Category Archives: royal opera house
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. ↩
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.
Ulysse: Roderick Williams
Penelope: Caitlin Hulcup
Telemachus: Samuel Boden
Melanto: Francesca Chiejina
Eurymachus: Andrew Tortise
Iros: Stuart Jackson
Minerva: Catherine Carby
Shepherd: Matthew Milhofer
Conductor: Christian Curnyn | Early Opera Company and assorted chorus
Director: John Fulljames
In what has now become a very welcome dedication to the earlier repertoire, this January ROH has staged the second of the three Monteverdi operas, in an excellent English translation by Christopher Cowell. I didn’t feel at all deprived of Italian. For a more historically informed writeup please check Leander‘s.
Interestingly and quite like Willy Decker’s, Fulljames’ production also featured a rotating stage, this time with the orchestra in the middle pit rotating one way and the singers on an external donut rotating the other way. I guess this concept only makes sense what with this story often portrayed on ancient vases and/or to show the passage of time etc.
Though the orchestra was trv kvlt early music, cornetto and all, the team decided to introduce a chorus (made up of selected ROH Orchestra members and Guilhall students, if I remember correctly). In the queue to the loo after the event I overheard some comments that it was unnecessary but I enjoyed it a lot in the party numbers where they were used (I didn’t even know there were party numbers in Ulisse, side from what the pretenders sing; perhaps this was made up but it did not bother me one bit). I thought there was enough informed stuff what with the orchestra and the singers largely adhering to style so a bit of something else along the same lines of Monteverdi’s writing was a-ok.
Williams as Ulisse was wonderful, very affecting and light at the same time (in regards to his movements as well – Mum commented his dancing skills were tops). Now having heard a few Ulisses I liked his take better than Streit’s. I’m still undecided between him and Bostridge because both are great. I’m quite sure Streit was shortchanged by the orchestral forces behind him and possibly by the direction. This time everything was as it should be, with no singers ever having the force their way through the
harpsichord wall of sound or chance becoming unheard or simply powering through for no discernible reason.
I wasn’t convinced by Carby’s Minerva, whose voice sounded too large for the role for me. I understand the direction asked her to portray the boot and combat trouser, strong and scorned god but one still needs to vocally keep with the style of the piece presented. Unlike Leander, I enjoyed Chiejina’s Melanto a lot and did not hear her vibrato. I thought she did a wonderful job, the best I’ve heard from her so far, with attention to style, wit and youthfulness – and I really like her full (but not too full yet) tone and her tackling of trills. She was easily my favourite after Williams.
Hulcup, taking over the run at the last minute from Chistine Rice (who is on the DVD with Christie), has a genuine mezzo voice that’s not hard to enjoy. On the other hand, Penelope is a very difficult role – what with the constant lamenting – so one needs a lot of colour and to show an intrinsic knowledge of a wife’s tribulations. I didn’t feel either, though the moment she finally recognises Ulisse was well done and she and Williams blended in a lovely manner in the subsequent duet.
This was a very serious production with the comical side toned down considerably and the chorus standing in for stranded refugees. The rotating donut pulled Ulisse away from Penelope even as they sang the final, “happy-ending” duet, apparently in a thought provoking manner. It is perhaps my failing that my thoughts didn’t feel particularly challenged…
I loved it musically – especially concept-wise and in regards to Williams’ performance and liked most of others’ performances. Dramatically I’m not sure I got it all but you know I always enjoy a sparse design and am rather fond of rotating stages. The Roundhouse either has very good acoustics or something because, as with any round halls, the singers do turn around to sing to different sides and sometimes they have their back to you. There was sound muffling but minimally so. I also liked Minerva and Telemachus singing their duet whilst circling the stage on a tandem bike 😀 it provoke the thoughts of “look at what else opera singers have to do these days! Great cycling skills! Remember Rinaldo at Glyndebourne? And remember how Orfeo had to dangle from the ceiling in this very venue two years ago? What shall they have Poppea do in 2020?!”
ps: the ushers at the Roundhouse are ace! There was quite a bit of going out of one’s way observed by yours truly. Also the public was very congenial. Mum and I were in a lift with a bunch of ladies her age who all smiled at everybody. My Mum went what’s all that smiling about? All I could say was think first world thoughts, Mum.
