Category Archives: royal opera house
Guess who’s back? (Early) Handel opera on the main stage of the ROH! What was it, only about 10 years since last we had one of longtime London resident’s operas grace the acoustics of the main hall?
Nevermind, ROH has not only poshed up to high heavens – if it ever needed such a thing1 – but has hit a big win with those who have long known that staging Handel doesn’t have to be tedious. One didn’t have to look farther than ENO, who’s been running brilliant Handel productions for years. All you need to know is that this Kosky riotous fun is giving that “mamazing” Richard Jones Rodelinda I always rave about a run for its money. Clearly these two are the best Baroque opera directors of the moment.
Agrippina: Joyce DiDonato
Nerone: Franco Fagioli
Poppea: Lucy Crowe
Ottone: Iestyn Davies
Claudio: Gianluca Buratto
Pallante: Andrea Mastroni
Narciso: Eric Jurenas (covered last night?)
Lesbo: José Coca Loza
Conductor: Maxim Emelyanychev | Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Director: Barrie Kosky
Drop what you’re doing and go see it. If/when your local cinema shows it, get your ticket now. For those who like their mezzo power amped up, the Met is going to stage it (
run this production? See comments, it’s McVicar’s production from La Monnaie that is going to the Met. You should still see the Met broadcast, it’s a good team there as well) with the always suitable Kate Lindsey as Nerone2 and they’ll broadcast it. If there’s one Met broadcast you need to see, this is going to be it.
Kosky has already hit fabulous Handel heights with his Glyndebourne Saul, so this didn’t necessary come as a surprise. It was more what’s he going to do this time? Well, this is a very restrained production, both for him and for ROH. The focus is sharply on characterisation and character interaction, with a (current ROH favourite) rotating cube with various rooms as backdrop. Every character has their well defined personality and they interact like they’re supposed to, whilst at the same time use park and bark for our benefit (so that we can hear what they’re singing – big house, light voices = park and trill).
If you’ve seen Kosky comedies you know his humour ain’t subtle. Then again, neither were these particular Romans. But he’s good at what he does and even though it maybe cheap, it’s never stupid. The costumes range from really beautiful (for the women) to understandably blingy-ridiculous (Nerone) and midlife crisis-ridiculous (Claudio).
The singing is ROH level tops, with JDD and Crowe as big standouts and Davies in close pursuit. Fagioli’s diction is as garbled as ever (even from closer) but I think we’ve all agreed that this is what it is. Handel’s Nerone is definitely his role, though, and if you’re going to see him in a staged opera, I heartily suggest it’s this one. He can negotiate Come nube (aka, Come nembo from Il trionfo…) at proper pace and if you don’t mind super pressurised emission, you’re going to be happy with his rendition. Emelyanychev, of course, cradles him in a cocoon of sotto playing from Baroque-subtlety veterans Opera of the Age of Enlightenment.
JDD has always appealed to me in Baroque roles and Agrippina is no exception. She has the stage presence to carry the title role and her Pensieri and Ogni vento (with the fun improvs) were as good as anything. At this point in her career she’s mastered many styles and when you hear her in Baroque you don’t think Rossini, which is a very fine feat. So after a very stark Pensieri sung on a bare (and soul baring) stage, we had Ogni vento staged as the big moment of a consummate pop star (complete with sparkly microphone, poses, direct interaction with the public). It’s pretty trendy these days to give nods and/or poke fun at pop star moments but in the productions that I have seen it used it has worked. It fits here too, especially considering breaking the fourth wall is one of the pillars of this very self aware libretto. And it also makes sense Ogni vento (aka, whatever it takes) gets this treatment, because it’s Agrippina’s biggest moment of honesty for someone who’s genuinely dishonest.
After the Madrid Rodelinda, we know to expect good things from Lucy Crowe in Handel roles. And I’m pretty sure she loves this rep, because her enthusiasm at embracing Poppea’s many moods and scheming (complete with fabulous phrasing) was infectious.
And, yes, T, S’agita in mezzo all’onde is called Vaghe perle here 😉 and is sung by the soprano. Let’s not forget Papa Handel was very young (24) and when he got this Venetian3 commission only a year after Aci, Galatea and Polifemo, so no wonder he immediately rushed to his stash of “greatest early hits” and plundered like there was no tomorrow (there probably wasn’t).
Incidentally, for those who may not know but read this blog, Aci & friends played at Wigmore Hall in very fine company the night of the ROH Agrippina premiere. Yours truly made the wise decision to attend that first (in very fine company, on, off stage and backstage). I also think that bit I really like from La resurezzione is also mixed in here. Though I may be wrong about this one… but it was written the previous year.
If you go to see one of the Nerone-related operas in the big UK houses, your chance at getting a Iestyn Davies Ottone are 99% or higher 😉 That being said, if we’re denied a contralto (as originally written for), he’s a very good alternative and was in top voice. Ottone, as ever, is parked in Lament City but he’s assigned that beautiful Crede l’uomo aria from Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno.
