Posts Tagged ‘opera review’

The Siege of Calais, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, March 2013

10 March, 2013

This is stirring stuff. Although Donizetti’s L’assedio di Calais (The Siege of Calais) with its unsatisfactory third act is rarely performed, James Conway’s production, which eliminates Act III and its happy ending, is a revelation.

Rodin: The Burghers of Calais

Rodin: The Burghers of Calais

This opera, which immediately followed Lucia di Lammermoor, deals with real historical events. In 1346, towards the start of the Hundred Years War, England’s King Edward III besieged Calais, and in 1347 the siege was still in place. The history is disputed but this opera is based on Pierre du Belloy’s patriotic 1765 play Le siège de Calais, where in order to raise the siege the king demands the city turn over seven of its leading citizens to certain death. Six volunteers, including the mayor and his son, come forth and their resolute bravery so impressed Edward’s mother Queen Isabella that she pleaded for their pardon. The king acceded and Rodin’s sculpture The Burghers of Calais, celebrating their selfless act, can be seen today in Westminster.

Aurelio in enemy territory, all images ETO/ RichardHubertSmith

Aurelio in enemy territory, all images ETO/ RichardHubertSmith

In this production the action starts during the overture with the mayor’s son Aurelio foraging for food and being temporarily captured by the enemy. Towards the end he defiantly rejects the king’s demands for the slaughter of noble hostages, but his father Eustace insists on sacrifice lest everyone die of starvation. In the absence of Act III, though two of its better numbers are included in the first two acts, we see the six burghers trudging off to their death.

Aurelio with father, wife and baby

Aurelio with father, wife and baby

After the stage calls, cheers and bravos, just as everyone was starting to leave, the orchestra suddenly struck a lighter mood with ballet music from Act III, and we all stepped out into a cold night with a warm feeling of having seen a memorable performance of this little known opera.

Designs by Samal Blak, well lit by Ace McCarron, bring the action into the twentieth century, and Jeremy Silver’s conducting brought out the life and energy of Donizetti’s score. Eddie Wade, whom I last saw as a fine Gunther in The Ring, portrayed a noble mayor, and Paula Sides sang strongly in the soprano role of Aurelio’s wife. The chorus was excellent and there were fine performances from the supporting cast, Andrew Glover in particular.

Six honourable victims

Six honourable victims

But the singer that made this a knock-out was Australian mezzo Helen Sherman as Aurelio. Before she started singing, her convincing mannerisms and body language made me think she was a man, and she gave a stunning portrayal of the role. The defiant aria in Act I, and in Act II the duet with his wife, the rejection of the enemy, and the farewell aria to his baby were riveting. Helen Sherman’s mezzo voice is world class, and a glance at her website shows she is singing a huge range of different roles — I look forward to hearing her again.

Congratulations to the ETO. This is unmissable, and if it were in London for a second night I’d go again.

Performances continue on tour at: Exeter Northcott, 22nd Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 27th Mar; York Theatre Royal, 13th Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 20th Apr; Buxton Opera House, 27th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 2nd May; Warwick Arts Centre, 11th May; Perth Festival, Perth Theatre, 16th May; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 21st May — for details click here.

Written on Skin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

9 March, 2013

The ROH Insight Evening for this opera described it as being about sexual emancipation and jealousy with a tragic ending that they declined to specify. The emancipation angle is a good spin for modern audiences, but the story is an old one. A man treats his wife as a chattel and she experiences a sexual awakening with a younger man who works for him. This is the plot of Il Tabarro where the husband kills the lover, but here we also have a nasty epilogue.

All images ©ROH/ Stephen Cummiskey 2013

All images ©ROH/ Stephen Cummiskey 2013

The husband, or Protector as he calls himself, is a brutal man who talks about burning villages and making Jews wear yellow. He aims to protect ‘the family’, which in his constricted world is everything, and the young man is there to compose an illustrated manuscript about it. The family seems to reach back into a distant past that endowed him with the house, which he boasts is increasing in value daily. The wife is another matter. Suppressed and unable to grow, she finds an outlet in the young illustrator, and after her husband kills him he serves her his heart to eat. After she fights back, a slow motion scene at the end shows her ascending a staircase and we are told she falls to her death.

