Posts Tagged ‘Mozart’

Ecstasy and Death, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, April 2013

19 April, 2013

This intriguing triple bill is the first programme artistic director Tamara Rojo has put together for the Company, and she even dances in it herself.

Rojo and le Riche, all images ENB/ David Jensen

Rojo and le Riche, all images ENB/ David Jensen

The second item Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is worth the whole programme, and on the first night Rojo was the coolly callous young woman, with Nicolas le Riche, star of the Paris Opéra Ballet, as the young painter driven to madness by her strangely cold attraction. Roland Petit’s gloriously expressive choreography shows him to be in a state of nervous tension and exhaustion, and le Riche gave a riveting portrayal of his emotional despair. Two other performers will dance the role in the present run of performances, guest artist Ivan Putrov and Company member Fabian Reimair. As the girl, Tamara Rojo in her yellow dress, and later the mask of death, showed superb manipulation and indifference.

This extraordinary 1946 work, to a libretto by Jean Cocteau, formed an electrifyingly creative collaboration in post-Liberation Paris. For the music, he and Petit finally settled on Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor — at the dress rehearsal! The Bach was very strongly played under principal conductor Gavin Sutherland who gave fine musical direction to the evening, with Chris Swithinbank at the piano in Mozart’s Concertos K488 and K467 for the first item Petite Mort.

Petite Mort

Petite Mort

The French term la petite mort is an idiomatic euphemism for sexual orgasm, and the rapiers in Jiří Kylián’s choreography suggest a dichotomy between assertiveness and oblivion for the six couples. The men performed superbly with their rapiers, setting them in motion on the stage as if moving in unison of their own accord. Excellent rehearsal preparation must have led to this precision, and the unusual and very physical choreography was crisply and energetically performed by the twelve dancers.

Etudes

Etudes

The Company is at the top of its game, and the final Etudes was beautifully danced. Choreography is by Harald Lander, director of the Royal Danish Ballet, who created this work in 1948 to orchestral music by Knudåge Riisager, based on Czerny’s renowned piano exercises. It reveals a ballet class with a difference, as it starts with twelve girls in black tutus at the barre forming four sets of three, then three sets of four, each set in unison but different from the others. It then slowly opens out to other dancers, ending with nearly forty on stage. As the leading girl, Erina Takahashi showed lovely gentle movements, and her partners James Forbat, Esteban Berlanga and Vadim Muntagirov danced with fine precision. Muntagirov in particular showed a relaxed nobility of posture and line that was very attractive.

This  triple bill shows the Company to perfection, and performances continue until April 21 — for details click here.

Advertisements

Così fan tutte, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, March 2013

8 March, 2013

If this were Shakespeare we might find our performers to be spirits melted into thin, thin air, for we know nothing about them. They are ciphers on which Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte created a piece of theatre at once frivolous and profound, expressing a joy, playfulness and inanity inherent to life itself. The music avoids easy resolution, and although the opera’s finale contains one, there is no redemption.

Guglielmo, Don Alfonso, Ferrando, all images ETO/ Robert Workman

Guglielmo, Don Alfonso, Ferrando, all images ETO/ Robert Workman

Don Alfonso wants to teach his young friends Ferrando and Guglielmo a lesson, and bets them that their lovers Dorabella and Fiordiligi will surely prove unfaithful if given the chance. Helped by Despina the maid, he proves his point — as the title implies, they like others will all do the same. Considered at one time a heartless farce with heavenly music, Così fan tutte is now a staple in the Mozart repertoire and some reckon it to be one of the greatest operas ever.

Dorabella and Fiordiligi

Dorabella and Fiordiligi

This clever ETO production by Paul Higgins, with its simple but very effective designs by Samal Blak, juxtaposes reality with artificiality, allowing the audience to use its imagination. It all starts during the overture with a dumb play expressing hidden feelings and ambiguity, behind a gauze, and the same technique is used to great effect later in partially hiding a pair of lovers. Then at the end the performers quietly change positions on the stage during the sextet, reflecting the fluidity of their feelings, despite contrary protestations of outraged pride earlier in the opera.

Lovers in disguise

Lovers in disguise

The lovers carried it all off with a delightful mixture of frustration and vivacity. Laura Mitchell and Kitty Whately as Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and Anthony Gregory and Toby Girling as Ferrando and Guglielmo all sang beautifully and I particularly liked Kitty Whately’s lyricism and the clear boldness of Anthony Gregory’s voice. Paula Sides as Despina was suffering from whiplash that presumably constrained her movements, but one would scarcely have known it, and her performance had a fine devil-may-care attitude showing the maid to be far more knowing than the shallow young ladies she serves. She drew great applause for her early Act II aria, and her singing, and that of the excellent Richard Mosley-Evans as Don Alfonso, was a delight.