So, like I was saying, Emelyanychev conducted, because this is ROH and if they’re going to have Baroque opera for their main course, they are wise enough to invite music people to match the poshness of their lobby. In other words ❤
He’s like the Currentzis for the discerning audience – all the subtlety of dynamics, none of the whiplash or boxing of singers in between two bouts of interpolated extraneous choruses. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is always wonderful to hear, lucky us here in ye olde (soon to be ye lost in the Atlantic), but I have to say that I have never heard (really, NEVER) better period trumpet interventions. Wow. Whoever you are, you have absolutely ruled last night. Not to say that the oboes, strings or double basses weren’t great. Or, indeed, the fine cembalo playing from Maestro and Steven Devine. The whole sing rocked, the house was full and the laughs were genuine. Can we have more Baroque at ROH now?
PS: Emelyanychev’s cembalo is truly beautiful 🙂 I sat on the horseshoe and looked at it all night.
- turns out it did. T, upon visiting ROH for the first time last week has declared the new and improved ROH the poshest opera house ever. Dehggi: but what about Munich? T: yes, but this is modern posh. So there you have it, the new posh. Not just the finest names in classical music, also the coolest opera lobby experience. ↩
- how she’s going to cope with Come nube I am very curious, after her “expanded horizons” stint as the other Nerone. Which is what I’m trying to get at: I hope exposure to this Nerone will bring more attention to her Monteverdi Nerone, her best role to date in my opinion. ↩
- for the theatre now called Malibran, which we mostly love, minus the humongous moon 😉 from last year’s Orlando. ↩
Small town mentalities, mother-in-law from hell + traditional woman’s role (aka, guilt over even existing) = the river Volga looks mightily inviting.
Katerina (Katya): Amanda Majeski
Boris Grigorjevic (the lover): Pavel Cernoch
Marfa Ignatevna Kabanova (Kabanicha): Susan Bickley
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Vána Kudrjáš: Andrew Tortise
Tichon Ivanyc Kabanov (the husband): Andrew Staples
Glaša: Sarah Pring
Savël Prokofjevic Dikoj: Clive Bayley
Kuligin: Dominic Sedgwick
Fekluša: Dervla Ramsay
Conductor: Edward Gardner | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones
Doesn’t sound like the kind of opera I’d rush to see but Janáček’s libretti are always worth your while (it’s 1921, after all, not 1840). The story is repugnant on all levels yet somehow the way it’s told does not insult the contemporary Western intelligence. It also helps that it’s directed by Richard Jones.
As you can imagine with Jones at the helm, whatever humour there is (and, surprisingly, there is) gets a very evident and effective treatment. That’s very welcome (and clever for those who have hired him) because otherwise this opera is as depressing as those facepalm gems Lucia di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. (I’m aware both are actually sympathetic to their heroines but it doesn’t make it any better; we still have these self-sacrificial role models perpetuating the mentality that you either conform or die, no matter how much we all think you’re actually a decent person).
Normally I’d roll my eyes at the MIL from hell trope, because it portrays (older) women in that ugly, mysoginistic manner etc. On the other hand, traditionally, Eastern European MILs do tend to be overly protective of their perfect progeny and very distrustful of anyone they ever date, let alone marry, because who could ever be good enough for their genius babies, right? The tendency to insert themselves in the young ones’ marriage is a reality. Another reason I put my eyeroll back on its shelf was because the way the libretto treats this – here overblown – state of affairs is very funny. The MILzilla (Kabanicha) wastes no time before starting with her complaints. To say she’s unrealistic, uncooperative, implacable or childishly jealous of her daughter-in-law doesn’t even start to cover the extent of her tantrum (the role of Kabanicha is an extended tantrum that puts the Queen of the Night to shame).
Some gems from the libretto:
Kabanicha (to her son): you love your wife more than you love me!
Kabanicha: what if she had a lover?
Tichon: but she doesn’t!
Kabanicha: but what is she did?
Tichon: … I’d still love her.
Kabanicha: you’re a moron!
Kat’a: why must you go [to Kazan Market]?
Tichon: because Mum said so. [Kabanicha: if you really loved your Mum, you’d go to Kazan Market.]
Kat’a: must you go? I feel something terrible is going to happen to me if you go.
Tichon: yes, if only to get away from here.
Kat’a: take me with you!!!
On the other hand, the hard done by Kat’a gets a really beautiful aria from which we learn of her lofty imagination and her (sadly very repressed) adventurous spirit. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town knows that the only place imagination and adventurousness gets you is in trouble. Small towns thrive on conformity and propriety (although we also soon learn that the staunchest uplholders of those qualities are also very hypocritical).
So for having a “fairytale” MIL and a downtrodden daughter-in-law, paired with benevolent but ineffective men (Kat’a’s husband, Tichon, and her lover, Boris), the libretto is unexpectedly balanced by the existence of a second young couple (the sidekicks), Varvara and Vána. Vána is a scientist and Varvara is a right on sister, who willingly assists Kat’a with her issues and tries to cheer her up, offering a lighter, more pragmatic view of the world. This couple is quite clearly pitted against the Behold God’s wrath! old skool mentality, embodied by Dikoj (Boris’ cantakerous uncle) and Kabanicha. This happens during the storm scene, when Vána and Dikoj face off (to humorous effect) over “what is a storm?” So the future is yet bright (Vána and Varvara go together to Moscow, where we all hope their enterprising personalities will help them thrive).
