Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Rose’

Maria Stuarda, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 2013

20 January, 2013

Finally the Met have staged Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, an 1835 opera based on the play by Schiller written in 1800, where Mary Queen of Scots meets Elizabeth I of England. The meeting never took place, but the play makes for super drama, and the opera provides for some wonderful singing, with the two queens backed up and egged on by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, William Cecil, chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth, and George Talbot, English statesman and keeper of Mary Stuart.

Meeting of the queens, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

Meeting of the queens, all images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

In this tale it is Leicester, sung with great warmth by Matthew Polenzani, who brings the two queens together. His duets with both were very touching, as was his fury and dismay at Mary’s execution. Matthew Rose portrayed an avuncular Talbot whose prayerful duet with Mary in Act II came over very powerfully, and Joshua Hopkins sang Cecil with body language that bespoke great concern with State security (and remember that in real history Mary was caught out when the English secret service deciphered her coded messages).

Elizabeth in Act II

Elizabeth in Act II

As Elizabeth, the young South African soprano Elza van den Heever took the role seriously enough to shave her head, but the characterization she gave in Scene 1 made me think of a seventeen year old girl trying to impress and throw her weight around. Vocally she failed to command, though she improved in the later scenes. I found the characterization a bit puzzling because director David McVicar said he wanted the queens to portray the ages they would have been at the time. Fact: Elizabeth lived from 1533 to 1603, being queen from 1558, and Mary was born in 1542 and executed in 1587, so the imaginary first encounter would have been in about 1575 when Elizabeth was 42, and Mary 33.

Mary and Leicester

Mary and Leicester

4.mspd_1368aThe point where the opera really took off was when Joyce DiDonato appeared in Scene 2, and her soliloquy envying the clouds that can skim off to France was exquisitely delivered. As the English queen approached in a hunting party her concern was dramatic and palpable, and after their duet, her defiance, with its famous vil bastarda, was riveting. In Act II her prayer, delivered with huge sincerity, was a touching moment, and in her final lines to Cecil requesting that Elizabeth not be punished by remorse, her words floated on the air like birds on the wing singing of peace and reconciliation.

Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit gave a lyrical intensity to Donizetti’s music, and this cinema screening suggests that David McVicar’s production, with set and costume designs by John Macfarlane, is very effective with a dramatic final moment as Mary climbs to the scaffold and the executioner awaits. Congratulations to the Met for producing the opera, and to Joyce DiDonato for such a convincing and beautifully sung Mary Stuart.

Il Viaggio a Reims, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2012

20 July, 2012

This anniversary gala concert united Jette Parker Young Artists with several earlier performers from that programme who have since gone on to international careers, and Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims) was the perfect piece to bring them together. Written by Rossini to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in 1825, it all takes place at a spa hotel, where the staff are preparing their international guests for onward travel next morning to the coronation at Rheims, where French kings had for centuries been anointed. None of the bon vivants actually get to Rheims, owing to a sudden lack of transportation, but they create their own celebration at the hotel before going on to festivities in Paris.

Daniele Rustioni conducted the ENO orchestra on stage, producing just the right tempi and occasionally joining in the fun himself, acting as a stooge for the singers.

With eighteen solo parts this is quite something to put on, but when Madeleine Pierard came on as the French Countess, concerned about the apparent absence of her fine clothes, the performance moved superbly into high gear. She was wonderfully expressive, her coloratura excellent and her voice effortlessly changing amplitude. Marina Poplavskaya was equally fine as Corinna the French poetess, appearing first at stage rear in an elegant grey skirt and jacket and giving a lovely rendering of Arpa gentil. In Part II after a complete absence of transportation has been announced she changed into a long dress for the celebrations they will all make in the hotel itself.

Among the men, Jacques Imbrailo sang in an appropriately commanding voice as the retired German major Baron Trombonok, and at the end of Part I, Lukas Jakobski as the antiquarian Don Profondo gave a wittily entertaining fast monologue, with the conductor hopping up and down on his podium in a Hoffnung-esque performance. Jakobski’s duet earlier in Part I, with Matthew Rose as the Englishman Lord Sidney, was terrific and Rose himself sang with huge power — his rendering of the National Anthem done with a ready wit.

