Posts Tagged ‘Tom Pye’

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne, May 2012

21 May, 2012

Standing outside in the grounds of Glyndebourne facing the ha-ha near the new statues of hunting dogs, one looks to the left and sees a green hill just like the one on stage; and in front of the stage hill is a tree made of pieces of wood.

Dragonflies, all images by Bill Cooper

The stage tree lends an air of simple magic to the forest scenes and appears in varied clothing, sometimes bare, sometimes with buds or full foliage according to the season, and this is where it all happens. Animals appear in the tree, and beneath its roots the badger makes his home, only to be evicted later by the vixen. And while the tree stays in place throughout, the inn appears from nowhere, its walls moving rapidly into place in pieces, and it disappears just as quickly.

Vixen trapped by the Forester

These wonderful set designs by Tom Pye, along with Paule Constable’s gloriously varied lighting, and Maxine Doyle’s choreography for the animals, give a marvellous sense of reality to the natural world. When the vixen and the fox meet, fall in love and get married, the dance for the forest’s inhabitants has the quality of a spring ritual, hinting ever so slightly at the Rite of Spring, and in Act I the movements for the cockerel and hens are a delight. Dinah Collin’s costumes are excellent and those for the hens, portrayed as prettily sexy girls in high heels, are inspired.

Vixen and Fox in love

Melly Still’s production has the great quality that the natural world of the forest is primary and the humans mere appendages, here today and gone tomorrow. That is the heart of this opera — humans age and cope with disappointment and loneliness, while the animals go on forever. The young vixen is trapped by the forester, taken from the wild, escapes, finds a mate, and creates a huge family. Later she is shot by the poacher, but in the end another young vixen appears, progeny of the earlier one. While the schoolmaster regrets lost love, the priest talks of Xenophon’s Anabasis, but the animals have no such emotions or history to depress or sustain them, and for them the point of life is life itself. There is wisdom in nature, and one of the great poems in Czech, Mai (meaning May) extols its mysterious powers. Janaček was strongly drawn to the natural world, and his music and libretto, written when he was nearly 70, are superb. It first became known to us through its German translation by Max Brod, which yielded the English title, but the original is Vixen Sharp Ears, and in the Czech Republic it is Janaček’s most popular opera.

The wedding

Visually this production is a knock-out, and Vladimir Jurowksi conducted the London Philharmonic with huge spirit. Lucy Crowe sang and performed the Vixen beautifully, with Emma Bell giving a fine performance of the Fox, and Sergei Leiferkus singing an excellent Forester. Adrian Thompson was a wonderfully vocal Schoolmaster, with Misha Schelomianski showing depth as both Priest and Badger, and William Dazeley singing strongly in the bass role of the poacher. The animals, portrayed by singers, dancers and children, were brilliant, and this was a great team performance, with Thomasin Trezise delightful as the main hen. None of the cast was Czech, except Lucie Špičkova, who gave a fine portrayal of the dog, but they sang in the original, so surtitles were essential.

If you saw this at Covent Garden two years ago, go again because this production is quite different, but equally valid. It’s wonderful fun.

Performances continue until June 28 — for details click here.

Miss Fortune, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2012

13 March, 2012

The title of this opera is a play on words, the eponymous character being the daughter of Lord and Lady Fortune, whose riches have melted away, and after the chorus sings, “We think you should go to gaol”, they take off.

All images by Bill Cooper

Miss Fortune stays behind singing that, “I won’t scuttle away … I’m going to live in the real world”. And so she does, but the forces of chaos, represented by break-dancers, lead her through a course of ill-luck before she wins the lottery. Judith Weir wrote both music and libretto, reflecting the banalities of a dull life in expressions such as, “I can’t go on like this. In the end we’ll all be dead”.

In the end the opera finished rather suddenly, and the Soul Mavericks break-dancers came on to thunderous applause. They were super. The whole production by Chinese opera expert Chen Shi-Zheng was delightfully colourful with bold set designs by Tom Pye, costumes by Han Feng, and excellent lighting by Scott Zielinski. As a co-production with the Bregenz festival it was first shown in July 2011, and the cast remained the same for this UK premiere.

Break-dancers

Emma Bell sang beautifully in the title role, and Jacques Imbrailo was wonderful in the relatively small role of Simon, the attractive man she leaves with at the end. Noah Stewart was very fine in the role of Hassan, the owner of a Kebab shop whose business is destroyed by the break-dancers, Andrew Watts sang the counter-tenor role in the rather shadowy character of fate, and Anne-Marie Owens sang well as Donna the owner of a Laundromat.

A mixture of soap opera and fairy tale, the story lacks narrative drive, and the clouds of mellifluous music lack a cutting edge. The saving grace is the very effective staging, with Paul Daniel in the orchestra pit doing his best to inject life into an otherwise unimpassioned score.