Hearing this in Martin Fitzpatrick’s wonderful translation, with clear diction from the singers, provided an immediacy with no need for the intervention of surtitles, and James Burton in the orchestra pit brought out fine and well nuanced playing from the orchestra. Altogether an unadulterated joy.

Performances continue on tour at: Curve Theatre, Leicester, 11th Mar; Churchill Theatre, Bromley, 15th Mar; Exeter Northcott, 19th, 20th Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 25th Mar; The Hawth, Crawley, 2nd Apr; Lighthouse, Poole, 5th Apr; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 8th Apr; York Theatre Royal, 11th Apr; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 15th Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 18th Apr; Gala Theatre, Durham, 22nd Apr; Buxton Opera House, 25th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 30th Apr, 4th May; Warwick Arts Centre, 8th, 9th May; Perth Festival, Perth Theatre, 18th May; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 23rd, 24th May; G Live Guildford, 27th May — for details click here.

Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2012

21 October, 2012

The revival of this production by Rufus Norris has a cast very similar to its opening run in 2010 and works rather well this time. Paul Anderson’s excellent lighting helps create a sense of dark forces at work, and is particularly effective in Act II for the scene featuring Donna Elvira, and again towards the end when multiple Commendatores remove their head coverings and the flames of hell flicker round the side of the set.

Giovanni in action with Zerlina, all images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

The cheap picnic for the Commendatore at the end and Ian MacNeil’s simple sets, pushed around by masked men, lend an air of improvisation symptomatic of the Don’s horribly loose lifestyle, and this time Iain Paterson sang the title role with a far sharper cutting edge. Here was no longer a libidinously engaging academic but an assertive and ruthless womaniser, driven by a lust for power and new experiences. As his sidekick Leporello, Darren Jeffery was almost as unsympathetic as his master, and though unable to match Paterson’s strong bass-baritone, he became more engaging towards the end.

Anna, Zerlina, Masetto and Ottavio catch Leporello disguised as the Don

Don and Commendatore

Sarah Tynan and John Molloy reprised their delightful portrayal of the peasant couple Zerlina and Masetto, singing and acting with gusto, and Katherine Broderick gave another fine performance of Donna Anna, her recognition of Giovanni as the murderer of her father the Commendatore being delivered with fine vocal power, superbly backed up by the orchestra. As her fiancé Don Ottavio, Ben Johnson joined the cast to great effect, singing heroically, and his Dalla sua pace (referring to his fiancée’s peace of mind) in Act I was superbly delivered, in translation of course. Matthew Best sang a fine Commendatore, coming over very strongly after his return from the grave, and Sarah Redgwick reprised her performance as an attractive Donna Elvira in dark stockings and red dress.

The cast worked beautifully together and music director Edward Gardner conducted with great power and sensitivity, his curtain call appearance in white tie and tails adding a nice touch. These are performances of great musical strength, leavened by Jeremy Sams’ vernacular translation with its slightly coarse but witty moments.

Performances of the present production end on November 17 — for details click here.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne Tour, October 2012

5 October, 2012

This Michael Grandage production, new in summer 2012, is now on tour with a delightful young cast. Its staging gives a 1960s take on Mozart’s opera, with the Count and Countess as European nouveau riche living in a house boasting Moorish designs by Christopher Oram and lovely flowing robes for the countess, all exquisitely lit by Paule Constable.

Susanna, Figaro, Bartolo, Marcellina, all images Bill Cooper

The cast sings beautifully, sometimes brilliantly, and their acting is a joy. Figaro himself was strongly and sympathetically sung by Guido Loconsolo, portraying a man of bold intention but without the supreme knowingness one sometimes sees, and Joélle Harvey as his fiancée Susanna was a delight, very pretty in her black dress with white collar and cuffs, and singing with deft maturity. Her contretemps with Jean Rigby as Marcellina was charmingly done, and the Bartolo of Andrew Slater was a hoot.

