Posts Tagged ‘English National Opera’

Cooper’s London

October 5, 2015


Mel snapshot 19

In London (and On the Road)

The Royal Opera House starated its new season with its first production of Gluck’s seminal Orphée et Eurydice in a long time – that is, the French version for a tenor Orpheus – not the original in Italian written for a castrato and reworked for a mezzo by Berlioz. ORPHEEetEURYDICE- bill cooper-opera-danceJuan Diego Florez was simply an ideal choice for the mellifluous hero, with Lucy Crowe as his beloved. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists were led by John Eliot Gardiner in what promised to be an “authentic” performance of the work.

luke-stylesFrom 9 September the company will be presenting a new commission in the Linbury Studios, a one-act chamber opera version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the promising Australian composer Luke Styles. This is followed on 9 October by a new opera by Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy. last hotelThe Last Hotel, that I am very curious about because I have enjoyed Enda Walsh’s plays so much in the past.

Back in the main house with the Covent Garden orchestra, there is a revival of David McVicar’s truly gripping and imaginative production of The Marriage of Figaro with a fine cast conducted by Ivor Bolton; I would also wish mattilato attend the revival of Ariadne auf Naxos if only to hear Karita Mattila sing “Es gibt ein reich”. She has the perfect voice for Strauss and is a consummate actress in every role she undertakes. She also has a superb sense of humour and can act irony! For me, the star attractions of the revival of the fine Carmen production by Francesca Zambello playing from 19 October are the conductor, Bertrand de Billy, and the heroic and tormented Don Jose of Jonas Kaufmann (okay, okay, here’s a few choice clips):

and not just the well-sung interpretation of Carmen herself by Russian mezzo Elena Maximova. This is coming in December.

Antonio Pappano is conducting a new Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci directed by Damiano Michieletto, whose Guillaume Tell last season caused a major rumpus because of its graphic rape scene. Many critics and some operagoers hated it; there were boos; there was newspaper hysteria; but it came across well on cinema screens when it was broadcast and many people actually found it very exciting, innovative and a really strong and interesting interpretation of the opera. It remains to be seen what he can do to Leoncavallo and Mascagni who were, of course, in their day, quite revolutionary and controversial themselves as they developed the verismo approach. I bet Michieletto tries to up the ante! romeo and julietteMeanwhile the Royal Ballet will be reviving Macmillan’s classic version of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (built originally on Nureyev and Fonteyn) with loads of performances throughout the autumn; and I am particularly looking forward to catching up with Martha Clarke’s ballet Chéri, based on cherithe Colette novels, with Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo returning to dance the roles they created.

Meantime, over at the financially beleaguered English National Opera, which has also just lost its long term artistic director, John Berry, there are three new interesting productions for the autumn. The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich has been a huge hit for them in past years, with Josephine Barstow becoming a notable international star by playing the title role. Directed and designed by Sergei Tcherniakov, racette at ENOPatricia Racette looks likely to be as stunning a Katerina as was Barstow; and the estimable Mark Wigglesworth, the new music director of the company, should be able to conduct up a wigglesworthstorm. The musical forces for Verdi’s The Force of Destiny are impeccable; but the betting is that Calixto Bieito’s production will be even more controversial than his Masked Ball with the male chorus sitting on toilets reading newspapers and commenting on current politics or his Don Giovanni that starts out set in a garbage dump in Seville. This one has been updated to the Spanish Civil War; and for my taste Bieito’s approach has become more and more insular and self-referential since his rather convincing and powerful Carmen. That said, I live in hope; know that Wigglesworth is a terrific Verdian; and look forward to hearing this strong cast. All the other autumn shows – Jonathan Miller’s Barber of Seville and his inventive Mikado; the lovely La Bohème directed by Benedict Andrew; and a winning Magic Flute directed by reliably brilliant Simon McBurney – were all hits when they first appeared and go on being eminently revivable and well-cast. The Barber is particularly famous for the stellar turn by Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo who is, thankfully, returning to the role.

Finally, if you are willing to travel out of London, my top recommendation would
welsh national operabe the
Welsh National Opera; it has a particularly interesting season coming up focusing on madness in opera, specifically in Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, I Puritani; Handel’s Orlando; and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. At one of the most consistent companies for fielding imaginative productions that actually illuminate the works themselves, and for its high-level musical interpretations, these works are definitely all worth considering in Cardiff or on tour.