Performances continue until March 28 — for details click here.

The Death of Klinghoffer, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2012

29 February, 2012

This opera has sparked controversy at its first staging in London. Why?

All images by Richard Hubert Smith

The essential story is that in 1985 an Italian cruise ship at dock in Alexandria was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists, who seem to have had a confused idea about freeing prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of the people on the cruise were away at a tour of the pyramids, leaving mainly women and children on board, along with a 70-year old American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer in a wheelchair. The terrorists ended up negotiating some kind of deal for landing the ship in Syria after shooting Klinghoffer in the back and dumping him and his chair overboard.

Klinghoffer and wife

The opera itself, created by John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman, serves to remind us of an unedifying spectacle in the recent history of terrorism, and the anti-semitic remarks made by the Palestinians surely do not reflect the opinions of either composer or librettist. The production by Tom Morris, with sets by Tom Pye, hews closely to the concept embodied in this creation, but does the whole thing work?

Five years ago I saw a rather lovely Adams opera called  A Flowering Tree, based on an old Tamil story, a far cry from the days when he went out of his way to tackle political issues. Nixon in China was wonderful, and Klinghoffer and Dr. Atomic have been acclaimed by some. Part of the problem with Klinghoffer may be that Alice Goodman delivered her libretto in pieces, the choral parts first, and as a result the whole work is structured around six choruses, making it a cross between an oratorio and an opera.

The choral pieces are conceived in pairs, like the days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis where days 1, 2, 3 are paired with days 4, 5, 6. Here though the first pair, the chorus of Exiled Palestinians and chorus of Exiled Jews, comes in the Prologue. The Ocean chorus and the Night chorus end scenes 1 and 2 of Act I, and their counterparts, the Desert chorus and the Day chorus end scenes 1 and 2 of Act II.

Conducting by Baldur Brönnimann brought out the beauty of these choral passages, which form the musical strength of this work, and some of the solo performances came off well, particularly Alan Opie as Klinghoffer. Richard Burkhard gave a strong performance as the principal terrorist and Jesse Kovarsky did a nice dance number to complement his singing as another terrorist, but the strength of Adams’ creation is musical rather than theatrical.

Jesse Kovarsky in the dance number

Video projections by Tom Pye helped this rather static opera, sometimes showing the wake of a moving ship, sometimes the background to the choruses, and perhaps a semi-staged version in somewhere like the Festival Hall would work well too. But certainly the production fitted the opera, unlike the Rusalka now playing at Covent Garden.

Performances continue until March 9 — for details click here.

Eugene Onegin, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2011

13 November, 2011

This new production by Deborah Warner, a joint venture with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, goes for big spaces. In Act I a huge barn, in Act II a big hall for the party and broad winter scene for the duel, and in Act III vast pillars reaching upwards for the ballroom, and later outside the mansion for Tatyana’s final rejection of Onegin.

Carefree days: Tatyana and Olga, all images Neil Libbert

These spaces were filled with some excellent singing. Toby Spence as Lensky was so good, both vocally and in his stage presence, that he seemed to be the main character during the first two acts. Then in Act III, Brindley Sherratt sang an outstanding Prince Gremin — it doesn’t get any better than this. Adrian Thompson was a fine Monsieur Triquet, Claudia Huckle a delightful Olga, and Amanda Echalaz as Tatyana came good in the final scene after an uneven performance during the first two acts. As Onegin himself, Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen sang with feeling, but his stage presence was disappointing. Presumably the director wanted to portray him in a kindly light when he rejects Tatyana’s letter, but without the haughtiness early on it’s difficult to appreciate his comeuppance in Act III, and with his lack of insouciance at the party scene when he whisks Olga round the dance floor, it’s hard to appreciate why Lensky would lose his rag.

Lensky confronts Onegin

The party scene was delightful, with kids and kitchen staff joining in the fun — this is after all in the countryside — and the ball scene in Act III was stunning. Kim Brandstrup’s choreography, led by professional dancers, added a great sense of style to the occasion, and the lighting by Jean Kalman showed principal figures clearly at the front of the stage, while those towards the rear appeared as if in a slight mist — very clever.

Lensky and his second await Onegin

I liked the front-drops during the orchestral preludes, and found Tom Pye’s sets very effective. The barn in Act I served as the place where Tatyana wrote her letter, starting at a table but moving to the floor. Yet it was odd that she scribbled almost nothing — it’s an impulsive letter, but long, so this rendered the scene less effective.

Conducting by Edward Gardner brought to life what is Tchaikovsky’s most gripping opera, and the chorus were superb.

Tatyana, Gremin and Onegin

Altogether this is a wonderful new production by the ENO, and the visual effects were so good that the audience spontaneously applauded the ball scene as the curtain opened for Act III.

Performances continue until December 3 — for details click here.