Daniel Norman’s Don Basilio was also a bit of comedian, a wide boy in ill matching plaids and a red barnet moving amusingly around the stage and shifting his plates to the music. John Moore sang well as Count Almaviva in his Carnaby Street style clothes, moving with histrionics that wouldn’t be out of place in Fawlty Towers. Kathryn Rudge played the difficult role of Cherubino, doing well in the bit where she is a young man pretending to be a young woman, and Ellie Laugharne as Barbarina sang and acted very prettily.

Count and Countess

The cast worked well together, but the supreme performance was Layla Claire as the Countess. Her glorious purity of tone was complemented by body language and glances that expressed her feelings to perfection. She seems to have had fine ballet training, and her very few dance moves were excellent. This Canadian singer has been a young artist at the Met in New York and is clearly someone to watch out for.

The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra under the baton of Jonathan Cohen played with plenty of forward movement and enthusiasm, and if you’re anywhere near the tour venues, don’t miss the lovely individual performances, particularly those of the Countess and Susanna.

After Glyndebourne this opera continues on tour at: Woking, Norwich, Wimbledon, Plymouth, Canterbury, Milton-Keynes and Stoke-on-Trent — for details click here.

Magic Flute, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2012

14 September, 2012

This powerful and illuminating production by Nicholas Hytner may be seeing its last outing after twenty-five in the repertoire, so don’t miss this ‘final’ revival. The new cast, with young conductor Nicholas Collon making his ENO debut, did a super job.

Pamina and Papageno, all images ENO/ Alastair Muir

For me the star of the show was Duncan Rock, who recently made a very strong ENO debut as Donald in Billy Budd. Here he played Papageno with huge charm and ingenuousness, and as this is all done in translation he had some fun adding an Australian touch to the early part of the text, calling Tamino ‘mate’ and referring to Papagena as a ‘sheila’. It worked, and Elena Xanthoudakis, another Australian,  gave a beautifully vivid portrayal of Pamina. When she is in anguish in Act II after Tamino won’t answer, the lighting, superbly revived by Ric Mountjoy, showed her to perfection. In fact this revival by Ian Rutherford and James Bonas was beautifully directed, with excellent placing of singers on the stage, giving enormous clarity to Mozart’s late masterpiece.

Pamina, Sarastro, Tamino

As Sarastro, Robert Lloyd showed a noble bearing, a commanding voice, and forceful histrionics at the start of Act II. Furious he is with the Queen of the Night who was strongly sung, after a nervous start, by American soprano Kathryn Lewek, and her coloratura in the big aria in Act II was delivered with great lucidity. Her ladies, with their contrasting voices, came over very well, and Elizabeth Llewellyn with her mellifluous tones was outstanding as the first lady.

Queen and Pamina

There was plenty more in the way of fine singing with Adrian Thompson as Monostatos convincingly egregious in his unrequited desire for Pamina, Roland Wood a strong Speaker, and Barnaby Rea a hugely authoritative Second Priest. Shawn Mathey sang very strongly as Tamino, though his voice was a bit Heldentenorish for my liking, and Rhian Lois was a charmingly Welsh Papagena.

Fine singing and stage presence from the chorus and the three boys helped this production come alive, and although the designs by Bob Crowley, with their Egyptian hieroglyphs and flowing robes, are so good it would seem impossible to fail, good direction is vital and opening night showed it in abundance. The bird costume for Papageno at the start is a delight, and at the end when he and Papagena are united they are both portrayed as birds in a nest, sailing into the sky. Lovely fun.

Performances continue until October 18 — for details click here.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne, June 2012

28 June, 2012

If you demand this opera in eighteenth century costume — and I overheard some in the audience who did — then forget it. But if you are happy to see a more up to date interpretation, then this is a winner.

All images Glyndebourne Opera/ Alastair Muir

It’s the 1960s and Almaviva is one of the nouveau riche, possibly a pop star, who occupies a magnificent house with servants. He arrives home with his wife in a two-tone sports car, dressed in a loud jacket of Carnaby Street style, while Basilio wears check trousers and jacket. He lights a fag from a silver case, and offers one to Almaviva, who later in the opera smokes a joint and shares it with Susanna.

Susanna and Almaviva

Don’t be put off — Almaviva’s a prat, we all know that — and he gets his come-uppance. It all works perfectly. Sally Matthews as the countess in long flowing dresses was elegance itself, and her soliloquy Dove sono i bei momenti in Act III was a lovely moment that captured the heart of the audience.