For whatever reason, the couple Kat’a and Boris is much less successful. Probably this has something to do with the dying class – nobility, undone by the limitations propriety and the rest of that stylised form of existence puts on its healthy development.
I’m not familiar with the music enough to make extensive comments, but I will say that the singers were supported with care by Gardner and the interventions by various winds and brass sounded particularly good. In the title role we had Amanda Majeski, who has so far been known to me only as Vitellia to JDD’s Sesto way back in 2014 (Chicago). Live she made a very good impression on me, both vocally and dramatically. I wouldn’t mind hearing her Vitellia again 😉 even though these two roles are as far from each other as it gets. It’s that kind of nicely rounded soprano voice that has various colours to work with and she knows how to handle it.
As far as acting, she was completely immersed in this sad role and shone in the aria I mentioned above, where Kat’a talks about her dreams of soaring above the drab and stifling world1 she lives in. This appears to have been her ROH debut, and I hope to see her again in some interesting roles, mind. Please, ROH, don’t bury her in the same old. And if we can have Tito back at ROH sometime in the next decade, I’m definitely not going to be one to complain 😀 In any case, she got a very warm welcome in the house and the word on the street is equally as positive. Welcome to London 🙂 With Brexit looming, we might end up welcoming a lot more American singers of this calibre… that would be the good side of things.
The others did well, too, of course especially Bickley, who chewed scenery with the best of them as the self-righteous busybody Kabanicha. As unpleasant an cliche as it is, she made the role quite hypnotic in its small-town diabolique manner.
: The last scene was – totally unexpected – the most Russian thing I’ve seen on an English stage (true, I have not seen many Russian things, but I have seen Jones’ decidedly un-Russian 2016 Boris Godunov, one of his less successful productions, as far as I’m concerned). The spirit seemed just right to me (the main trio: Tichon holding the dead Kat’a, with Kabanicha tugging at them).
It was an evening equally as rewarding as it was frustrating, which is a good thing if you’re relaxed enough to put up with 😉 Jones has been on a roll for a few years now, so I would suggest you don’t miss his productions if you’re a fan of good theatre. But dress lightly, especially in the Upper Amphi; the heaters are on full blast.
This was my first return to ROH after it has completed its refurbishment of the Amphitheatre lounge. They have done a very good job integrating it with the rest of the ROH design, congratulations. It’s swanky but not obnoxiously so. After my travels around Europe, I think it’s still got the coolest lounge areas of all the major theatres.
- Two men to my right were discussing – somewhat mockingly – the cheap looking beige panneling that was the constant background to the proceedings. I was a bit surprised that it needed explaining. For my part, Jones’ ideas and Antony McDonald designs were spot on and smoothly clear at every turn: the hippie young couple proclaiming nature was beautiful, the “squares” with their ’50s style clothes and furnighings etc. ↩
… doesn’t do it with Pikovaya Dama.
The Queen of Spades review – Herheim puts Tchaikovsky centre stage for stimulating frustration
2 / 5 stars 2 out of 5 stars.
[Herheim} is not half as interested in the story of Pushkin’s novella and Tchaikovsky’s opera as he is in the story of Tchaikovsky himself. In fact, forget Pushkin; this is all about Tchaikovsky. The composer was the toast of musical Russia; he was also a depressive, a gay man who had a breakdown following a disastrous marriage, someone who could plausibly have drunk the cholera-infected water that killed him in full awareness that it was contaminated. Knowledge of all this is crucial to understanding the next three hours on stage, and Herheim concedes us a few projected lines of explanation at the very start.
Herheim has projected Tchaikovsky into the character of Yeletsky, the dull old prince who offers heroine Liza love and security only for her to gamble her honour and sanity on flaky antihero Gherman instead.
brandishing glasses half full of iridescent cholera water.
Yeletsky is normally a bit part, singing little except one of Tchaikovsky’s most ravishing arias – how beautifully Tchaikovsky wrote for the boring men in his operas, and how he must have craved ordinariness for himself!
miming away at the piano like some 19th-century version of Animal from The Muppets, or disrupting any intimate scene between other characters.
The Royal Opera has not recently been a stranger to stagings about operas rather than of them: Barrie Kosky’s Carmen was a breath of fresh air.
Eva-Maria Westbroek’s soprano misses the ideal innocence for Liza, and Aleksandrs Antonenko sings Gherman with a scything tenor that’s a blunt instrument, too often veering off pitch.
and Felicity Palmer, mesmerising as the Old Countess. If this is indeed this remarkable singer’s last stage role, it’s a fittingly memorable one.
You may or may not know, but for the past few years all of late December has been family time chez dehhgi. So now that New Year is being celebrated at the ancestral home, yours truly gets involved in food preparation. Due to a fluke (a less adventurous one than the setting up of the 2017 Christmas tree 😉 ), we ended up cooking all we wanted to cook yesterday, leaving quite a bit of thumb twiddling time for today, just right for a recap of what I took part – and what I skipped or missed – in 2018.
I think the right word for 2018 is fabulous, in its glamorous connotation – Venice, Salzburger Festspiele and lots of Glyndebourne, with notable stops in Halle and at the Bremen Music Fest, all of which spawned wonderful memories from meeting up with you, gentle reader, for some rocking performances (and a certain odd production). I think I may also start paying rent at Wiggy, since from the below list it looks like I went there at least once a month, with the notable exception of August, festival month.
