Tag Archives: David McVicar

Outstanding Glyndebourne Entfuhrung

12 Aug

It’s 25 years since Glyndebourne last did Entfuhrung at the Festival (there was a rather poor revival of the Peter Wood production on the tour in 1997). The reviews for this production had been pretty good, though I was wary of the fact that it was obviously going last half an hour longer than had been planned – the prospect of a slow, dialogue heavy evening didn’t necessarily sound enticing. I needn’t have worried. The performance I saw on 10th August, the last of the run, was probably the finest performance of the piece that I’ve seen.

I remember my first Entfuhrung – the Glyndebourne Tour production of 1972 (Valerie Masterson as Konstanze and Elizabeth Gale as Blondchen) – which I enjoyed enormously. I remember it as a pretty traditional comic opera, Gilbert and Sullivan with long arias. Nobody then was particularly troubled by the overtones and that was a time when it didn’t seem wrong just to have a pretty good, untroubling time. Since then, we’ve come to think of it as a difficult opera – an uneasy combination of a play with elaborate arias and a politically difficult story. We’ve come to half believe in Josef II’s “too many notes” comment and there are times when it can feel like an unhappy compromise between opera seria and singspiel.   Companies have either shied away from it or sought, as in Opera North’s debacle of a production, to retell the story – all I remember from that is the Panda. David McVicar’s production made the piece look like a masterpiece.

They performed the fullest version of the text that I’ve come across and it worked, rather as Jonathan Kent’s Shakespeare-heavy Fairy Queen did. You understood more of the back story, more of the tension between the characters. The Pasha emerged as a central character, rather than as a noble walk-on and there was altogether more about him, about Osmin and about the relationships between the characters than you usually get. And it wasn’t boring because the acting was first rate and you believed in it.

This was helped considerably by David McVicar’s brilliant direction of the characters and outstanding ability to help the music make its mark and to build on the back story. A few random pleasures – the Pasha was besieged by lots of European artists and architects who wanted him to buy their wares; we saw him with his other wives and children (to the music of one of the serenades. We saw the extreme ambiguity of Konstanze’s feelings towards the Pasha – the byplay during Martern aller arten was outstandingly well done with a mixture of her being tempted,  and him almost raping her. As she left at the end you felt that she too hoped that she had not made a mistake. McVicar caught the sexual politics wonderfully.

He also caught the class/social mores. Belmonte is a stiff, unpleasant bully of a snob from the start both in his attitudes to the east and to Pedrillo. It made the confrontation with the Pasha at the end particularly interesting. The interaction between the leading characters and the lesser ones – Klaas and the eunuch particularly – was really well done. He created a world where the fascination and tension between east and west beautifully expressed. Above all, he got fine acting performances out of his cast: the dialogue and movement were absolutely perfectly paced, you watched and believed in these individuals – miraculously, it did not feel a moment too long and certainly not a problematic opera.

It looked wonderful too. Vicki Mortimer’s sets and costumes – explicitly 18th century – catch the mixture of airiness and oppression to perfection and look incredibly pleasing. It feels like a production where no expense has been spared to create beautiful and believable pictures. Paule Constable’s lighting created a believable Eastern look – the quality of the light made you believe in the location.

Doubts? Maybe there was a bit too much slapstick – I wasn’t completely convinced by Blondchen and Osmin wrecking the kitchen and felt that it was a bit too like Pedrillo and Osmin wrecking the garden. Did the quartet need to be interrupted by guards looking through the window? These are details – this was an outstandingly detailed, imaginative and convincing version of the piece, convincing you of McVicar’s sheer genius as a director of Mozart and his intelligence. It’s one of his finest pieces of work.

Musically, it was outstanding also. As something of a Robin Ticciati-sceptic, I was overjoyed by the free, flexible and airy conductive of this piece. The overture was a joy to hear with the details coming out perfectly but with the orchestra really listening, working together. He showed us the joyous details of the score, accompanied considerately and seemed entirely at one with the production. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was on stunningly good form – the sound was warm, dramatic and the dynamics and phrasing absolute perfection. This performance was easily the most satisfying musical performance of a Mozart opera that I’ve heard since Mackerras – there was an ease, a certainty about it and a feeling of “rightness” about tempi, phrasing and texture.