Among the smaller roles I particularly liked Jihoon Kim as the doctor Don Prudenzio, Daniel Grice as Antonio the maître d’hotel, and Zhengzhong Zhou, who appeared as Zeferino on the conductor’s podium to announce the complete absence of horses, upon which Ailish Tynan as a strongly sung countess invites the whole company to Paris. The ending celebrations at the hotel with the various national anthems was super fun, and the whole evening immensely enjoyable.

Good lighting design by Nick Ware made the proscenium arch glow in gold, with the dome above in blue, and house lights low throughout. What a pity it was only a one-off performance.

Billy Budd, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2012

19 June, 2012

This Benjamin Britten opera, based on Herman Melville’s story of the same name, is a tragedy set in 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars. It’s a hugely strong work, and Edward Gardner in the orchestra pit gave it everything. The orchestra played with great power, the chorus was magnificent, and the singers were wonderful.

All images ENO/ Henrietta Butler

The opera begins and ends with Captain Vere, beautifully sung here by Kim Begley. After Claggart, the Master-at-Arms has made his false accusation, Begley came through with great power, “Oh, this cursed mist!” The mist that was hiding the French ship is a metaphor for the confusion created by Claggart, but Vere sees through it, and his “Claggart … beware … The mists are vanishing and you shall fail” makes it seem all will be well. Suddenly things go awry, and Vere fails. When Billy is faced with Claggart’s lies and can’t speak, Claggart laughs in his face, Billy hits out, and Vere abruptly stays aloof. Had they not been at war, all would have been different, but Vere’s failure to find a way out has haunted him for the rest of his life, and Begley gave us a well-nuanced portrayal of this intelligent, sensitive man.

Claggart and the Novice

Matthew Rose as Claggart developed his character from a plain non-commissioned officer to a man of sinister, hidden urges, and his long monologue, “O beauty, o handsomeness … I will destroy you” was delivered from the depths of his dark heart. Benedict Nelson as Billy gave a sympathetic portrayal, and singing of his impending death at the end he came over well, but could not quite rise to the poetry of the music. Some of the other solo performances were wonderfully strong, with Gwynne Howell giving a fine portrayal of the old sailor, Dansker. As the officers, Darren Jeffery, Henry Waddington and Jonathan Summers sang well as Flint, Ratcliffe, and Redburn, with Summers particularly good and showing fine stage presence.

Officers in judgement

After the chorus has let rip with “Blow her away. Blow her to Hilo”, Duncan Rock as Donald was terrific with his “We’re off to Samoa”, outsinging Billy at this point. And Nicky Spence gave a hugely strong rendering of the Novice, only let down by a costume and silly pair of glasses that made him look far older than he is. But the costumes were part of the problem here. This production by David Alden couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it was portraying. The only thing certain is that it wasn’t 1797. The leather trench coats and boots had a Nazi feel about them, and the sailors looked as if they worked at B&Q, but sometimes acted as if they were in a concentration camp. And what were the oil drums doing? The ship is a seventy-four — it says so in the libretto — a battleship with 74 guns that became standard in the Royal Navy in the nineteenth century. And what was the point of that slow motion attack by the marines at the end?

Billy about to hang

The production aside, the performance was superb, and the main character, Captain Vere beautifully sung. The opera ends with his recollection of years ago, “… when I, Edward Fairfax Vere, commanded the Indomitable …” At this point he should be alone, but the production left the sailors in place, all cowed into submission. Odd.

Performances continue until July 8 — for details click here.

La Bohème with Calleja and Giannattasio, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

1 May, 2012

This production by John Copley, first staged in 1974, has been revived twenty-four times so far — not surprising since it just gets everything right. So indeed did Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, bringing real depth and lyricism to the role.

From the very start Calleja exhibited a catching youthful energy, and after taking Mimi’s cold hand in his and launching into Che gelida manina he hit a wonderful high point when he sings of her pretty eyes as two thieves stealing his jewels (Talor dal mio forzieri …). Suddenly this is no longer some bohemian inhabitant of Paris but Rodolfo the poet, a thaumaturge of romantic invention whose soft notes floated like birds on the wing.