Hope to see you at a theatre near you (or me) in 2019 😀 though what is on at the usual places does not look quite as exciting as before. Then again, there were some things this year I did not know I was going to see until closer to the time…
11 Sonia Prina | Wigmore Hall – a good way to start the year, right?
17 Salome | ROH
21 Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria | Roundhouse – I like this January Monteverdi fixture every couple of years. After we are done with the rep, can we start over?
23 Classical Opera (Mozart’s 1768) | Wigmore Hall
25 Anna Bonitatibus and friends | Wigmore Hall
27 Anna Bonitatibus | Wigmore Hall – I did not write about it because she did not sing from En travesti and I was a bit underwhelmed by her choices. But, of course, she is wonderful 🙂
31 Angelika Kirchschlanger | Wigmore Hall
4 Adrian Behle | Wigmore Hall
5 Golda Schultz | Wigmore Hall
English Concert (Buxtehude) | Wigmore Hall – I was sick for the rest of the month, along with Mum (who was visiting…) and one of my cats. Not the best of times chez dehggi by a very long shot.
26 Les Talens Lyriques | Wigmore Hall
13 Rinaldo | Barbican – quite the letdown, aside from Pisaroni as Argante. Both Davies and Harvey did much, much better at Glyndebourne later in the year.
14 From the House of the Dead | ROH
Christine Rice / Rebecca Evans | Wigmore Hall
22 Esther | Wigmore Hall – this year most of the festivals happened elsewhere. This was the only London Handel Fest performance I saw and in the end I did not write about it. Not the best Handel I have seen, I would say, though for sure nowhere near the worst.
26 D’Odette | Wigmore Hall
5 Haim /
Crebassa / Desandre / Devieilhe | Wigmore Hall – yes, this happened. Do not ask me details, as I cannot remember much, beside enjoying the deft playing of the band that did not need extra fireworks. The same Desadre that wowed me in Salzburg did not do much for me here. Perhaps I was bummed Crebassa bailed on me us?
7 Dido and Aeneas | Wigmore Hall
19 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice
21 Orlando furioso | Teatro Malibran, Venice – this was such a fun trip, I do need to write about it again.
24 Matthias Goerne | Wigmore Hall
1 Sonia Prina / Vivica Genaux | Wigmore Hall
3 Mauro Peter | Wigmore Hall
4 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall
6 Royal Academy | Wigmore Hall
16 Hannigan Masterclass | Linbury Studio
21 Sara Mingardo / Francesca Biliotti | Wigmore Hall
24 Lessons in Love and Violence | ROH – it did spawn some interesting ideas (about love and violence) which in the end did not coagulate into a post. I kinda wish I had persevered but sometimes where there is a lot on the roster it is not easy to get your mind disciplined about something you do not particularly enjoy as such.
27 Simon Keenlyside | Wigmore Hall
4 Franco Fagioli | Barbican
5 Stephane Degout | Wigmore Hall
9 Arianna in Creta | Konzerthalle Ulrichskirche Halle Handelfest – after a couple of years of feasts, we have missed Hallenberg in London, so this was an awesome treat.
13 Jakub Jozef Orlinski | Wigmore Hall
15 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – THE Glyndebourne Cesare! With overseas friends! A good metaphor for blogging about opera, right?
17 Ian Bostridge | Wigmore Hall
Christine Rice Julien Van Mallaerts | Wigmore Hall
19 Der Rosenkavalier | Glyndebourne
23 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and again 😀
2 Veronique Gens | Wigmore Hall
6 Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall – that was the week of fabu French singers and I did not write up on them. For no fault of theirs, they were wonderful as usual in their light and sophisticated way. I was absolutely rotten lazy/tired in July, as you can see by the lack of activity below.
Felicity Palmer | Wigmore Hall
15 JPYA | ROH – yes, I went again but I did not write, although I had an absolutely hilarious seatmate, very much up my own alley in spirit. The show itself was a bit underwhelming this year, cannot say anyone stood out for me, hence the lack of commentary.
18 L’ange de Nisida | ROH – if no one produces La favourite around here, at least we got its previous incarnation.
20 Giulio Cesare | Glyndebourne – and the third time, now with the London Crew. It was a very fun (although overcast) day, and the post is half written. I swear I was so tired and a bit out of it in July that I am afraid I came off stand-offish to those who know me less, though it was by no means the case.
22 Pavol Breslik | Wigmore Hall
27 Saul | Glyndebourne – such a fun production! For some reason, a Chinook flew over the gardens. They give me the heebie-jeebies.
1 Pelleas et Melisande | Glyndebourne
12 L’incoronazione di Poppea | Salzburger Festspiele (Haus fur Mozart) – yes. At least nobody got clever with the musical content.
8 La Iole (Porpora) | Theater Oldenburg – my first live encounter with the wonderful Iervolino – and with a Porpora work in its entirety. If you are asking yourself Oldenburg what? this was part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018, which is kind enough to spread around the region instead of allowing the city to hog all the events. Another take on the Hercules/Dejanira story, this centres on the woman with whom he is cheating on her. The cosy Theater Oldenburg lavished its audience with a cast of top young singers in excellent form – Iervolino (Dejanira), Aspromonte (Iole) and Renato Dolcini (Ercole). It is a short (but fun) work but all three really got into it with much gusto and the audience loved it. I liked Aspromonte here much better than in Vivaldi.