what sticks in the mind above all is McVicar’s conception of Salome as a petulant pseudo-teen. She’s a riot of overwrought pouting, wheedling, sulking and foot-stamping. The gap between her mundane histrionics and her extraordinary desires could hardly be larger. – Flora Wilson for The Guardian
A pseudo-teen? Why, she’s supposed to be a
petulant teenager, n’est-ce pas? There is no gap between her histrionics and her desires! Going for the extreme version of anything is exactly what a petulant teen would do.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Salome. She finds Jokanaan interesting because her elders are so scared of him. And when she – literally – possesses him, she scores the supreme goal against her parents. That’s quintessentially adolescent 😀
Salome: Malin Byström
Jokanaan: Michael Volle
Herod: John Daszak
Herodias: Michaela Schuster
Narraboth: David Butt Philip
Page of Herodias: Christina Bock
Conductor: Henrik Nánási | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: David McVicar
This 2008 Salome is one of those good McVicar productions, it makes its point and doesn’t overdo anything. The stage has two levels but focuses on the lower tier, which is the seedy area underneath the banquet hall above, aka the dungeon. I liked that – at least from my seat in the gods (£19!) – you could only see the legs of those attending the banquet.
Hells, yea, that’s exactly what a girl like Salome would like, and she says that much when she descends: I like it here, it’s so breezy. I bet it was really stuffy upstairs.
I admit I didn’t get the dance of the seven veils scene, which was all intellectualised with no nudity whatsoever. In fact the nudity present in the production did not involve Salome at all. I don’t mind that, perhaps on the contrary. But I also don’t quite know what to say about the dance. With its threshhold and/or mirror it seemed to me like something having to do more with Herod’s boundaries rather than having us all part of the male gaze. If that’s what it was then good but I’m not sure; all of this is stuff I rationalised since, not something that hit me at the time.
But, as we all know, Salome’s interaction with Herod isn’t what makes this opera. Here Byström makes the boredom mixed with apprehension and uneasiness with Herod very apparent and comes alive (as Salome should) in her exploratory interactions with Jokanaan. He, rather than Herod, stands in for the unwavering, demeaning authority of the patriarchy, with his decrying of her mother’s debauchery and basically calling Salome an abomination by virtue of existing. She seems amused (and emboldened) by all this – as a teen would. She goes on to tell him she wants his various body parts and when he turns her down in disgust she says she hates the above mentioned body parts 😀 I don’t know about others but I remember those petulant reactions so well (and so fondly, now that I have just turned into a “respectable” 40 year old).
Salome herself gets the ax in the end (from supreme local authority Herod’s order) but it feels perfunctory. The bourgeoisie/parents/male authority (both secular and religious) has been dully riled up and the opera is named after her.
I’m not necessary a Malin Byström fan (my last encounter with her was as the Countess in Nozze, where she sang very well but came off very cold) but I liked her better here. Her embodiment of a willful teenager wasn’t bad from my faraway seat and her singing was good, her commitment even better. I guess I have a bit of a hard time warming up to her. Everybody else was good, no complaints from me, though not earth shattering. As far as Jokanaan, I really liked Samuel Youn a couple of years ago at the Proms and Michael Volle didn’t make a more interesting impression.
I loved Michaela Schuster as the Nurse in Die Frau ohne Schatten and so I was thrilled to have her back here, though Herodias does not require much vocally beside shrillness. She still did a great job as a woman living her frustrations with the patriarchy through her rebellious daughter whilst realising she’s lost any grip on her. Points to Christina Bock who looked really cute and miserable as Herodias rather conflicted (and possibly bisexual) page. I also liked John Daszak’s Herod, especially his acting, as a very sophisticatedly depraved Herod.
I didn’t quite get Henrik Nánási’s take, which was, in my opinion, low on drama. Perhaps, volume-wise, he let the singers come forward? But still there was the matter of tempi, which were super relaxed, especially in the dance of the seven veils (and that added to my confusion regarding that scene). The libretto is so edgy, you want the music to have some bite.
It was a good night, just short of great. There is a 2008 DVD of this production (different cast), if anyone wants to check it out (this run has just finished).
First Jew: Dietmar Kerschbaum
Second Jew: Paul Curievici
Third Jew: Hubert Francis
Fourth Jew: Konu Kim
Fifth Jew: Jeremy White
First Soldier: Levente Páll
Second Soldier: Alan Ewing
First Nazarene: Kihwan Sim
Second Nazarene: Dominic Sedgwick
Cappadocian: John Cunningham ↩
2017 was a busy opera year for yours truly, with plenty local outings as well as opera trips to Italy, Austria and Germany, and a return to Glyndebourne in style (3 out of 4 dates = sunny). I met old and new friends and even ran into a certain contralto on the street 😉 And then there was the Summer of Tito. Plus a couple of duds and misses… 😉
- Right and Left = from the audience’s viewpoint.