Cooper’s London

June 17, 2015




The Queen of Chairs, in Spades

This is musically an important event for queen of spades 2the English National Opera and the musical side is superb. You will rarely hear a better sung and conducted version of this tense and tragic Tschaikovsky masterpiece than the ENO’s new production. English tenor Peter Hoare is making his debut as Hermann at relatively short notice and his singing and acting turn out to be heroic; committed, gorgeous to listen to, totally convincing. He understands Hermans’s torment and obsessions and how the music conveys them and he’s spot on portraying Hermann’s slow descent into madness and psychosis. Giselle Allen as Lisa is wonderful to listen to as well; with her shining voice and complete understanding of the score, she touchingly conveys Lisa’s troubled innocence. Dame Felicity Palmer, now in her seventies, is a dominant and powerful Countess; Nicholas Pallesen makes a striking, attractive and powerfully sung Prince Yeletsky.

The entire cast is musically strong, including the edward gardenerchorus; and Edward Gardner clearly understands the score, its drama, the sonorities and harmonies; he masters the forces throughout, giving one of the most powerful performances of this dark work that I’ve ever heard. Clearly he “gets” both the Tschaikovsky brothers’ collaboration on score and libretto as surely as he knows Pushkin’s original story. A pity it’s his farewell as the ENO’s Music Director (though he returns as a guest conductor next year for Tristan and Isolde, already hugely anticipated.)

That said, there is more , however, that must be included: a hard look at David Alden’s disjointed production concept that, for me, seriously undermines the success of the evening. There is a strange disconnect between his expressionistic, surreal approach to storytelling and the actual words and music being sung and played. To put it simply, Alden doesn’t seem to be engaged with the work itself; rather he is simply using it as an opportunity to impose and express his own visual and symbolic obsessions. There are some very fine moments , but I put those down mainly to singers and conductor who actually are one with the music and words and who have a clear understanding of what they want to convey.

Not to belabor my point: I didn’t find updating the story to Communist Russia actually added a thing; if anything, it was a distraction, especially in the ball scene and the places where a Grand Opera approach to emotion is required. The individual, one-on-one relationships and the monologues worked because of the fine cast; but the robotic chorus was a tedious trope.

queen of spades 1I fear too that I am getting mighty tired of Alden’s chairs. Can anyone explain why he always has piles of chairs as part of his visual concept or his stage setting? People drag them across the stage while other people are trying to sing, thus distracting the audience from what should be the opera’s visual center, taking your eye to the wrong place at the wrong time; there’s no respite because they’re strewn everywhere. People climb them as if they were barricades (is this a not-too-subtle clue that there has been a Revolution?) and then chairs 2declaim from atop the pile. Or they fall over and tumble down the pile. The chairs are symbolic, they are usually Biedermeyer or Baroque; and occasionally, it has to be admitted, someone even sits on them. Since chairs have been featured in every production of Alden’s that I have seen since for about three decades, I am still trying to puzzle out the thread that joins them chairily from Handel through Verdi through Tchaikovsky and beyond. Like so many other objects on David Alden’s stages, they seem both arbitrary and predictable.

queen of spades 2Alden does, however, occasionally allow singers simply to present the key moments with some directness. Hermann’s stages of descent into craziness and Lisa’s obsessive-yet-touching passion for the anti-hero Hermann do get strongly conveyed, and Felicity Palmer gives us both the scariness and the fascinating personal charisma of the Countess. You can believe she was once a sexually alluring aristocratyou can believe her harsh and autocratic behaviour. Hers is a strong, pivotal performance; and the scene where Hermann invades her bedroom to get the secret of the cards from her is brilliant, with Hoare and Palmer creating a sensational artistic rapport.

But what keeps the evening compelling (if you can ignore the damned chairs) must be Gardner’s understanding of the work and his pacing of the score; both are exemplary. The hymn-like choral conclusion after Hermann’s death was haunting and powerful, as it needs to be to round off this story.

There is a postscript that should, aldensin the interests of even-handed journalism, be added here: Alden’s twin brother Christopher (also an opera director) works often in the United States; his Don Giovanni for the New York City Opera was updated to the 1930s (why?) and featured a cast made to drag chairs to and fro at random moments throughout the production. Though Wikipedia tells us that the twins were born in New York, to a “show-business family,” I’m willing to wager there’s a relative with a chair factory somewhere in that family tree.

The Queen of Spades is in repertoire at the Coliseum in London (along with Carmen and the Pirates of Penzance) until 2 July 2015.