10 Dorothea Roschmann | Wigmore Hall
Marianne Crebassa / Mass in B minor | Löningen – also part of the Bremen Music Festival 2018. As you can see, Crebassa remains elusive to me, but the Mass in B minor is a lovely work and the choir did a good job.
19 Masterclass Sarah Connolly | Wigmore Hall – cannot tell you why I never finished this post, I was even well rested by then.
Sandrine Piau | Wigmore Hall
17 Porgy and Bess | ENO
Karina Gauvin | Wigmore Hall – annoyingly, I was under some rough weather in October and missed these two fine ladies due to horrible head colds.
25 Semiramide | Teatro La Fenice – back to Venice 😀 and more Iervolino! Excuse me if I simply love the woman, she is cute as button here. She also sings rather well 😉
26 Serse | Barbican
2 Marie-Nicole Lemieux | Wigmore Hall
19 Roberta Invernizzi | Wigmore Hall – the show that caused me to pick up a guitar (and make some noise)!
11 Lucy Crowe | Wigmore Hall
It started yesterday, whilst I was merrily lounging in bed but I still got tickets to the Queen of Spades and Kat’a Kabanova at leisure just now. Kat’a is especially cheap (Queen is not). Here‘s the rest of your options.
So after that somewhat Pelleas at Glyndebourne, Herheim comes to ROH for the Queen of Spades, whilst it’s up to dehggi favourite Richard Jones to tackle Kat’a, which also sees Amanda Majeski’s debut at ROH. Very curious about this.
What with everything, I missed the Gen Sale for the return to Wagner at ROH (oh, no!). The Ring Cycle is back this Autumn, with Pappano at the helm. I may look up returns for Stemme’s sake (aka, best intentions). Otherwise, we have the following:
Solomon in concert with Zazzo in the title role
Verdi’s Requiem with Jamie Barton and Stoyanova; sold out at this point
Simon Boranegra… for those of strong Verdi constitution (but where there is Wagner, there is also Verdi and there will be another production for the hardcore Verdians soon; an opera we know and I love to make fun of, because a recent new production at ENO clearly was not enough)
The Queen of Spades = must not forget
Traviata for the casual goer – it’s still the much loved production
Katya Kabanova – I’ll probably go
Così returns but don’t count me in
Insights Masterclass with soprano Angel Blue who’s doing a stint of Traviata this season
La forza del destino 😉 yep, that one, in Loy’s vision; with Trebs and the Alvaro of our times
Faust – hm, I might go, see how Damrau is holding up, PLUS it’s got Abrahamyan in her ROH debut (!) as Siebel (let’s all lament the fate of very good mezzos). On the downside, Ettinger conducts.
Billy Budd conducted by Ivon Bolton – the all male cast opera, let’s check it out…
Andrea Chenier – NOT with the Alvaro of our times but with Alagna and Radvanovsky! How can we resist that offer?!
Tosca with Opolais/Grigolo/Terfel but the last show brings Draculette back to her rightful territory so yay for those who care.
Boris Godunov still with Terfel but without Ain Anger; so soon? Maybe because they were short of money for a new production…
Carmen, because we’d already missed her, this time with Margaine, and Pisaroni as Escamillo, ha!
Figaro after a couple of seasons, because there are only 3 operas and 1/2 by Mozart; this is the season with Kimchilia Bartoli as Cherubino but also unusually with Gerhaher as Figaro plus Keenlyside as the Count. You know it might actually be worth revisiting and weirdly enough, for the men.
La fille du regiment returns once more, now with Devieilhe, and Camarena will show us his 3283576 high C in a row. Then again, Pido conducts.
In conclusion, some interesting turns but generally a rather meh year ahead for yours truly’s taste.
La damnation de Faust – a Richard Jones production, so it could be much fun
Rusalka – nah
Il barbiere – see below
Die Zauberflote – I’ll have to see it at some point, don’t know that this is that point; however, Agathe, David Portillo is Tamino 😉
Cendrillon – usually a spectacular mezzo-mezzo borefest, now with DeNiese and the ever trouserable Kate Lindsey; I mean, they had to make up for the music…
Rinaldo with DeShong in the title role. A bit of a strange choice IMO, but to be honest I have not heard her live and in Handel to boot. I was proven wrong before.
The crucial question here is: does the world need another Donizetti opera?
The very next one: was it fun?
The answer to the first question will vary greatly even within the belcanto community, seeing as how Donizetti was more prolific than his other two best known belcanto brethren and many of his operas are still popular. In a very general way1, I actually like the story of La favorite so I could very well stand this one.
Sylvia: Joyce El-Khoury
Leone de Casaldi: David Junghoon Kim
King Fernand of Naples: Vito Priante
Don Gaspar: Laurent Naouri
THE Monk: Evgeny Stavinsky
Conductor: Mark Elder | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Old Mature codger: I can jolly well see why he recycled the music to this one.