2.WRITTEN ON SKIN SC_4462 ROH HANNIGAN AS AGNES, MEHTA AS BOY, CLAYTON AS JOHN, SIMMONDS AS MARIE  (C) CUMMISKEY

The composer George Benjamin is English, but the music has a very French feel, and the opera was first produced to great acclaim at Aix-en-Provence last summer. There are resonances of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, and its sultry shifting soundscapes are interspersed with moments of fierce emotion. Benjamin himself conducted the orchestra, and although the score matched the words of Martin Crimp’s libretto it all seemed a bit pretentious with the characters, particularly the husband, singing as narrators in their own story.

Final moments

Final moments

Katie Mitchell’s production did very well to combine a distant past with the present day, the trees growing out of the parquet floor on the lower right suggesting the passing of centuries, while the black clad figures moving in slow motion in the upper left give a connection to the modern forensic world that studies past events. This was all realised in Vicki Mortimer’s excellent doll’s house design, very well lit by Jon Clark.

The singing was outstanding, and Christopher Purves managed to make the husband a more nuanced character than the libretto suggests. Both he and Barbara Hannigan as his wife Agnès came over with huge conviction, and Bejun Mehta sang a fine counter-tenor as the young man.

The problem with this first full scale opera by George Benjamin is its over-layering of meaning, with angels, and black-clad figures moving in slow motion. The effect is very clever, but insufficiently compelling, and the static intellectuality of this 95 minute work suffers by comparison with some other new operas I have seen in recent years at the ENO and the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio.

There will be a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of this opera on June 22, and four further performances on March 11, 16, 18, 22 — for details click here.

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.

Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 2 March 2013

3 March, 2013

A stunning performance with a wonderful cast under superb musical direction by Daniele Gatti could make for a series of tiresome superlatives, so I shall start with a more interesting observation.

Kundry, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

Kundry, Parsifal, Gurnemanz, all images MetOpera/ KenHoward

This endlessly intriguing opera allows every production to bring out some new aspect. The brilliant Bayreuth production relates it to the history of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century, but this one by François Girard has a more ethereal nature in which I found myself drawing a comparison between Act II of Parsifal with Siegfried.

In that middle section, Evgeny Nikitin, whose body tattoos caused his last minute rejection as the Dutchman at Bayreuth this past summer, made an extraordinary Klingsor reminiscent of Alberich in Siegfried. Here was a magician who held power by his determination to thwart the world, but is being defeated by forces beyond his control. And as Katerina Dalayman’s seductive Kundry cast her spell over Jonas Kaufmann’s simple, yet nobly portrayed Parsifal, singing of a mother’s yearning and a mother’s tears, I almost expected him to burst out with O heil der Mutter, die mich gebar! (O hail to the mother who gave me birth). But this is not Siegfried. Parsifal has a hidden inner strength and finally bursts out with Amfortas! …, recalling his great mission to relieve the enduring pain and mortal failure of the king, and renew of land of the Grail.

In Act III as he blesses Kundry, allowing her to die in peace, and heals the wound of Peter Mattei’s agonized Amfortas, so he can do the same, the excellent lighting and video designs by David Finn and Peter Flaherty change the bleak landscape to one of warmth and sunrise. Everything is entsündigt und entsühnt (redeemed and atoned for), though the subtitles gave a very odd translation of the German at times.