- Low to moderate prices = between £13 and £50
This is all based on my experience but I thought it might give a ROH newbie a bit of an idea about what to expect. I’ve sampled the following:
(right; JPYA 2014)
- lots of leg room
- excellent view of the action, possibly obstructed by taller people
(Figaro, Semiramide (left) and Ariadne (right))
- some sound muffling
- excellent view near the action, minus the blocked corner
- if you sit on the sides, you have your own surtitle board (or you can sneak a peak at the front row’s), as you can’t see the main one
- folding chair for a steep price
- good view
(right; many times)
- good to very good sound
- good view of the stage and orchestra, close to action
- leaning a must but the entire row does it (your arms will start hurting sooner or later)
- directors love that corner so you might miss some of the action
- very cheap (£9-£10 – perhaps not so cheap anymore, still under £20)
- high view point but good view, you can also peep behind the stage design
- bench with thin cushion
- very hot in the Summer, I couldn’t cope and had to leave
- good to excellent sound
- cheap to moderate prices (except for star studded productions)
- good to excellent view the higher you go (the highest I’ve been was row L); first row has view partially blocked by the railing unless you’re tall; second row has view partially blocked by people leaning in the front row; opera glasses recommended for catching facial expressions
- no leg room
- limited buttroom (you will end up very well acquainted with your neighbours on all sides but they tend to be a congenial bunch)
- can be hot in the Summer but not terribly so
Written on Skin had its premiere at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012 and ran at ROH in 2013 under the baton of the composer (so we can settle what the composer really wanted in this case). This month it had its first ROH revival, also conducted by Benjamin.
Though I’m not a contemporary opera afficionado I do enjoy keeping abreast at least partially with what’s being written these days. When I first heard it I didn’t like it; not because I found it unlistenable (it’s not); I just didn’t like the vibe. The lack of visuals didn’t help. I wasn’t going to see it this time around either although I really wanted to see Barbara Hannigan live in anything modern and when her date at Wiggy went MIA last Autumn I was at a loss. John suggested this was a good opportunity for just that so I booked a ticket. At £19 what’s one got to lose?
The Protector: Christopher Purves
Agnès: Barbara Hannigan
Angel 1 / The Boy: Iestyn Davies
Angel 2 / Marie: Victoria Simmonds
Angel 3 / John: Mark Padmore
Conductor: George Benjamin | Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
A co-commission and co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Netherlands Opera Amsterdam and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse
I know by now that there are operas you like just by listening to the music, others where you need visuals to spur you on and some yet that you might only appreciate if you get your arse into the designated space for this type of entertainment. This is one of them (for me). I liked the performance/production a lot; I was not bored for a moment but I don’t know that I’d rush to just listen to it again. I would go see it again but not tomorrow.
However I can see why some have really got into it – it’s got a lot going for it – especially the libretto, with its very compact/concise style, which somehow mixes a lot of poetry in and because of this interesting combo it’s actually rather difficult to discuss. Characters speak as themselves as well as the narrator, modernity and old skool attitudes alternate when you least expect it, as if past and present are running at the same time whilst people live and watch themselves do the act of living.
It is good to see women taking control of their lives in opera, even when the only control they can have is over their own death. Or maybe I’m a miser here, Agnes did have her fun before that. I also liked that she didn’t want to live a lie.
The production, with its interesting mix of modern and ancient, which in this case is as according to the libretto, fits the mood of the work perfectly. (When I was at uni I used to work in the library, where I got to see how books are mended/made. As a result I developed a slight fascination with the process so I was very pleased to see it play an important role in this production.)
I like stage designs that compartimentalise the space because those compartments speak for themselves. Here we had the house where the couple lives (ancient) and the space where the book about them is being written (modern), plus “the woods”, which in some ways is the space where wild things brew.
This is an opera that heavily relies on acting – voice (in many ways it’s an ode to the written/spoken word) and movement alike. The high quality of the production relied on the choice of performers, some of whom have created the roles1. Right off the bat Benjamin’s writing for the voice reminded me of lieder. I bet you this cast is worth hearing in recital as well. It was gripping word drama. Hannigan had the most intense role – a woman awakening to herself – and her highly charismatic stage presence was captivating even in this half-ethereal role but the men + Simmonds (reprising her 2013 ROH role) were all in high form as well.