At the Café Momus, all images ROH/Hoban

In Acts I and II, Calleja sang everyone else off the stage, but following the first interval, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi warmed up after a nervous start. She was making her debut in the role at Covent Garden, and finally hit the mark in her Act III duet with Marcello when she seeks him out at the inn. By Act IV she had become a fine match for Calleja, and in her curtain call she bent down to kiss the stage.

The other bohemians all did well, with Fabio Capitanucci engaging as Marcello the painter, Thomas Oliemans attractive as Schaunard the musician, and Matthew Rose singing a fine bass as Colline the philosopher, who sells his coat to help poor consumptive Mimi. Nuccia Focile sang Musetta with rather heavy vibrato, and her stage presence failed to match the sparkle needed for her big role in Act II. Conducting by Semyon Bychkov was restrained at the start, but things warmed up musically later, and I loved the drawn-out silence just before Mimi dies in Act IV.

Act III: early morning outside the inn

That final act pitches merriment against tragedy as the four bohemians clown around before Musetta and Mimi arrive, and when Matthew Rose used a bat to hit the bread rolls for six, the audience applauded spontaneously. All great fun, but when Colline goes off to sell his coat, and Rodolfo and Mimi are left alone, Calleja and Giannattasio sang beautifully together, recalling the time they first met. When Colline returns, and Rodolfo suddenly realises something is amiss, Calleja’s distraught cries brought the house down. This is a Rodolfo not to be missed.

Finally after the curtain calls, Tony Hall came on stage with a fiftieth birthday cake for the director John Copley, celebrating a half century of brilliant work with the Royal Opera.

Performances with this cast continue until May 17 when it will be shown live on Big Screens throughout the country — for performance details click here.

Rigoletto, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2012

30 March, 2012

In Act III of this opera, Rigoletto takes his daughter Gilda to Sparafucile’s tavern to show her the Duke’s real nature. She hears him singing La donna è mobile, sees him having fun with Maddalena, and is shocked and heartbroken. Her father takes her home, sends her off to Verona, but … being too busy arranging the murder of the Duke, he fails to accompany her. Revenge is his fatal flaw, and the result is tragedy.

Observing from outside the tavern, all images Johan Persson

As Rigoletto’s satisfaction turns to grief at finding his daughter’s body in the sack where the Duke’s should be, John Eliot Gardiner’s conducting had a lightness of touch that made the final thump from the orchestra so much stronger. Gilda’s head falls back as she finally expires, and her father cries out Ah, la maledizione!, recalling the curse laid on him by Monterone. It’s such a strong ending by Verdi, compared to Victor Hugo’s original play Le roi s’amuse, where the jester laments J’ai tué mon enfant, and falls to the ground. But of course in opera they can sing, and Ekaterina Siurina sang beautifully as Gilda, with Dimitri Platanias an outstanding Rigoletto. His lovely tone in Act I elicited my sympathy, and in Act II his heartfelt la mia figlia, followed by his condemnation of the courtiers came over with huge power. Revival director Leah Hausman staged it beautifully, and as the sneering courtier Marullo gives Rigoletto his stick back, it clatters uselessly to the ground.

But of course it is more than just Rigoletto and his daughter. Vittorio Grigolo as the Duke sang gloriously, showing just the right air of casual hedonism. Matthew Rose was a strong Sparafucile, and Christine Rice as his sister Maddalena was superb — seductive and charming in her interactions with the Duke.

Among the smaller roles, Zhengzhong Zhou showed fine vocal and stage presence as Marullo, Gianfranco Montresor came over very well as Monterone, and Elizabeth Sikora gave a fine portrayal of Gilda’s nurse. This was a team effort held together beautifully by John Eliot Gardiner, and my only complaint in this David McVicar production is the first scene of Act I.