Yea, me too – some of it is very entertaining (most of the choir bits, which I remembered from elsewhere and were really catchy in the way act I of Maria Stuarda is2) and the rest is easily listenable – to answer the second question.
I have a feeling its success was one part Donizetti and two parts Mark Elder, who’s long championed lesser known Donizettis, like Dom Sebastian. He obviously likes this kind of stuff and has a lot of fun with it, which in turn rubs off on the audience (or at least people like yours truly). He was great in alternating the melodrama with the funny and his communication with the soloists, orchestra and choir remarkable; aside from some arias in some need of editing (bad Donizetti!), the motion of the the ocean was bouncy and sprightly.
Here I have to stop and commend the choir. I’ve not always been ROH Choir’s biggest fan but they were on fire for this. I don’t remember when was the last time they were so into it, when everything sounded so easy and exciting. Excellent job, everyone.
For those who are more or less familiar with La favorite, this opera is its first – unlucky – incarnation (the sponsor went bankrupt and it was never performed – until yesterday in London). Unlike its later version, L’Ange de Nisida is less serious, in that it has a thoroughly comic character in Don Gaspar, the corrupt official. He starts like he means to go on with a rather complex aria of the same nature like Rossini’s Figaro or his own Dulcamara’s. I’m Don Gaspar and there’s nothing I can’t fix if the price is right. The chorus communicates with him during the aria, as he has brought them along to serenade l’ange of the title but then sends them off when he notices a new fish he could hook (the hapless tenorino, Leone).
Things go downhill from there but he never loses his enterpreneurial spirit, no matter how much those around him moan in belcanto anguish. That is to say, Leone (who loves l’ange aka Sylvia) and l’ange (aka Sylvia, who loves him back but oh, non! it’s not meant to be!) keep it old skool and struggle with love and honour for the majority of the opera’s 3 hours. The king wrestles with love vs authority (dude, like what atuthority? Gaspar and l’ange keep telling him what to do) and THE monk punishes everyone who has a semblence of fun on the island of Nisida (I kinda see where he’s coming from. He’s like a born again who went to Ibiza for a weekend), the choir keeps gossiping and judging the poor star crossed couple, even though we’re told (by them!) from the getgo that Sylvia has helped them out whenever their ships were tossed by the storm and their flocks in mortal danger.
There is a duet between the king and Sylvia, where she tears him a new one because he’s never made her an honest woman though he promised her he would (whatever did they teach young noble women about the ways of the world back then?). It is revealed during the opera that she’s a very honourable and concerned soul who just happens to be the king’s mistress – ye shalt not judge. Also hatas gonna hate. Alas.
Both her and Leonore in La favorite are a bit po-faced; I have to give it to Verdi (or Schiller?) that the coolest character of king’s mistress fame is Eboli. I mean she gets to be witty, seductive, evil and also grow emotionally by the end of the opera. These two are just kind of woe is me, love is not to be – though Oh, mio Fernando is a cool aria (not present here; also alas).
I’m really sad 1839 was so far removed from 1739, because we don’t get a ship tossed by the sea aria for Leone, even though that’s basically his story. It takes him about 3/4 of the opera to understand that he’s being used by all (perhaps not so much by Sylvia, who loves him but gets to despise him when he agrees to marry her in exchange for titles and money – although that’s not why he marries her, but, hey, if someone says do you want to marry the woman you love and get lots of money for the effort, too? – would you say no to that? – that’s just some ersatz melodrama so people end up thoroughly emotionally drained by act IV). It’s belcanto.
Start of Act IV Sylvia: I’m dying of sorrow.
End of Act IV Sylvia: oh, Leone, I love you but we can never be together.
Leone: why not? I love you too, we got each other! and that’s a lot – for love
Sylvia: because I’m dying of happiness. [dies]
Also in act IV: Leone is tired by all that happened that day (in the morning he gets the death penalty for dissing someone or something important, by lunch Gaspar and l’ange intervene for him and the king commutes his sentence (told you, he’s Mr Authority) – to married life 😉 – then Leone meets with l’ange and she tells him she loves him but can’t be with him, in the afternoon the king tells him to marry her and during the ceremony her realises she’s the king’s mistress and everyone shuns him for being dishonourable) and decides enough is enough and joins a monastery – and by the evening he’s ordained priest! I guess because THE monk – who keeps threatening with the Papal
Red Bull – knew his father and what’s a bit of nepotism if it’s for a god good cause?
So, yea, that’s the story. They really clean it up for La favorite but on the other hand Don Gaspar! Naouri was so much fun, I kept wanting Don Gaspar to make another scheming and shamelessly self serving appearance. He and Elder (and the choir) had the most fun of the night.
This was the first time I heard El-Khouri (though I had tix to see her and hubby in recital exactly a year ago but couldn’t go due to random illness). It was a curious experience and it took me the entire night to figure out what was going on. I came to the conclusion that she didn’t feel comfortable with the dramatic nature of this role – her voice felt strangled whenever she wasn’t singing coloratura, which was very good (same goes for diminuendo – beautifully executed, with technique and feeling). To me she felt so uncomfortable that it was hard to get much expression beside said ornaments. However, next to Naouri she had the most engaged stage presence, considering this was a concert performance.