With a libretto so strongly focused on words, you notice things like diction and pitch and Hannigan’s were both impressive. Agnes, who is quiet and meek (and illiterate) to begin with but very soon blossoms, emboldened by desire – desire to know the world both physically and intellectually – is a refreshing female role.
Davies as The Boy was in very fine voice and he had no problems making himself heard in the amphitheatre over the slender accompaniment, which makes me think ROH can accomodate Baroque/voice all right. The Boy is another interesting role, as he entirely supportive of Agnes on her journey to personhood, as opposed to The Protector (the husband), who’s basically a backwoods bigot, the type who wants his woman barefoot in the kitchen.
He does commission the book The Boy writes/draws about their righteous life (bigots are usually righteous), which I guess means he’s interested in leaving a very good (albeit hypocritical) impression about himself to the rest of the world. So The Boy is somewhere between personal PR and investigative journalist, as he ends up digging the truth about the so-called righteous couple as is promptly assassinated. Purves as the villainous husband had just the right edge and the appealing lied-narration style fit his voice as well as his temper real well.
The performance ran for ~135min without an interval, save for a couple of breaks for scenery change, which the audience used to expel all the pentup coughing (an impressive amount, considering there were no extraneous noises during the performance; in fact the domino effect of dumping air via the mouth likely caused hilarity among the public). I often praise other houses for their atmosphere, but these breaks gave me the opportunity to remember just how enjoyable the ROH auditorium is as well. I do take it for granted and with good reason: it felt like an extension of my personal space.
- Purves and Hannigan. ↩
It’s that time of the year again, time to close up shop for the Summer at ROH (the weather yesterday suggested just that: don’t stay indoors!) but not before the annual Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance. Let me remind you I also wrote about the 2014 and 2015 JPYA Summer Performances.
If you read any given article about opera in the local papers you’re sure to run into comments like “cut the state funding, it’s entertainment for the rich”. That being the current attitude, the trend of using all purpose boards as stage design comes in handy once again. For our five opera excerpts we had the same boards passing as garden wall, hospital ward, art exhibit, bohemian hovel and party hall. I bolded the ones I thought worked best.
Since I’ve been very happy of late with minimal stage design I wasn’t bothered by the paucity of detail. The Summer Performance is about young singers getting experience singing on the main stage. Now the cast has already had more than one occasion to sing in ROH productions but they perhaps haven’t had to carry important scenes before.
A weird thing having to do with these boards (I guess?) was that whenever the singers were positioned further back (though never too far, as the boards split the depth of the stage in half of its usual size) or to the sides their voices sounded louder and more metallic. This was consistent for all of them and not something you normally hear at ROH.
Janáček: Kát’a Kabanová, Act II, scene 2
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Katěrina (Kát’a): Vlada Borovko
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Boris Grigorjevic: Samuel Sakker
Vána Kudrjáš: David Junghoon Kim
My experience with Janáček is limited to The Makropulos Case and The Cunning Little Vixen, neither of which has been a mainstay on my playlist but I have been left with a good feeling after each listen. Same here, the orchestral writing made a very positive impression on me. I have also enjoyed the (appropriatedness of the) folk tunes the servant characters have as basis for what they sing. David Junghoon Kim hammed it up with gusto as Kudrjáš and was my favourite in this scene.
The libretto, on the other hand, is so melodramatic! In this scene, married Kát’a and her hopeful suitor (Boris Grigorjevic) have barely said hello, I love you (let me jump in your game, as The Doors would put it) and she’s already omg, I have committed a great sin and I must suffer! Way to put the cart before the horses. Anyway, what they end up doing doesn’t much sound like suffering to me. Though I understand it’s all downhill from here. Thankfully we were spared that.
Though Maestro dug out quite a few interesting details, I thought his fs were too loud, having heard Wagner and Strauss in this very hall. He returned to this trend in further scenes but the singers competed well, though one would wonder how they’d have fared at that volume over a three hour opera.
Gounod: Mireille, Act IV aria
Conductor: Paul Wingfield
Mireille: Lauren Fagan
Weirdly enough I studied (excerpts? of) Mireille (the poem) in French class about, ahem, 20 years ago. Which means this is all I remember about it and only because the girl who “played” Mireille in class was cute. So I don’t know if having a still confused Mireille recovering from a suicide attempt makes sense with the story but this is what we got. Wiki says this about the scene:
Mireille, staggers in already tired, and dazzled by the sun, faints as she hears shepherd’s pipes in the distance. She makes a last effort to continue her journey.