Father and daughter at home

Gilda has only been in town for three months, she wants to have some fun, and the Duke, disguised as a student, has been following her to church. Yes, he’s a serial philanderer, but is he really a person to preside over dissolute orgies, which if you look closely — at the homosexual and heterosexual engagements going on — no-one is really doing anything. Yes, it’s impressionistic, but it’s not the right impression. The main point is that Gilda believes the Duke (albeit disguised as a student) to be in love with her, and the court should be a rather glamorous place. This is why her father needs to show her what the Duke is really like, by taking her to Sparafucile’s tavern.

The first scene makes it look as if the director is out to shock us, but the rest of the production is excellent, and the singing and conducting at the dress rehearsal was absolutely terrific. This is a cast very well worth seeing and performances continue until April 21 — for details click here.

Don Giovanni with Erwin Schrott, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2012

17 February, 2012

Erwin Schrott was a remarkable Don, good looking, devilishly charming, but with a nasty streak hidden by an insouciant devil-may-care attitude. And his singing was equally remarkable, with an easy casualness as if he were simply talking. As his counterpoint and servant, Alex Esposito as Leporello sang and acted the part with utter conviction. His Madamina aria, where he recounts to the lovesick Elvira all Giovanni’s conquests had a wonderful leering quality, and his stage actions were always expressive but never over the top.

The party at Giovanni's/ ROH image by Mike Hoban

Yet this was more than just Schrott and Esposito, and the rest of the cast was excellent. Ruxandra Donose came over beautifully in her Covent Garden debut as Donna Elvira, as did Kate Lindsey as Zerlina, who really fell for the Don at first meeting, smartly interposing herself between him and her betrothed Masetto, very well portrayed by Matthew Rose. In her first Donna Anna at Covent Garden, Carmela Remigio brought charm and power to the role. Her sudden realisation in Act I that Don Giovanni is her father’s murderer was very powerful, and her late Act II aria Non mi dir was charmingly delivered to her betrothed Don Ottavio. He was nobly sung and portrayed by Pavol Breslik, also making his role debut at the Royal Opera, and Reinhard Hagen sang the Commendatore with the presence he has shown before in this and other roles.

Zerlina and the Don/ Hoban

The singers were very well served by this Francesca Zambello production, superbly revived by Barbara Lluch with attention to detail everywhere. The dialogue between Giovanni and Leporello at the start of Act II was enlivened by the Don almost fainting as his servant says they have to leave the women alone, and it was then really played for laughs as he temporarily left the stage. After he had brutally shoved Leporello into a wall, and later beaten up Masetto leaving him lying on the ground, Zerlina came along to her betrothed and started slapping him, to great amusement from the audience. The joke about Leporello’s wife came off beautifully too, giving just the right degree of lightness before the statue made its ominous pronouncement. Then at the end, after Giovanni has been consumed by the flames of hell, Masetto offers his hand to Leporello and gives him a hug. A nice touch. The flames were so bright they lit up the whole auditorium, and Paul Pyant’s lighting was particularly good in showing the darkness at appropriate times.

Fires of hell, the Statue and the Don

Finally, the orchestra was very well paced under the direction of Constantinos Carydis, and the dramatic moment just before the statue appears at the banquet came over very strongly. One cannot easily find Don Giovanni better performed than this, and Erwin Schrott is unmissable.

Performances with this new cast continue until February 29 and seats are still available, though not in the Amphi — for details click here.

Billy Budd, Glyndebourne, May 2010

21 May, 2010

The power of evil to destroy good is an integral part of this opera, so a production and its performance must be partly judged with that in mind. This new production by Michael Grandage goes for a sense of claustrophobia inside the ship, darkly lit, with two levels above the deck that the sailors inhabit. I liked the set design by Christopher Oram with its curved edges at the front, as if we are viewing the whole scene through a giant peep hole. The final death of Billy is done off-stage, only the pulling of the rope being visible within the ship.