4.parsfd_7893a

The cinematography by Barbara Willis Sweete was exceptional, giving us a full stage picture with close-ups that never intruded to spoil the magic. In fact it enhanced the production in some places, as when Parsifal and Gurnemanz travel together to the Grail and we hear those wonderful lines Ich schreite kaum, doch wähn’ ich mich schon weit. Du siehst mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit (I scarcely step yet seem to move apace. You see, my son, here time is one with space). The camera views them from below, and manages the feat of rendering Gurnemanz larger than Parsifal.

As Gurnemanz, René Pape gave a performance of huge power, with fine diction. In Act I his expressions of emotion gave us a man who cares deeply for his beloved land of the Grail, and in Act III his sanctification of Parsifal was a sublime moment. The whole cast sang superbly, as did the chorus, and Carolyn Choa’s choreography for the Flower Maidens was attractively subdued and musical.

Good hosting by Eric Owens, who was a memorable Alberich in The Ring, and congratulations to the Met for this intelligent screening of Wagner’s final opera.

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.

Cunning Little Vixen, WNO, Cardiff, February 2013

25 February, 2013

This opera pits the timeless amorality of the natural world against the emotions and melancholy of human beings. The former is represented by the Vixen, her family, and other forest animals, the latter by Forester, Schoolmaster, Priest and Poacher.

Vixen and her Fox

Vixen and her Fox

In the original story by Rudolf Těsnohlídek, based on drawings by Stanislav Lolek, the Vixen lives on, but Janáček has the poacher kill her. This injects a tragic element into the story, yet the end result is the same: the natural world continues regardless of human intervention, and in the final scene where the Forester recalls true love from the springtime of his life, another vixen appears. As he reaches out to catch her, his hand clasps a little frog, who tells him he’s not the same one as before — that w-w-was his grandfather. The natural world is a constant, and while the Forester and other humans live with the memories of love they have lost, the animals know that the meaning of life is life itself.

In David Pountney’s 1980 production, with its designs by Maria Bjørnson, the natural world is pre-eminent, and a small space opens up for those moments when the humans control things: the yard at the Forester’s home, and the inn where the three friends drink together. Otherwise it is the outdoors, where Nick Chelton’s lighting shows the change of seasons and day alternating with night. At one point the snow disappears in a pretty stage trick that made me laugh — a light moment, and the opera is full of them. The story may be as deep as the sky, but the whole thing embraces three half-hour acts plus one interval. In the Czech Republic it is Janáček’s most popular opera.

Schoolmaster and Forester

Schoolmaster and Forester

Musically it’s a treat, and in Act II when the Vixen finds her Fox and opens up to the joy of life, Sophie Bevan and the orchestra rose to heights of lyrical perfection. Her love duet with Sarah Castle as the Fox was glorious, with the orchestra under Lothar Koenigs playing with Wagnerian intensity. Alan Oke made a wonderfully dry Schoolmaster with his steady melancholy, David Stout was very effective in his Act III appearance as the poacher, and Jonathan Summers was full of character and vocal assurance as the Forester. As the opera ended I wished for more intensity in those final musical chords, but Lothar Koenigs gave an intensely lyrical rendering of Janáček’s score.

Vixen's new family

Vixen’s new family

The production as a whole is a delight, and in Act I when the Vixen is tied up in the Forester’s yard, a dancer comes on to express her desire for freedom. Stuart Hopp’s choreography here fits the music to perfection, and Naomi Tadevossian showed true musicality in its performance. When the production was new it would have been a different dancer, as would be the children who played the small animals, but life goes on while human problems remain the same, and that is the point of this wonderful piece of Czech magical realism.

Performances continue at Cardiff, 26 Feb – 28 Feb; Birmingham Hippodrome, 7 Mar; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 14 Mar; The Mayflower, Southampton, 21 Mar; Milton Keynes Theatre, 27 Mar; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 4 Apr — for details click here.