Kim as innocent tenorino Leone was also a mixed bag, but rather because he is so young. Last year he was still part of ROH’s Jette Parker Young Artist programme and this was a big role for him. He had some utterly beautiful moments throughout the night, especially when called to sing piano and with feeling and he was wise enough not to push for schmalz. Donizetti and possibly grand opera is a good route for him, his voice is very well suited for Nemorino and that kind of haplessly plaintive stuff. We root for him, especially as he’s cute as a button! (I’m saying that as a good thing – if you got it, go for it, there are many cute and innocent roles for tenors). He’s not the most interactive actor, at least not in a non-scripted environment but he does look like he means what he sings.
Priante as the king seemed to me like his voice was a size too small for the role but otherwise I can’t say I have complaints. He does look like the kind of king this opera calls for and he was engaged, especially as the night progressed. Stavinsky as THE monk of the Bull was pretty menacing, though maybe give him another act and his monk would mellow quite a bit to get jamming with the locals.
It was a very entertaining evening and I’m sure Opera Rara recorded it, because there were plenty of mics on stage, so I think you will be able to listen to it, should you be inclined to indulge in yet another belcanto opera (where all the big moments end exactly the same). There is one more performance on July 21 and still plenty of (rather cheap) tickets, because it’s not Maria Stuarda, after all (or at least not all of it is).
- insofar as any story involving the other woman is concerned (though poor ange finds herself in the unusual situation of being the other woman to the ghost of the honest woman). I always enjoy seeing reviled characters/antagonists on stage. And in this case we have a bit of (sentimentalised) exploration of the question: would winning the social lottery make you happy? ↩
- probably because that’s where I heard at least some of them, ha. ↩
If you ever wondered how things were before this blog started, the answer is I still occasionally jotted down thoughts about shows. I thought I should bring these mini writeups here for the sake of completism. This one marks my very first time at the ROH – the rep may make stray smile 😉
Monday evening I went to see Nabucco here in freezing London (seriously, it’s April! whatever happened to the weather?! – exactly what could be said of 1 April 2018). Now I have mentioned before that I started liking Verdi only about 2 months ago and so far Nabucco is my favourite (unsurprisingly, as one of the most straight-up belcanto operas from the green one). I didn’t want to spoil my fun so I didn’t read anything about the production before going. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but apparently the production has mixed reviews. True enough, it is as static as they come – minimal acting, lots of singing to the public. But gorgeous singing for my balcony seat money! I also enjoyed the Berlin Holocaust Museum/monolith sets – intelligently making the link across time – as well as the wire sculptures of Baal and heads (Nabucco & daughters, as I read them). Add a sand pit and that’s it as far as sets go. Teensy bit more than the Noah’s Ark from Verona.
Singing: I’ve a fondness for badass, tough-as-nails, tough to sing roles and, good lord, how about that Abigaille? Whew! What a range on all levels and how wonderful to witness live when the singer can pull it off. Monastyrska did a hell of a job: yea, she projected, she dominated, in short, she chewed scenery but my favourite part was the way she managed the lyrical bits with that hefty voice (I found her top notes surprisingly pretty). Some control! Nucci also rocked the lyrical side, although I thought he didn’t let loose quite as much. But gorgeous voice acting, brought tears to my eyes. Everybody else (including Pizzolato (Fenena), whom I’ve enjoyed in other belcanto roles) sounded excellent.
Since my babbling was way shorter back then, you can read R. Christiansen’s take on the production (he, of course, saw one of the Domingo performances).
In the interest of journalistic balance, how about we tackle the season introduction interview with ROH’s new Head of Opera? (makes me think of gorgons)
‘One day all this will be yours,” I joke to Oliver Mears as we shake hands in the champagne bar at the Royal Opera House. It’s a stupid thing to say and I’m not quite sure what prompts it, except that Mears is so slight and vulnerable looking that you can’t quite believe he is already director of opera at this famous, glitzy, occasionally poisonous place.
British humour – this post will write itself!
His appointment in 2016 was greeted with surprise. He was just 37, the youngest head of opera in Covent Garden’s history, and he was jumping from the relative obscurity of Northern Ireland Opera, with a budget of £1m, to a house with a budget of more than £130m.
One humble pie coming right up!
He was given a warm welcome, he says, with music director Antonio Pappano and head of casting Peter Katona (a fixture at Covent Garden for 35 years)
The man we have to thank that certain names don’t seem to ever make it at ROH (or only rarely).
some of his fingerprints are already visible, in particular a production of Billy Budd directed by Deborah Warner that he has bought in from the Teatro Real in Madrid, and a Hansel and Gretel for Christmas that he hopes will tempt parents to bring their children to Covent Garden. “It’s not going to be set in a gas chamber,” he says when I suggest that some productions of this fairytale can be very dark. “That’s not the kind of show we’re after.”
Actually, being set in a gas chamber would make perfect sense… What kind of shows are you after, though? CT Cherubinos? Wait, that’s Katona’s choice.
Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera – one of the first of a series of shows conceived for young people and designed to counter “negative preconceptions” – has replaced another Holten production. Mears won’t say which, but it’s a fair bet it was seen as either too expensive or too likely to bomb at the box office.
Konigskinder, then. I mean why do something a bit off the beaten track when you can follow in the steps of Wiener Staatsoper?!