The aria is about going on in spite of many setbacks and it contains religious references, so might as well. Fagan showed total commitment and some nice skills where dynamics were concerned. I’m not the biggest fan of her tone but her stage presence was strong.
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Act III, scenes 1 and 2 (excerpts)
Conductor: Jonathan Santagada
Tatyana: Jennifer Davis
Eugene Onegin: Yuriy Yurchuk
Prince Gremin: James Platt
Guests: Vlada Borovko, Lauren Fagan, Emily Edmonds, David Junghoon Kim, Samuel Sakker, Samuel Dale Johnson and David Shipley
As I was saying, the boards worked very well with this scene since it looked like the party was in a very contemporary (think Shoreditch) exhibition space. This is the scene where Prince Gremin sings praises to Tatyana (now his wife) which work a little too well on Onegin. It’s almost like he falls in love with her on the basis of Gremin’s appraisal alone (we could have a staging where Gremin is a car salesman, eh?).
Then there’s the scene where Onegin shows up at her house (I love it when this happens in opera, a character is thinking about someone in a very private space and somehow that very person comes out of the woodwork 😀 ) and professes his suddenly undying love to her. This gives her the opportunity to remind him how he’d rebuked her when she wasn’t fashionable and married to a rich man.
Before the show started we were told by Holten that Jennifer Davis (Tatyana) was under the weather but I didn’t particularly notice anything. Yurchuk as Onegin was appropriately moody but this year he didn’t stand out to me quite as much as last year as Michonnet.
James Platt (much enjoyed by me in previous outings, particularly as Caronte in last year’s L’Orfeo) was such a charismatic Gremin, he stole the scene(s). His rendition of the aria in praise of Tatyana ended up being my favourite thing of the afternoon. His tone lent itself beautifully to the aria, his phrasing was spot on and he seemed to relish singing it. He also looked like I imagined Gremin would.
Leoncavallo: La bohème, Act IV
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Mimì: Lauren Fagan
Musetta: Emily Edmonds
Marcello: Samuel Sakker
Rodolfo: Samuel Dale Johnson
Schaunard: David Shipley
Did you know Leoncavallo wrote his own version of this tearjerker? Well, I didn’t but he did. It’s a bit different (properly verismo, makes the libretto used by Puccini look like a bourgeois fantasy of poor artists’ life) but Mimì still dies. Samuel Dale Johnson as Rodolfo pulled out some proper Italianate pathos. I really enjoyed David Shipley’s Schaunard here, he was very good as comic relief and had a nice, even tone. The crap fast food grub he brings his friends was a nice touch.
Strauss: Die Fledermaus, Act II finale (excerpt)
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Rosalinde: Vlada Borovko
Adele: Jennifer Davis
Ida: Lauren Fagan
Prince Orlofsky: Emily Edmonds
Gabriel Eisenstein: Samuel Dale Johnson
Dr Falke: Yuriy Yurchuk
Colonel Frank: James Platt
Guests: David Junghoon Kim, Samuel Sakker and David Shipley
This was odd but then that party is one of the (if not the) weirdest parties in opera. As it was the closer, (most) everyone came on stage in their previous costume. Dead Mimì was pulled to her feet and Fagan became Ida without further ado. Then everybody paired up in more or less surprising ways, some of them not straight. It had an air of improv to it but the audience enjoyed the levity after so many dead serious scenes and such a comprehensive zoom through operatic languages.
It is the first time ROH has produced the original (1869) version. This production was a mixed bag for me. The biggest problem was that I didn’t feel the inherent “Russian-ness”. This isn’t the kind of general feel opera which you can transpose anywhere, any time and it feels timeless. This is “exotic” in the sense thst it deals with a very specific part of the world and very specific reactions to circumstances. It is timeless that way.
Boris Godunov: Bryn Terfel
Prince Shuisky: John Graham-Hall
Andrey Shchelkalov: Kostas Smoriginas
Grigory Otrepiev: David Butt Philip
Pimen: Ain Anger
Varlaam: John Tomlinson
Missail: Harry Nicoll
Xenia: Vlada Borovko
Yurodivy (Holy Fool): Andrew Tortise
Xenia’s Nurse: Sarah Pring
Hostess of the inn: Rebecca de Pont Davies
Mityukha: Adrian Clarke
Frontier Guard: James Platt
Nikitich: Jeremy White
Fyodor: Ben Knight
Boyar: Nicholas Sales
Conductor: Antonio Pappano | Choir and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Richard Jones
You have to sell The Pretender somehow. Grown men “forged in the heat of battle” end up shitting their fine linen when some 20 year old (The Pretender) announces he’s the murdered crown prince as he had not died after all, the sole explaination being “weird dreams” (his own). This kind of thing flies in parts of the world where people still trample each other queueing to touch saintly relics. Here in the West, though, this kind of experience isn’t readily available to artists seeking to portray such a surrealist atmosphere.