Cooper’s London

September 29, 2011

Autumn Picks in London


There’s still time to catch Greg Doran’s extraordinary recreation of a lost Shakespeare play, Cardenio, at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford (in rep until 6 October) which, along with The City Madam (in rep until 4 October) was my best and most rewarding experience at Stratford this summer. Coming up at the RSC in November is an interesting-looking new play by David Edgar about the creation of the King James Bible called Written on the Heart. Since Doran is directing this as well, and Edgar has a fine track record of new plays for the RSC, I would place a bet on it–as well as on the Measure for Measure that will be directed by Roxana Silbert, definitely a talent to watch grow. Meantime, if you’re in London with children for the holidays or before, the RSC is transferring last year’s Christmas hit at Stratford, the musical of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, from 18 October for a season. It is utterly charming,some of the music is quite memorable; and the nasty headmistress of the school is done as a traditional panto dame.

In London, the hottest ticket is without a doubt the atmospheric and touching production of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse, with Ruth Wilson, Jude Law and David Hayman. It’s a compelling look at the play, but tickets are hard to come by and you will probably have to queue on the day you go to get standbys and returns. But it’s worth it! Or pray that it’s transferred to the West End for a longer run? Even if Jude Law were to leave to make a movie, this is such a strong production that there’s no reason to kill it – much better to keep it going with some recasting.

Looking ahead, the Young Vic is reviving its sell-out production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene briefly for the second half of September. More compellingly, book now for their Hamlet (28 October through 21 January). It will be directed by the hugely talented Ian Rickson and star Michael Sheen as the troubled prince. Meantime, down the street at the Old Vic in the Cut, you can see a promising new production of The Playboy of the Western World. John Crowley directs J. M. Synge’s sometimes provocative and always irreverent masterpiece, with Niamh Cusack, Ruth Negga and Robert Sheehan in the main roles. The National Theatre’s War Horse continues in the West End, trailing its Broadway awards. And The Pitman Painters, an even more interesting play, returns to the West End in October. Meantime, at the National itself you might want to look out for Jonathan Miller’s staging of the St Matthew Passion; then A New Play by Mike Leigh from mid-September; and also Juno and the Paycock coming in mid-November. Add these to the news that the inestimable David Suchet will be playing James Tyrone in a new production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the West End from April 2012, I am feeling quite Irish this season. To which you can add a play by St. John Ervine called Mixed Marriage, set during the Troubles in Ireland, before partition. This is the first production of the play in London in about 90 years. It will be at the Finsborough Theatre, one of London’s smaller but more adventurous off-West End venues, a place that has recently been exploring neglected masterpieces of the early part of the 20th century. The production is to be directed by Sam Yates.

At the end of September, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones bring their successful Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy to Wyndhams Theatre. You might also want to consider taking a look at a new production of The Killing of Sister George with Meera Sayal at the Arts Theatre from 5 – 29 October. And if you have children with you, you should try to see the adaptation of The Railway Children that re-opens on 2 October, runs through Christmas, and is being performed in the former Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo. Those steam engines are the real thing!

Music: High and Low

Many of the musicals remain as before, so there is no need to tell you to check out Les Miserables or Legally Blonde or The Lion King, or even Chicago with a new cast and transferred to the Garrick Theatre from early October. But one that you might not know about is the transfer – from this summer’s festival at the Regent’s Park Theatre – of the George Gershwin pastiche Crazy for You. It’s preposterously cheerful and delightful and will be at the Novello Theatre from 8 October.

Meantime, for music theatre you might also want to try the English National Opera, where Jonathan Miller’s inventive and charming and spot-on production of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love is opening the season. Weinberg’s The Passenger receives a London premiere in a production by David Pountney that is preceded by much praise. But my vote for top spot in the Autumn season is a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin directed by Deborah Warner and, more importantly, conducted by Edward Gardener. Gardener always gets into the musical soul of the piece; you may have seen him conduct closing night of the BBC Proms this year.

Great early-in-the-season excitement at the Royal Opera House is being generated by their production of Puccini’s Trittico directed by Richard Jones, and a revival, with Gheorghiu and Hvorostovsky, of Gounod’s Faust. My top choice for this Autumn, however, is the revival of Graham Vick’s entrancing, wise and moving production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s got a strong cast and Pappano is conducting; in truth, there’s rarely been such an evocative production of this opera, detailed and nuanced and utterly captivating. Mind you, as a person with a taste for bel canto, I am going to try not to miss La Sonnambula either, conducted by the inestimable Daniel Oren.

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