Rigoletto, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 16 February 2013

17 February, 2013

The idea of Rigoletto in early 1960s Las Vegas during the days of the Rat Pack made me apprehensive, but the superb sets by Christine Jones and costumes by Susan Hilferty won me over completely. Count Monterone as an Arab sheikh, the colourful tuxedos of the men, the stylish dark green and purple of Sparafucile’s two different costumes, and the vanity plate on his car gave a terrific sense of atmosphere, and I loved the neon rain and lightning for the storm outside Sparafucile’s tavern in Act III.

The Duke in his casino, all images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

The Duke in his casino, all images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

Quibbles later, but the singing was wonderful. Željko Lučić was a well toned Rigoletto, and Piotr Beczala as the Duke hit the high notes, and his soliloquy Ella mi fu rapita at the start of Act II — when for four or five minutes he regrets losing Gilda — was beautifully delivered. As Gilda herself, Diana Damrau sang very sweetly. The duet with her father Rigoletto in Act I formed a touching scene, and her later recollection of the Duke, using the false name he has given her, Gaultier Maldè … core innammorato! came through with a sweet naivety that reappeared at the end as she promises to pray for her father from heaven.

Rigoletto and Gilda, Act I

Rigoletto and Gilda, Act I

Keeping her sheltered from the wiles and wickedness of the Duke’s casino where he works is his business, but taking vengeance and deciding to be the instrument of Monterone’s curse is to take on the role of God. Yet there is only one god in this story, namely the Duke who exercises absolute power, or at least is supposed to. This didn’t quite manifest itself in Michael Mayer’s production, though that is a minor quibble.

Rigoletto and Sparafucile

Rigoletto and Sparafucile

However I liked the way Sparafucile was portrayed, and Štefan Kocán sang the role with great finesse. Oksana Volkova made a very colourful and sexy Maddalena, and Robert Pomakov gave a wonderful rendering of Monterone’s utterances. The Arabian gear was a clever notion, as was the idea of using the trunk of a car rather than a sack for the dead body, allowing the stage to be dark while the body was lit up with the trunk open.

Gilda dies

Gilda dies

The main problem for me came with a lack of operatic drama at the end when Rigoletto realises his daughter is the victim of his own plot. For one thing he just seemed too nice a guy to undertake a murder, and he didn’t seem sufficiently shocked that the body was that of his beloved daughter rather than the Duke. Perhaps Michele Mariotti’s conducting could have helped more here by giving a sense of trembling and urgency when Rigoletto sings Dio! … mia figlia. As it was the ending felt more like a that of a musical than a Verdi opera.

Medea, English National Opera, London Coliseum, February 2013

16 February, 2013

Spectacular success for the ENO gives audiences the British premiere of this baroque jewel that has lain in the shadows for about 300 years. With an excellent libretto by Thomas Corneille, well translated by Christopher Cowell, this terrific production by David McVicar makes compelling theatre.

Medea conjures confusion, all images ENO/ Clive Barda

Medea conjures confusion, all images ENO/ Clive Barda

Excellent choreography by Lynne Page suits both music and drama, Paule Constable’s lighting gives a very effective atmosphere, and Bunny Christie’s designs are terrific.

2.Medea, Sarah Connolly (c) Clive BardaThe whole thing is set in 1940s wartime, with Creon as head of a French army, Jason a Royal Navy Captain, and the airmen American. Jason is needed to help fight for Corinth, and Creon is only too happy to banish Medea, offer Jason his daughter Creusa as a bride, and ignore Orontes, Prince of Argos who expects to wed her. The interests of Orontes and Medea naturally coincide, but Creusa being in love with Jason, firmly rejects Orontes, and Medea, as her name implies (it’s related to the Greek verb μηδομαι meaning cunningly plan or contrive), decides to exact vengeance on Jason.

The turning point is in Act III, between the two intervals, when Jason’s dissembling and scheming is fully revealed to Medea and she decides to invoke the supernatural powers she embodies. At this point Charpentier’s music gives her more colourful harmonies, and though audiences in 1693 might have objected, we are entirely ready for them, and the whole effect is a musical treat.