And there was a really good set of soloists. Sally Matthews seemed entirely untroubled by the difficulties of Konstanze’s arias and sang with certainty, accuracy and real emotion. My only criticism was that she seemed to be getting into the Te Kanawa/Fleming habit of swallowing consonants – the words weren’t clear and, for me, this detracted from the pleasure that I got from her gorgeous creamy voice and really intelligent acting. The same problems afflicted Edgaras Montvidas as Belmonte and I wondered if he was in best voice. Mind you, he had all four arias to sing and could, perhaps, be forgiven for odd phrases that seemed to get slightly lost. I thought he was at his best in Ich baue ganz where he provided some really gorgeous pianissimo singing. He phrased elegantly and presented the up-tight European aristocrat to perfection.
I very much enjoyed Brendan Gunnell’s Pedrillo – you felt that his time here had an effect on his view of Belmonte. He did Im Mohrenland really well – turning it into a comedy number whilst also singing it beautifully. He had a very nice double act going with Tobias Kehrer’s Osmin. The latter was credibly young and also uncouth. His low notes were all in place and he managed a dangerous, funny and very credible character. I’ve seen a lot of good Osmins but this as one of the finest.

Mari Eriksmoen was a sparky Blondchen – determined, high notes in place and a complete tomboy, She caught the slight nervousness of the servant among her betters while being well able to hold her own with Osmin and Pedrillo. It was nice that she was introduced in the first act, albeit briefly, rather than waiting for Act II.

Franck Saurel was a handsome, convincing Selim. He caught the tension between the values he espoused and his desires. It wasn’t clear at the end that Konstanze was really better off with Belmonte. It was splendid that he had these opportunities.

This evening struck me as epitomising Glyndebourne’s values at their best and most successful: intelligent, thoughtful direction, really good casting and music and production values that put every other company in the country in the shade. You could imagine more radical and exciting productions, but this was deeply satisfying, intelligent and as good an Entfuhrung as I could hope to see. It’ll be back.


French Carmen at Glyndebourne

25 Jun

I last saw the Glyndebourne Carmen when it was new in 2002. I remember it as being an alert, detailed, attractive production that wasn’t going to frighten any horses and was likely to last forever. Thirteen years on, in an intelligent, alert, detailed revival, I again had the feeling that, if you want a vanilla Carmen, this was about as good as it gets.  I saw the performance on 22nd June.

There are lots of good things about the production: Michael Vale’s sets and Paule Constable’s lighting get exactly the right sort of effects – brilliantly, the set for Act III is virtually created entirely by the lighting. McVicar’s production doesn’t put a foot wrong technically and the details – particularly the acting and chorus work are excellent – there are some wonderful comedies going on at the opening of Act IV. The comedy for the smugglers is done marvellously and he gets that heady mixture of eroticism, violence, threat and comedy pretty much perfectly blended. Graham Vick’s production for Scottish may have been cleverer and had more striking images, Calixto Bieito’s explores the piece more deeply, Pountney’s at ENO may have had greater flare, but this, overall, is as good a Carmen visually as you could hope for.

Where it becomes outstanding is in the direction of the Carmen/José relationship and of those two characters. You suddenly felt the temperature ratchet up when Carmen declares that she is “amoureuse” and you sense the determination of the character and the following scene with José is fascinatingly done – is she making love to pay her debt or because there’s an attraction there? Stephanie D’Oustrac’s acting of this was beautifully ambiguous – erotic, determined and you could understand why Jose was so spellbound. In Act III, the trauma of a broken relationship and her dawning realisation of the likely end was really well delineated. And the final duet was mesmerisingly well done as you saw two people battling and the death an accident.

Ms D’Oustrac is the first French Carmen that I’ve heard in the theatre. It helps hugely. She sings the word clearly and naturally, the colours come from their meaning: it’s not exaggerated but wonderfully idiomatic. Vocally, she fits the part well and she acts the wild, amoral but actually highly principled heroine with real integrity.  You could understand the fascination. Overall, this was the most convincing Carmen that I’ve seen.

Pavel Cernoch was José. He acted the role outstandingly: the look of mesmerised despair and sheer pig-headed determination grew throughout the third and fourth acts. Between them, they got to the heart of this relationship. Vocally, he was at his best in the outbursts of violence, the passion and he managed the last act heroically. I wanted a softer, more beautiful and subtle sound and approach for the scene with Micaela and for the flower song.

These two carried the drama. The others were simply bit players. Lucy Crowe sang strongly as Micaela, though I’ve heard sweeter sounds and more communication. David Soar, promoted from Zuniga, was a very fine Escamillo with just the right ease and swagger and sang very well. Loic Felix and Christophe Gay were outstanding as the smugglers and the two gipsies were excellent.

The chorus was in predictably strong form and must have had great fun with the multiple roles. Jakob Hrusa conducted. It was a clear, gutsy performance that supported the singers well. I remember that Philippe Jordan had more elan when the production was new, but this was a very satisfying reading of the opera and the LPO sounded on good form.

It may not be the height of modern interpretations of Carmen but it’s well-prepared, well-sung and packed just the punch that the opera should.