Negative preconceptions? Which operas cause said preconceptions? Will there be a ban on Puccini and Verdi, then? And how about the positive preconceptions? – like opera is lavish, we have a reason to dress up and have a nice meal in town, makes us look sophisticated to ouselves and among our peers etc.
I have to say as far as I’m concerned – even though it’s got a main trouser role – I dislike Hansel and Gretel (the opera; I like the fairytale, especially the part where the Witch is fattening Hansel up). I don’t know I’d’ve liked the music as a child any better. One of my top operatic faves as a kid was the Soldiers Chorus from Faust.
With Arts Council England, aware of accusations of being London-centric, reducing the ROH’s funding (cut by 6% in real terms in last year’s settlement), these are relatively straitened times. Covent Garden needs to be a little more frugal and, in these days of Brexit and Corbynism, a little more of the people.
Long Live Populism! Let’s cut arts’ funds from the other biggest opera house in the world and distribute the crumbs Up North! That’ll change things.
That may be one reason behind Mears’s appointment. He showed both in Northern Ireland and with the opera company he founded in his mid-20s, Second Movement, that he could demystify opera, appeal to all ages and build a community of opera-goers.
Too bad YNS is already busy at the Met, they’d make the perfect team to ensure the future of opera! On the other hand, it may be rather strategic having them both on each edge of the Atlantic at the same time. Securing opera from whales’ attacks?
On the last account, I have it on good authority there has always been a strong community of opera goers. Good luck mixing the different fandoms, though. It’s like asking Star Wars fans to hang out with Twilight enthusiasts.
(That thinking may also underpin the recent announcement that Stuart Murphy, who has spent his career in television, is to be chief executive of English National Opera – a decision that bemused the opera cognoscenti.)
That be the chap who’s an opera basic. Total brov and that. London = we to embrace populism.
Covent Garden will stage only five new productions in 2018-19, and only two of those will be produced in-house: Katya Kabanova directed by ROH stalwart Richard Jones, and Hansel and Gretel.
And that is because – wait for it –
Five new productions seems a bit thin, but Mears says the expense of reviving the Keith Warner production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for its final outing means less money for everything else.
😀 I’m not making this up! The connection across the opera-secured Atlantic is strong. So, more rehearsal time, then? I will be holding them to it.
Full as it is with revivals of tried-and-trusted productions – Tosca, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, La Fille du Régiment – the 2018-19 season feels a little conservative, with operas that will keep the box office where the opera house management likes it to be, at around 95% capacity.
As they were saying, he will demystify opera, appeal to all ages and build a community of opera-goers. Chop-chop.
Barrie Kosky’s controversial new production of Carmen will return in the new season. “We actually had someone heckle last night,” says Mears. “They stood up and said: ‘This isn’t Carmen; this is a scandal.’ People who haven’t liked it say: ‘You’ve ruined Carmen.’ But what does that mean? We don’t know what Carmen is.
They had one heckler? Shut the production down! But it’s nice that he’s defending core rep, shows he has complete ability in doing his job. Maybe if we all stand up in the middle of something and demand more Baroque he will reply to us in print. I mean how many seasons were “ruined” for us early opera lovers?
And whilst we’re at it, why haven’t we had Tito since 2002? Look at the other bastion of opera defence, the Met, they’re doing it every other year. We have Coote and Connolly as locals and JDD is here all the time, but somehow nobody thought about Tito.
Our job is to do something more than that – to dig deep and come up with work that generates an emotional reaction.”
Heckling is a start, I guess.
What we need to find is the golden area in the middle where we have practitioners who are able to give life to these operas
a person actively engaged in an art, discipline, or profession, especially medicine.“patients are treated by skilled practitioners”
Opera Doctor, now turning stuffy libretti into transformative gifts for a diverse community of opera-goers. Welcome back, Dulcamara! Show us the cure.
“commissions are the lifeblood of the art form,” he says – but adds that commissioning new work is also very expensive. “It’s very difficult in the current financial climate to commit to a brand-new commission every single season,” he says. More likely is that there will be a new commission every other year.
Introducing hibernation and/or opera austerity.
In 2013, Holten had announced to great fanfare four new commissions “inspired by the writings of philosopher Slavoj Žižek”.
Oddly, they have never been heard of again, and there is no sign of them being programmed. I ask Mears what happened. “Two have fallen by the wayside for different reasons,” he says. “The other two – by Turnage and Saariaho – are still in our long-term schedules.”
So basically you’re saying the other chap came up with an idea (among many), the idea didn’t materialise but look at us resurrecting it. Which is good, of course. But it was his idea.
He will also address gender diversity. The new season features only one female director, Deborah Warner, and two female conductors, Keri-Lynn Wilson and Julia Jones in Carmen. “It’s a long-term project and it’s going to take time,” he says.
Is it because of the rehearsals for the Ring?
The ROH will not follow the lead of the Proms and set quotas, but insists that the company does have firm targets and that a 50-50 gender split is the long-term aspiration.
How long are we talking? The next anniversary of women’s right to vote in this country?
Gender equality, audience diversity, countering negative preconceptions, putting opera back into the cultural mainstream – what an agenda. It will, as Mears says, all take time. But will he be given that time?