è il mar, evoking a calm sea and the prospect of a prosperous voyage, before the onset of a terrifying storm at the end of Act II.

Die Meistersinger: the orchestral prelude to Act III.

Tannhäuser: Gerald Finley sang Wolfram’s melancholy farewell to Elisabeth, O du mein holder Abendstern, addressed to the evening star.

Khovanshchina: Larissa Diadkova gave a powerful rendering of Martha’s prophecy to Prince Golitsyn in Act II, predicting his disgrace and exile.

Aleko: Sergei Leiferkus sang a cavatina by the eponymous character in this Rachmaninov opera. He sang superbly, with excellent diction.

Carmen: Anne Sofie von Otter sang the habañera, her body, arm and hand movements conveying Carmen’s cavalier attitude to love.

Manon: Kate Royal sang Adieu notre petite table from Act II, as she prepares to deceive Des Grieux and leave the home she has shared with him.

Die lustige Witwe: Felicity Lott and Thomas Allen sang that wonderful duet Lippen schweigen between Hanna and Danilo at the end of the opera.

La Boheme: Ana Maria Martinez sang Mimi’s charming Si, mi chiamano Mimi from Act I.

Der Rosenkavalier: Felicity Lott as the Marschallin, Anne Sofie von Otter as Octavian, and Lucy Crowe as Sophie in the trio at the end of the opera, starting with the Marschallin’s Hab’mir’s gelobt.

Le nozze di Figaro: The finale of the opera with Kate Royal as the Countess, Gerald Finley as the Count, Jennifer Holloway as Cherubino, Danielle de Niese as Susanna, and Matthew Rose as Figaro.

Dido and Aeneas by Purcell, and Acis and Galatea by Handel, Royal Opera, April 2009

1 April, 2009

dido-banner[1]

This was opening night for two new productions, featuring singers and dancers directed and choreographed by Wayne McGregor. The music was played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

In Dido and Aeneas the dancers added colour, though not clarity, to what was otherwise a dull production that never really got to grips with the story. It’s a complex story to tell in a one hour opera, and I think the dancers hindered rather than helped our understanding of events. The essentials are that Dido, queen of Carthage, is miserable, but her spirits are raised when the Trojan prince Aeneas seeks her hand in marriage. In the meantime a sorceress, who is plotting the destruction of Carthage, sends a messenger, disguised as Mercury, to command Aeneas to leave Dido, who will then die of grief. The sorceress succeeds, and Aeneas leaves to fulfil his task of founding a second Troy, which will become the city of Rome. He changes his mind when he sees the distraught Dido, but she rejects him for having contemplated leaving her, and the opera ends with his departure and her death.

As to the singing, the best performer by far was Dido’s maid Belinda, delightfully sung by Lucy Crowe. Dido was Sarah Connolly, who was suffering from a cold and looked dreadful. The sorceress was Sara Fulgoni, Aeneas was Lucas Meachem, and Dido’s second maid was Anita Watson. The chorus was excellent and the music was well conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

Acis and Galatea is a beautiful work, musically speaking. It was not composed as an opera, but as a pastoral serenata, which means it would be sung without elaborate staging, though the performers would probably have worn costumes. Many consider it as the very best of its type. This staging by Wayne McGregor was far too elaborate, detracting from the beauty of the work, and I kept my eyes closed for much of the time. The nymph Galatea was strongly sung by Danielle de Niese, in a costume and wig that made her look like some latter day Heidi in the Swiss Alps, seemingly out of place with the others. Her lover, the shepherd Acis, was well sung by Charles Workman, and the wicked Polyphemus, who kills Acis out of jealousy, was sung by Matthew Rose who was also suffering from a cold. The unusual thing about this production was that each of the principal roles, including two shepherds, was doubled up by a dancer (Lauren Cuthbertson as Galatea, Edward Watson as Acis, and Eric Underwood as Polyphemus). The dancers were clothed in body stockings, and although they performed their roles with excellent control and precision, and much though I love the Royal Ballet, it added nothing for me. The recent tendency to multi-media extravaganzas may owe something to the popularity of musicals, but I find it unsatisfying, and in this case I think it seriously detracts from Handel’s glorious music, which was brilliantly conducted by Christopher Hogwood, with the chorus doing a superb job.