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy, photo by Alastair Muir

The music — and this is wonderfully powerful music by Britten — was brilliantly played by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Mark Elder. The part of Billy, the cheerfully trustworthy foundling whom everyone loves, was strongly sung by Jacques Imbrailo, who acted the part with a suitably ready optimism. His nemesis, Claggart was Phillip Ens, whom I last saw in the Ring at Covent Garden singing Fafner. He was surprisingly lyrical, giving an impression of Claggart as a more nuanced and less evil man than one normally associates with the role. In his monologue in the second scene of Act II when he sings “alas, alas, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it and suffers” it seemed he really regretted being the dark force he has become. The intellectual honesty and sad weakness of Captain Vere was brought out well by John Mark Ainsley, and Iain Paterson sang strongly as Mr. Redburn the First Lieutenant, as did Matthew Rose as Mr. Flint the Sailing Master. The cast worked well together, the chorus was terrific, and Jeremy White showed particular strength and sympathy as Dansker, the older sailor.

Volunteers with Billy, ready to fight the French, photo by Alastair Muir

The costumes by the designer, Christopher Oram were wonderfully drab, suiting Paule Constable’s sombre lighting, but with a flash of red for the marines who escort Billy to the yard arm. If you’ve never seen Billy Budd before then this production has a welcome conventionality that eschews unexpected imagery. It adumbrates the restrained power of a warship that has no immediate battle to fight, apart from the sighting of a French frigate that disappears into the mist as the wind drops. But I would have liked a greater sense of the open sea and the Christ-like aspect of Billy to emerge. Darkness is good, though I felt the shining light of Billy was dimmer than it needed to be, and the menace of Claggart could have been stronger. A greater contrast between good and evil might have left a more lasting impression, but it was a wonderful performance, with powerfully nuanced musical direction from Mark Elder in the orchestra pit.

Glyndebourne’s production of this remarkable opera, an opera having not a single female voice, is very welcome indeed, and performances continue until June 27.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2010

20 March, 2010

For anyone who loves magical realism this opera is one of the best, and the production by Bill Bryden makes the most of it, with forest animals on the ground and flying through the air. The dichotomy between the slow moving human world and the swift flow and change of the animal realm is brought out very well, and the springtime of Act III is beautifully portrayed. There’s a famous poem in Czech called May (Mai in Czech) extolling the mysterious powers of nature, and in his libretto, Janaček uses May as a metaphor for springtime. He was powerfully drawn to nature, and this opera, like its predecessor Katya Kabanova — also playing in London at present — pits natural forces against the contrivances of human civilization. Janaček wrote it in 1924 when he was nearly 70, three years after Katya, and both operas, along with his two final ones, deal with death in one way or another. This one in particular juxtaposes the aging of men with the cyclical renewal of nature.

Human civilization is mainly represented by three men, the Forester, the Schoolmaster, and the Priest, and at one point all three sit in a round orb suspended from above, reminding me of that nursery rhyme, Rub-a-dub-dub; three men in a tub. The three of them are, at least emotionally, frustrated, and the schoolmaster’s yearning for a gypsy girl, is like the yearning of man for nature, and parallels the forester’s original entrapment of the vixen, whom he can’t keep. In the event, the gypsy girl, whom we never see, marries the poacher, and the vixen marries the fox and produces a huge family. When the poacher shoots her, a small child in the audience burst into tears, which charmed some people, but this is not an opera for small children. It’s very much an adult work, and I think the Royal Opera have done the right thing to have it sung in English. The libretto by the composer is subtle, and worth understanding. That said, the opera first became known through its German translation by Max Brod, which gave us the English title. In Czech it’s called Vixen Sharp Ears.

The conducting by veteran Charles Mackerras was wonderful. This is the man who introduced British audiences to Janaček, and having him in the orchestra pit was a treat. The singing was very good throughout. Emma Matthews was a thoroughly charming vixen, and Elisabeth Meister gave a good portrayal of the fox, replacing Emma Bell at the last minute. Christopher Maltman was an excellent forester, and Robin Leggate and Jeremy White both did well as the schoolmaster and the priest, with Matthew Rose singing strongly in the bass role of the poacher.

But this is an opera to be seen as well as heard, and William Dudley’s designs, along with the movement directed by Stuart Hopps, have a wonderful charm. Magical realism is probably more widely known from something like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but the Slavic version is also a joy. Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita comes to mind, and in the opera world Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, written just three years before Vixen. If you don’t already know the opera, and even if you do, this production by Bill Bryden is a must-see.

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.