The countess

This Michael Grandage production gave us a wonderful stage play, complete with music and singing, capturing the natural interactions between its characters during this ‘crazy day’, taken from Beaumarchais by Mozart and Da Ponte. Vito Priante as Figaro showed quick-witted intelligence as well as becoming admirably disconcerted, and Lydia Teuscher as Susanna switched effortlessly from melodious phrases to annoyance and determination. Her interplay in Act I with Ann Murray’s well-nuanced portrayal of Marcellina was great fun. Andrew Shore as Bartolo delivered a superb La vendetta in Act I, and when he and Marcellina finally realise that Figaro is their son, he showed palpable astonishment and delight as he calls out Rafaelo! … gently pummelling his long lost boy. This is acting of very high quality, preceded of course by Almaviva’s short-lived delight at hearing Don Curzio’s legal opinion of Figaro’s contract with Marcellina, robustly delivered by Colin Judson.

Susanna, Figaro, Marcellina, Bartolo

Isabel Leonard as Cherubino showed characterisations ranging from an attractively sympathetic young man in Act I to infuriatingly testosterone-fuelled impertinence in Act IV, and her Voi che sapete in Act II was a knockout. Sarah Shafer as Barbarina was delightful in her mini skirt, and the dancing at the end of Act III amplified the location of this production to the 1960s when ballroom was strictly passé. Alan Oke’s Don Basilio fitted perfectly with this new hedonism, as did Audun Iversen’s Almaviva as a youngish success story in the world of fashion or entertainment with an elegant wife who no longer fuels his fancy.

Almaviva, with his wife in disguise

Sets by Christopher Oram filled the Glyndebourne stage with the feel of a vintage country house, a rotation converting Act I to II, and a second rotation after the interval converting Act III to IV. Stage positioning and movement of the performers was beautifully judged, and lighting by Paule Constable was superb. From the orchestra pit, Robin Ticciati commanded the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with fine forward drive and sensitivity to the singers. A hugely entertaining co-production with Houston Grand Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, but see it at Glyndebourne first! Performances continue until August 22 — for details click here.

Così fan tutte, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2012

17 June, 2012

This was a second hit for Opera Holland Park this season — a great team performance bringing Così fan tutte fully to life. Fine eighteenth century designs by Alex Eales, plus a cheerful sunny set in the centre of the stage, were accompanied by the chorus as an on-stage audience, and bright lighting design by Colin Grenfell that showed surprising changes at the end.

All images OHP/ Fritz Curzon

This production by Harry Fehr gets to grips with the wittiness of Mozart’s opera by being perfectly serious, but with a lightness of touch. The performers interacted perfectly with one another, the singing was a delight, and there was plenty of drama, from Dorabella baring her cleavage in lamentation during the early quintet in Act I, to Fiordiligi rolling on the floor in emotional agony after her Per pieta in Act II.

Dorabella and Fiordiligi

This opera runs a fair gamut of emotions, from the lovely trio Soave sia il vento, wishing gentle winds for the young men who have been unexpectedly called away for military duty, to those moments of musical discord that are left unresolved. Elizabeth Llewellyn was terrific as Fiordiligi, first coming into her own in Act I when she orders the lovers, disguised as Turks, out of the house, after which the others calm her down, fanning her with napkins, and she launches into Come scoglio immoto resta. Defiantly confirming that nothing can change her devotion, she showed real power, particularly on the top notes. Julia Riley as Dorabella sang beautifully and her acting was just as convincing in this female role as I have seen her in travesti roles. Joana Seara as the maid Despina was a delight, immediately brightening things up on stage with her charmingly resentful Che vita maladetta (What a cursed life). Her subsequent aria casting aspersions on the faithfulness of men and soldiers was very well done, and in her Una donna a quindici anni at the start of Act II, when she says that a fifteen year old girl should know the wiles of love, she accompanied her words with suitably coquettish gestures.

Guglielmo and Dorabella

Nicholas Garrett, who sang Don Giovanni at Holland Park two years ago, was a fine Don Alfonso, relishing the game he plays with the two young men, and his scheming with Despina. Dawid Kimberg sang well as Guglielmo, and his duet with Julia Riley as Dorabella in Act II was terrific. Andrew Staples as Ferrando delivered a beautiful Un’aura amorosa in Act I, and became suitably upset in Act II as he built up the emotion during In qual fiero contrasto, lamenting the turmoil in his own thoughts.

Thomas Kemp, conducting the City of London Sinfonia, gave fine support to the singers, letting the music breathe, and allowing Harry Fehr’s production to work its magic.

