Posts Tagged ‘Rufus Norris’

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.

Dr Dee, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2012

27 June, 2012

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. So says Hamlet in the words of Shakespeare, who died eight years after that extraordinary Englishman, John Dee (1527–1608), whom he may have used as a model for Prospero in The Tempest.

All images ENO/ Richard Hubert Smith

Part of the inspiration for this opera, according to Adrian Mourby’s essay in the programme, was the question of who was the greatest dead Englishman, and the answer was John Dee. Mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and polymath, he was a sort of Faust-like character who wanted to go beyond human knowledge and communicate with angels. This led to his downfall because he came to trust the clever, flamboyant, scheming liar Edward Kelley, who would help him uncover the Enochian language of heaven. Kelley became Dee’s regular scryer (medium and crystal gazer), inveigled his way into the household and claimed that an angel commanded that he sleep with Dee’s wife.

Kelley, Dee’s wife, and Dee blindfolded

Dee had earlier been recruited by Francis Walsingham, head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in particular to advise on an auspicious date for the coronation of the new queen, Elizabeth. But Kelley was seriously distrusted by those around Walsingham, and Dee’s influence at court waned. He died in straitened circumstances, and this opera starts and ends with the bedridden Dee being cared for by his daughter, Katherine.

Dee dies attended by his daughter

In the meantime we are treated to ingenious theatrical effects that convey the image of a man of tireless energy exploring the secrets of nature. Dee was well-known on the continent of Europe as an expert of Euclid, and the proof he gives on stage is just like those found in the Hellenistic world. In Euclidean geometry Dee was in touch with the ultimate, its theorems as valid now as they ever were, but not so with astronomy. We are treated to a wonderful view of the moon and planets forming geometric patterns as they revolve around the earth, a geocentric view of the universe propounded by Ptolemy in his famous Almagest. This was the basis for all astronomy until the seventeenth century when use of the telescope finally convinced Galileo and others that the planets had moons and orbited the sun. Yet Dee himself, and Walsingham, may have known of the telescope earlier, since a sixteenth century English design existed that would have been a closely guarded secret for the Navy Royal.

John Dee, polymath extraordinary

Dee’s books we see by the hundreds, and books are opened out as concertinas that grow in size and serve as screens. Early in the second half, people and objects appear from behind these screens as they are dragged across stage, and then another screen converts them into line drawings that decompose before our eyes. These stunning visual effects are very clever.

For most of the first half, all is well, with Paul Hilton entirely convincing as John Dee, Anna Dennis as his daughter Katherine, Clemmie Sveaas as Dee’s young wife Jane, and Steven Page giving a fine portrayal of Walsingham. But then counter-tenor Christopher Robson appears as Kelley, and Dee pursues a path towards his Faust-like error. Walsingham grows in size and the human ravens of his entourage take on a more menacing mien. Towards the end real ravens appear, flying across the auditorium and returning obediently to the upper level of the stage.

That upper level is where the orchestra sat for most of the opera, a reminder if any were needed of the habit in Elizabethan theatre of having the musicians at a higher level. Costumes are Elizabethan, and this extraordinary creation by Damon Albarn and director Rufus Norris is a sight not to be missed. The music by Damon Albarn, conducted and supervised by Stephen Higgins, mixes a twenty-first century popular style with musical ideas from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. In putting on this imaginative show the ENO is offering opera to a wide audience, and my only complaint is that they have abandoned their usual practice of providing surtitles. It was not always easy to understand the words, particularly the utterances of Edward Kelley, but the synopsis in the programme expressed everything with excellent clarity — so be sure to buy a programme.

Performances continue until July 7 — for details click here.

Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

7 November, 2010

In an interesting and informative essay in the programme, Richard Wigmore discusses this Mozart opera, and writes, “Don Giovanni revolves around the tensions of class, sex and aristocratic abuse of power”. I agree, but this production takes a different tack. The Don appears more as a bumbling academic, and the supper to which the Commendatore is invited at the end is a picnic of bread rolls served from a couple of small plastic shopping bags. Giovanni and Leporello have no table and chair, but sit on the stage and bread rolls are thrown.

Leporello and the Don, all photos by Donald Cooper

During the overture men in strange masks prowl the stage while a circular and dramatically lit metal contraption is lowered from above, and an electric storm rages in the background. But despite the electricity this Don lacked magnetism. Iain Paterson, whom I recall singing a sympathetic and powerful Amonasro in the  ENO’s  Aida two years ago, and a strong Mr. Redburn in Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd this past summer, sang with warmth and strength, but lacked the cutting edge for the Don. And while his stage actions showed suitable nastiness, he gave the appearance of being too nice a guy to release his amoral testosterone-inspired aggression on the world. As the Don’s long-suffering servant Leporello, Brindley Sherratt sang very strongly and gave a fine depth to the evening, just as he did as Sparafucile in Rigoletto last year, and as the monk Pimen in Boris Godunov the year before. He also gave an excellent comic sense to the role, and while he is equally at home singing the murdered Commendatore — which he did at Glyndebourne this year — that small but important role went to Matthew Best who sang it superbly.

The Don with Zerlina

As the pretty Zerlina, whose wedding to Masetto attracts the Don’s amorously intrusive attentions, Sarah Tynan did a wonderful job. This is the same singer who was so good as Adina in The Elixir of Love earlier this year, and Ilia in Idomeneo this summer. She is a delight to watch, and I loved the Irish brogue of John Molloy as Masetto. The role of Donna Elvira, an ex-lover who won’t let Giovanni go, was to have been sung by Rebecca Evans, but she was suffering a bad throat, so Sarah Redgwick stepped in and made a fine substitute. As Donna Anna, whose rape by the Don starts during the overture, Katherine Broderick sang strongly but with a vibrato edge that I did not care for, and it affected her diction. Robert Murray sang her fiancé Don Ottavio, a rather thankless role that was not helped by his costume as the only man on stage wearing a business suit.

The Don meets his nemesis, the Commendatore

This production by Rufus Norris with sets by Ian MacNeil had some nice aspects — I liked the dripping water on the murdered Commendatore as he lies slumped in a drinking trough, I liked the Don’s wooing of Zerlina, and I thought the projected images that Leporello produces when he recounts his master’s conquests, warning Donna Elvira what a cad he is, were a clever innovation — but the plethora of good ideas was all a bit too much for me. The director, Rufus Norris is new to the opera world, though well-known as a theatre producer, and I think the ENO is reaching out to theatre-goers who are relatively unfamiliar with opera. This staging may appeal to younger audiences, though not so much perhaps to those familiar with other Don Giovanni productions.

In the orchestra pit, Kirill Karabits gave an enjoyable and well-nuanced performance of Mozart’s music. Singing in English demands good diction, and the singers did so well here that the surtitles became superfluous.

Further performances are scheduled for November 6, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 27, 29, and December 1, 3 — for more details click here.