I take my risks going for the first time to new opera companies without any references. Sometimes the result is good or exquisite (Chelsea Opera Group, Ante Terminum, OperaGlass Works, etc…) and some others it isn’t. This was the later. Dumb staging, some very bad singers (although a couple of them were good) and some very bad acting. Actually I saw the worst acting in years, worse than you can even expect from a primary school performance.
This Rinaldo concert version at the Barbican by the The English Concert was sold out a long time ago. As it is a collection of Handel previous hits it makes sense to be so enjoyable in a non-staged version. The cast worked pretty well. Iestyn Davies voice is beautiful and he masters Rinaldo role. He had some minor problems with some coloratura but still delivered a intense performance. The ladies, Jane Archibald as Armida and Joelle Harvey as Almirena were superb.
Everyone told me that this Frankfurt production by Barrie Kosky was badly sung in its staging at the Royal Opera House. But then all the twitter gang got excited about the second cast so I gave it a try. BIG MISTAKE. Even if Gaëlle Arquez has a very powerful and beautiful voice and she acts perfectly, portraying a Carmen full of sensuality, that does not make it a good performance. It need to be sung well, and Mr Arquez is still far from there: technical issues, singing behind the beat, horrible phrasing… No… she is not yet there.
I had seen several Warlikowski productions across Europe and it was a bit of a surprise that this From the House of the Dead was his house debut at the Royal Opera House. Too modern for UK conservative taste in opera? Anyway this was a safe bet as the production is not radical in any way. It was, however, intense and very demanding. As Leoš Janáček music is not easy listening, Krzysztof Warlikowski staging is not easy to see, as many things are happening on the stage and require a lot of focus to get all the details.
This was a very smart move from the Barbican. As one of the last 20th century mainstream operas it had been premiered though all America and Europe but the UK premiere was still waiting. So the Barbican took the Teatro Real production that has been staging this month in Madrid: singers, conductor, director, stage design, costumes… everything but the orchestra, choir and sets and brought it to London. That meant minimal rehearsal times and minimal cost resulting in an almost fully-stage opera at very low price.
I went to this Tosca performance for my diva and that’s exactly what I got. In the good and the bad sense. In the good side she still has a beautifully toned voice, very expressive. She is great on the stage and makes you believe totally on what she is singing. On the bad side she is a diva that arrives in town and does her thing without much rehearsal or consideration with her partners.
Josep Pons, the current Gran Teatre del Liceu director, has championed Manuel de Falla music since his first recording for Harmonia Mundi in the early 90s. Probably is the most experienced living conductor for this music. He did a fantastic job getting the BBC Symphony Orchestra to play in such an idiomatic way for a work so peculiar that in different senses. First it mixes the classical music world with the flamenco world though a real flamenco singer.
Doing an opera in the Roundhouse is stupid. Very stupid. Mostly because you cannot have a unamplified spectacle done in a round stage/auditorium with the singers facing different directions. Sound is a directional thing, you know, with waves propagating towards a specific direction. And the voice is projected on a single direction. This is the most basic thing in acoustics. And voice is the most basic thing in opera. So this does not work.
Are all the ROH productions done by David McVicar? This is one has its problems from the theatrical point of view. All the initial scene is confusing and in general, the open space subtracts some desirable oppression. Other than that, it mostly work without being brilliant nor exciting. The big surprise was Malin Byström in the title role. After not enjoying her at recent Vêpres siciliennes and not having the ideal voice for Salome she was quite well suited for singing it.
This was my first encounter with this Britten church parable. And I totally loved it. Half of it is because the music is genius (so atmospheric!) and the other half because it was presented by Ante Terminum Productions in a perfect way. The stage, St Bartholomew the Great, was just perfect. This work was composed to be performed on a church and this one has a aura of mystery perfect for it.
This Eugene Onegin was my second opera from OperaUpClose and I clearly saw the trend on their productions: getting the theatrical part working for a contemporary audience. But here they didn’t “update” the music as they did with the Magic Flute to more modern instrumentation patterns, they just made a reduction for piano, violin, cello and clarinet. The libretto was not a translation of the original but a new one, reworking the original.
Wow. For the first time I saw the same opera production in two different cities/opera houses. Does that make me an opera-pro? It was interesting seeing how a production that somehow worked in a different place didn’t quite work here. Of course having better casts (3!) in Madrid two years ago (Nucci, Rodríguez, Peretyatko, Oropesa…) made a difference but probably the biggest one was the conductor. In Madrid Luisotti conducted it remarking the dark side of the score.
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