Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Collon’

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.

Seven Angels, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, July 2011

13 July, 2011

At the entrance to the auditorium was a display of brochures by the Friends of the Earth, and an Energy Bill petition ready for signing. This is a story about the desecration of the environment, told in the form of gluttony and the abandonment of boundaries in the bringing up of a spoiled young prince.

Yet it’s supposedly based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the seven angels are lost, forgotten and abandoned by God, Satan, and Milton himself. They no longer know who or what they are, so they construct a story, and transform themselves into the characters of the story. This much can be understood by reading the programme, but while the singing was loud the words were not always helpful, and this earnest endeavour is without a clear development in Glyn Maxwell’s libretto or Luke Bedford’s music. Certainly the music is good, if somewhat sententious at times and lacking in tempo variations, but the staging with the orchestra behind the singers made it hard to hear quieter passages. For instance at one point in the second half, the sound of the singers flipping the pages of the books was louder than the music itself.

The prince gorges himself, all photos Alastair Muir

Ah, yes, the books. Sitting carefully upright against one another on stage they were tipped over like dominoes, a feature that eventually felt a bit tiresome, and in the second half the books were piled up to make a long wall across the front of the stage, blocking the orchestral sound for those of us in the front few rows, though the singers were heard very loudly indeed. The prince ate the pages of the books, and part of the stage opened out like a book in two different ways, one showing a flourishing tree, another showing a dead one. In the second half a gigantic book on the pile of regular books was opened to release silver helium balloons, later black ones, and later nothing at all.

Obviously a great deal of thought has gone into this production by John Fulljames, but nothing gripped me. There were lots of clever ideas, and the performers expressed huge emotion in their facial gestures, but this alone cannot create good theatre. That can only come from the internal structure of the composition, and perhaps this would work better as an oratorio with the orchestra communicating more directly with the audience.

Making an opera on the worthy but politically correct theme of environmental preservation — instigated, according to the programme, by a visit to the millennium seedbank at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex — is surely not easy, but it reminds me that composers of successful operas have often battled the poets who act as their librettists. The theatrical element is essential in opera, and I’m afraid I missed it here.

This work is performed by The Opera Group and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Nicholas Collon. It premiered four weeks ago at the CBSO Centre Birmingham, and there are two further performances at Covent Garden, on July 14 and 15 — for details click here.