As a result I felt once again that the necessary mysterious and unsettling non so che was missing. Ever seen the 1956 Hollywood version of War in Peace? Absolutely awful, awful, every actor miscast, the tone of the piece completely wrong. This is better, because the music is always there to save their arses. And, to be fair, the singers aren’t miscast. Just not nearly Russian enough.
Richard Jones’ staging was also only superficially Russian. The arched, golden “court area” above the stage was a good idea and gave it a bit of atmosphere. But then his team chose to have the boyars dressed as they would in Musorgsky’s time. Another hark-back (forward?) to the composer’s time. Sigh. I don’t know why directors love this idea. In this case it felt completely out of place, not adding anything useful but further ruining the meager atmosphere. The peasants/regular people wore peasant-y clothes, all in various shades of grey. Fair enough. Then, all of a sudden, for one of the big choruses, the choir returned dressed in bright, multipatterned attire. Some people (monks) wore robes but mixed with contemporary footwear. The Pretender (Otrepiev) wore a contemporary jacket and jumper bought in a second hand shop from a poor area. Him, of all people, was firmly placed nowadays.
I guess the fact that the crown prince is repeatedly shown being murdered in the arched, gold “court area” is meant to remind us that no, The Pretender is definitely not him – resurrected or not (the libretto is rather vague on how the crown prince might’ve escaped). Just in case we thought otherwise. Don’t flatter yourselves, the production has not an ounce of strangeness to it. We’re still firmly ensconced in a reality where you can’t even begin to consider such things.
Musically the most memorable bit was the peaceful part that almost reached a medieval feel where Pimen the chronicler monk is talking about how he wants to preserve history so that what has happened – in which he includes prophecies and rumours – is not lost to future generations. Wagnerian bass Ain Anger as Pimen was for me the most touchingly lyrical presence in the whole peace.
Not to say that Terfel in the title role wasn’t good. He sang with sesitivity and his voice feels good to the ear in this role but dramatically he was more Lear than Godunov. His interaction with Ben Knight as Godunov’s son Fyodor was excellent.
The rogue-ish monks Varlaam and Missail were very entertaining but – again – in a Western OTT way. Listen how Kuznecov sings the drinking song in a Gergiev-led version; there’s a certain impishness with a tinge of fairytale to it. When I heard this I was immediately transported to Gogol’s world. With Tomlinson it was a lot of fun but Viy didn’t come to mind even for a moment.
There is a debate as to where the best seats are for different types of opera but I think the first few rows in the gods are always a very good to decent bet. In this case I was sitting centrally and still the Coronation Scene could best be described as noisy: the chorus was loud, the bells were loud, the orchestra took it up 3-4 notches. I’m surprised we were spared sirens and airplanes taking off. I know it’s supposed to be loud, but I couldn’t discern any rhyme or reason.
I dozed off through most of what happens once the Pretender escapes the border patrol to Lithuania but (likewise) came back to life for Godunov’s elaborate dying scene. I’ve since given it another listen at home and I think I’d’ve liked it better had I known it a bit more. Some other time, then – with a Russian cast/conductor.
Dear all, I’m very heartened to notice the blog has been running itself – ie it is being read – even though I have been less active recently. The most attractive were the posts (especially the last one, which skyrocketed to the top 3) about the 2016-17 ROH season. Earlier today I checked the wiki page where I got my initial info (out of curiosity whether anything new was added).
For whatever reason my last post didn’t mention anything about the Adriana Lecouvreur revival which is supposed to happen sometime next year, with Gheorghiu in the title role and Ekaterina Gubanova (rather than the other EG) as her nemesis and one of my favourite mezzo roles. Anyway, it’s there so we – the person who found my blog via this search, I and anyone else who likes this opera – can only hope everything will go well and no divas will be dropping out at the last minute. I would like to see Gheorghiu live but I’m not into Puccini.
I also notice there is a Don Carlo next year in May (very specific dates, too), with Vargas, Stoyanova and Tezier. I might give it a try as I have started to thaw towards widening my operatic horizons.