3.Medea, Jeffrey Francis, Sarah Connolly (c) Clive BardaSarah Connolly was a marvellous Medea, sure of voice, stage presence and theatrical impact, a woman who can summon demons from the depths in Act III, and dispute Creon’s will in Act IV, bringing in wish maidens to drive him crazy. The underlying idea in that scene is that Creon’s relationship with his daughter Creusa has already shown a somewhat incestuous impropriety, and he is an easy victim. Creon himself was brilliantly sung and acted by Brindley Sherratt, and Katherine Manley gave a beautiful performance as Creusa. Roderick Williams sang forcefully as Orontes, showing admirable emotion in Act IV, while Jeffrey Francis gave a calm but rather wooden portrayal of Jason. In the end the dead bodies of his young sons are brought in, and Medea ascends to the heavens witnessing her final terrrifying act of vengeance.

Fine dancing and body movements by the twelve dancers in their multiple roles, and it is a pleasure to see effective choreography, unlike some recent productions at a nearby opera house in London. Super conducting by Christian Curnyn brought out the intriguing nature of the music. The big boss of French music in the seventeenth century was Lully who fiercely protected his territory, but Charpentier was arguably a better composer, and Medea is a masterpiece. Whether you like baroque opera or not, a production of this calibre it is a must-see. Unmissable.

Performances continue until March 16 — for details click here.

Lulu, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, February 2013

9 February, 2013

Alban Berg’s Lulu, mostly written in 1934, was only performed in a complete version for the first time in 1979. Berg died in 1935, and after his widow could not get Schoenberg, nor Webern or Zemlinsky, to write an orchestration of Act III she refused any attempt at completion, and so it remained until she died more than forty years after her husband.

Lulu and Countess Geschwitz, all images WNO/ Clive Barda

Lulu and Countess Geschwitz, all images WNO/ Clive Barda

Complete productions are much to be desired because in Berg’s unique musical language the three acts hang together, and David Pountney has done us the great service of staying true to the composer’s vision, and indeed that of Frank Wedekind, who wrote the two plays on which it is based. If you saw the Covent Garden production by Christof Loy in 2009, a coldly unrealistic concert-like performance, be assured this is utterly different. Colourful, yet capable of huge coldness towards the end, courtesy of Mark Jonathan’s clever lighting, this production allows us to see Lulu’s abject amorality and the fascination she exerts on those around her.

Schön and Lulu

Schön and Lulu

Johan Engels’ set recalls the circus of the prologue, perhaps even the meta-human achievements of the 2012 Olympics, and the animal heads used in Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costumes recall the convergence of humanity and inhumanity in The Story of O. The bowler hats represent the world outside, as do the umbrellas in the final scene, where Lulu meets her end in a dreary post-Dickensian London.

After each of her three husbands dies earlier in the opera he is hung on the set and lifted high up, remaining there until the end when each returns in a different guise. This helps exhibit the symmetry of Berg’s opera, centred as it is on the incarceration of Lulu after the death of her husband, Dr. Schön. She kills him herself and he returns as Jack the Ripper. Heady stuff, with Lulu as nemesis to the desire and fascination she evokes, the earth spirit in the first part of Wedekind’s drama.

Lulu, Act I sc.3

Lulu, Act I sc.3

Marie Arnet did a superb job of bringing this Erdgeist to stage, secure in voice and sure in characterization under David Pountney’s direction. Here is something far more than a femme fatale. She is a creature of the spirit world that lurks in our unconscious, befitting the deeply intellectual milieu that produced Freud and the music of the Second Viennese School. Some excellent singing too from others in the cast, with Natascha Petrinsky particularly notable as Lulu’s lesbian lover and admirer, the Countess Geschwitz. Ashley Holland gave a sound performance as Dr. Schön, with Peter Hoare giving a brilliantly incisive portrayal as Lulu’s lover and Schön’s son Alwa. Richard Angas came over very well as the animal tamer and Schigolch, as did Mark LeBrocq as the Artist in Act I reincarnated as the Negro in Act III, Patricia Orr as the schoolboy and other roles, Julian Close as the Acrobat, and Alan Oke was superb as Prince, Manservant and Marquis in the three acts.