Performances continue until July 7 — click here for details, and note that evening performances start at 7:15.

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.

Don Giovanni, Metropolitan Opera live relay from New York, October 2011

30 October, 2011

For Don Giovanni lovers it doesn’t get much better than this.

Leporello and the Don, all photos MetOpera/ Marty Sohl

The Met’s new music director Fabio Luisi gave a sparkling account of the overture, and the performance never looked back. Mariusz Kwiecien combined noble aplomb with demi-world charm as the Don, and Luca Pisaroni was the perfect foil as his sidekick Leporello. Their early dialogue was superbly done, and Barbara Frittoli as the Don’s erstwhile lover Donna Elvira showed huge vulnerability in her portrayal. Later in Act I when Donna Anna suddenly realises Giovanni was the man who seduced her and killed her father she recalls going outside to stop him and her disingenuous, arditamente il seguo … remains curiously unquestioned by her would-be husband Don Ottavio. Marina Rebeka as Anna makes it sound as if she really is lying about her feelings, but Ramón Vargas continues to sing in loving adoration and concern, and his voice and breath control are remarkable.

Ottavio, Anna and her father

The peasant dancing at the party that Giovanni puts on for the wedding couple Zerlina and Masetto, was delightfully done, so far as one could see from the cinema screen, and Mojca Erdmann’s lyrical Zerlina was prettily flirtatious with the Don, and cleverly seductive with her husband-to-be. With Joshua Bloom as a red-blooded and anxious Masetto they made a superb couple, and her vedrai, carino … in Act II, after he has been beaten up, was beautifully delivered.

Wedding dancing at the Don's

As the Commendatore, Štefan Kocán gave a fine performance before his death in Act I, and then made a dramatic entrance at the end, with his bluish make-up helped by Paule Constable’s lighting. The flames are real and Kwiecien’s insouciant Don goes down like the captain of his ship, bowing to no-one, not even the powers of the afterworld. It’s always difficult to tell on the cinema screen, but this production by Michael Grandage looks very good indeed, and with Fabio Luisi keeping everything on track musically it was a wonderful Giovanni.

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2011

6 October, 2011

Sometimes in Figaro the Count can appear a bit of a twerp, but not here. Fiona Shaw’s new production allows him to show testosterone-fuelled frustration, and Roland Wood acted the part as if he were Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey with a wonderful singing voice and hormones running riot, even tearing a doll to pieces in Act III. Forget the TV series — go to the opera. With Elizabeth Llewellyn stepping in at the last minute as the Countess, this was simply wonderful. Her cavatina at the start of Act II when she sighs for the loss of her husband’s love immediately raised the performance a notch, just as it had at Holland Park this summer.

Iain Paterson as Figaro, all images by Sarah Lee

Iain Paterson sang a very solid Figaro, with excellent diction, though you never felt he was in any danger of losing the plot, and Devon Guthrie sang a beautiful Susanna. She was delightful in every way, and Kathryn Rudge as Cherubino gave a remarkable en travesti performance, acting very much the amorous young man. The whole cast sang extremely well together, with fine support from Paul Daniel in the orchestra pit.

This Mozart and Da Ponte opera has a cutting edge, based as it is on Beaumarchais’s play, which was banned from the stage in Vienna where the opera was first performed, and this production adumbrated the tension between master and servants rather well. The translation by Jeremy Sams was suitably direct, as for example when the Count sings at the start of Act III, “Could it be that another of my lackeys has got ideas above his station”. And the emphasis on the master/servant relationship is alluded to before the overture even starts, as we see projections of silhouettes doffing their hats and bowing deeply. But if this makes it sound too political, the production admirably adheres to Beaumarchais’s alternative title The Crazy Day (La folle journée), with a rotating stage conveying different aspects of the house’s interior and adding to the confusion all round at the end of Act II.

Roland Wood as the Count with Antonio the gardener and Figaro

The designs by Peter McKintosh involved traditional costumes in an abstract modern setting, and the occasional use of video cameras pulled the whole thing forward in time as if we were looking back on a vanished world. Certainly that world vanished in one part of Europe with the French revolution in 1789, just three years after the first performance in Vienna, and the opera was only shown in France for the first time in 1793.

As with other English National Opera productions using modern translations, the words have an immediate effect, and Fiona Shaw’s production allows the performers to inhabit their roles and work together as if this were repertory theatre.

The result is well worth seeing, and performances continue until November 10 — for details click here.