Conducting by Lothar Koenigs brought out the full range and value of Berg’s extraordinary score, and in Pountney’s hands this was a production to savour. When Lulu is incarcerated after the death of Schön, her Freiheit removed like Freia in Wagner’s Ring, there was a similar lassitude that could only be relieved by her escape. And talking of the Ring, the patch over Schigolch’s eye, and his appearance at the end, reminded me of Wagner’s Wanderer in Siegfried.

This was a rip-roaring success for WNO, and if you don’t know the story of the opera, read it up first and buy a programme for the excellent essays it contains.

Performances at the Wales Millennium Centre continue until February 23, after which it tours to: The Birmingham Hippodrome, 5 Mar; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 12 Mar; The Mayflower, Southampton, 19 Mar; Milton Keynes Theatre, 26 Mar; Theatre Royal, Plymouth, 2 Apr — for details click here.

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2013

5 February, 2013

Artistic director Kasper Holten decided quite sensibly to take over the scheduled revival of an earlier production, and do something new. He was already endowed with some fine singers, so there were excellent performances here, including sympathetic conducting by Robin Ticciati.

Onegin, ROH images/ Bill Cooper

Onegin, all imags ROH/ Bill Cooper

Simon Keenlyside sang strongly as Onegin though the production prevented him from giving a full portrayal of the character. His Tatyana was Krassimira Stoyanova, who sang powerfully, but the production curtailed her dramatic interpretation by having an actress/ dancer portray the emotive moments. No such problems for Pavol Breslik as Lensky, who sang superbly; I loved his sincere apology to Madame Larina after challenging Onegin to a duel while being her guest, and his soliloquy at the start of Part II before the duel brought the house down.

Among the secondary roles, Tatyana’s nurse Filippyevna was beautifully sung by Kathleen Wilkinson, Zaretsky (Lensky’s second) was strongly portrayed by bass Jihoon Kim, and Peter Rose delivered a stunning monologue as Prince Gremin. Glorious singing then from cast, and chorus too, and with eyes closed, like one man near me, it was wonderful.

The production itself was a bit too clever as the director plays with time, flashbacks, and a dream world. It all starts before the overture with the mature Tatyana showing silent grief, and Onegin appearing on stage during the overture. In Scene 1 when he and Lensky arrive at the house it is Onegin who enters first, and replaces a book in a cupboard he has never seen before. Then Onegin reappears in the letter scene, as he does in Cranko’s ballet Onegin, which the ROH is currently performing, and though Simon Keenlyside is one of the few top rate singers who can do ballet lifts, the choreography seemed unnecessarily melodramatic in an opera context.

Lensky

Lensky

In the duel scene there are two Onegins, with Keenlyside as the mature one regretting the act, and an actor as the young one with a killer instinct. When Lensky is shot his body lies on stage for the rest of the opera, and in the final scene between Onegin and Tatyana, Prince Gremin appears as if in her imagination. Finally the young Tatyana and Onegin reappear as a bit of what-might-have-been, but to me a distraction.

Tatyana

Tatyana

Both Tatyanas wear a red dress throughout, with the mature one covered by a white ball gown in the last two scenes, and the chorus ladies in their voluminous black dresses reminded me of a Cromwellian Puritanism, which doesn’t seem to suit the story. The director has said part of his aim was to do it all on a tight budget, but in the past year I have seen enjoyably imaginative productions by Opera Holland Park and English Touring Opera, both of which work to very tight budgets.

As an opera director at Covent Garden, Kasper Holten has more to learn about sight-lines. Some of the action was entirely front stage-left and I met people who could not see it. Pity.

Performances continue until February 20 — for details click here.