Tag Archives: Mozart

Dark Don Giovanni

29 Oct

Has Don Giovanni had more new productions than any other in the UK in the last forty years?  It feels like it.  Counting Jonathan Miller’s, Richard Jones’s new production at ENO was the company’s fifth in 30 years and most of the other companies seem to reckon that one a decade isn’t quite enough.  It’s an opera that resists a “definitive” staging and I’m quite happy to see different interpretations.  Jones’s, which I saw on 24th October, is one of the best.

It’s typically questioning.  In the overture we see Giovanni in front of a series of doors.  Women come along, Leporello opens the door, the woman and Giovanni go in, then come out, then the next woman comes along.  It’s like a transaction, a conveyor belt. Anna arrives at the end. She produces a knife: she wants the sex to be violent, to be threatened by a masked man with a knife.  In the next room the Commendatore has a prostitute.   At the end, by a sleight of hand, Giovanni sends Leporello down with the Commendatore and begins his routine with women, with a new Leporello.

In between it’s more patchy.  Paul Steinberg’s set is excellent: walls of doors, revealing rooms, suggesting streets and opportunities to hide and surprise.  The look is of depressed, 20th Century Spain.  Jones’s direction of the characters is excellent.  More than anyone else he catches the tension between Masetto and Zerlina – they’re not reconciled after Batti batti and not completely after Vedrai carina.  Giovanni serenades Elvira’s maid over the phone and Anna sings Non mi dir over the phone to Ottavio  Christine Rice’s Elvira gets madder as the evening goes on, seizing a gun from Ottavio before Mi tradi.  You had a sense of lonely characters with only Giovanni and Leporello having any form of rapport.  On the down side he has no solution to the Act I finale – one of the messiest and least successful scenes I’ve seen Jones do and the sextet in Act II didn’t fare much better.

It helps that it’s sung in English – Amanda Holden’s translation has been adapted for this and is still very good.  There were no surtitles for the recits (and you didn’t need them) and you were able to follow the piece, like a play, enjoying the situations and the ideas.  After a heavy day, I was kept interested and involved throughout.

It helped to have Christopher Purves as Giovanni.  He’s one of the most charismatic singing actors on the stage today.   This Giovanni is cold, calculating, ruthless and determined.  There’s a mordant wit and cynicism.  He gets women by fascination and strength rather than charm.  But you don’t feel that he likes them very much.  There’s a relentless, driven quality about him.  His voice isn’t the most honied and he doesn’t have typical dashing good looks, but he’s one of the most believable that I’ve seen.  He got the aristocrat carelessness, absolutely certainty of what he wants and sheer bullying violence to perfection.  I’ve heard it more gratefully sung, but that wasn’t really the point.  His rapport with Clive Bayley’s sinister, red-wigged Leporello was as successful a double act as I’ve seen.

Christine Rice was an outstandingly fine Elvira – catching the sheer madness and intensity of the woman and singing outstandingly: a glorious Mi tradi and managing the difficulties of the role fearlessly.  She was matched by Caitlin Lynch’s Donna Anna, though after the interesting start, Mozart doesn’t really give Jones quite as much material as he needs to explore the character.  Ms Lynch’s singing was hugely assured.  Mary Bevan was a very good Zerlina.

Allan Clayton made a predictably fine Ottavio – concerned and ineffectual but doing his arias well.  Nicholas Crowley was a very good Masetto – nicely acted and sung and one of the best that I’ve seen.   James Creswell made a strong Commendatore.

Mark Wigglesworth conducted.  It sounded fine with generally sensible tempi and the textures interesting.  He accompanied the singers well and was clearly at one with the production.  The orchestra played very strongly indeed.

So this was an alert, highly intelligent, thoughtful, enjoyable production with really good music and among the strongest of the 19 productions of this opera that I’ve seen.

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Figaro in Naples

4 Oct

If you haven’t been to the San Carlo in Naples, it’s worth seeing.  It’s easily one of the most gorgeous auditoriums in Europe: golds and pinks, six tiers of balconies, a glorious painted ceiling and one of he most over the top Royal boxes you’ll come across.  A short holiday there coincided with a performance of Le nozze di Figaro on 30 September and the opportunity was too good to miss.

Sadly, it didn’t really live up to the beauty of the auditorium.  The overture was a pretty good guide to the evening – correct, slightly plodding and rather flat – though that may be what strikes me as a dull acoustic.  Ralf Weikert’s conducting was like that for the entire piece.  The orchestra played efficiently for him but this was one of the dullest, least loving musical performances of this opera I’ve heard for a long time.

The production is by Chiara Muti and isn’t great either.  It’s set in a huge structure of steps and galleries so that people can watch each other and you can see them approaching.  It struck me that it would be a great set for Butterfly, Rosenkaverlier, Chenier or, indeed, Adriana Lecouvreur, which is the next one in the San Carlo’s season.  Here it detracted more than it added.  It didn’t help that a door handle refused to work at one point in Act II leaving you wondering whether people would actually be able to get through it in time – and Cherubino had to go up steps to get to the dressing room, only to go down them again once in.  It allowed for some interesting ideas – Cherubino watching the Countess sing Dove sono, and a hint at the theatricality of the piece.  But what I missed was the characterisation and natural acting.  Everything seemed generalised and overdone.

I felt the cast had the potential to be better than it was.  The absolute star was Rosa Feola as Susanna.  Fresh from Glyndebourne, this was as beautifully and alertly sung and thoughtfully, truthfully acted.  She’s one of the very best Susannas that I’ve seen.  Cinzia Forte was ill and the understudy Countess was nervous and, I’m sure, is better than she sounded.  Simone Alberghini sounded a bit light for the house as the Count but I enjoyed his alert acting and confident way with the words.  Alessandro Luongo, the Figaro was light, amiable but didn’t dominate as he should.

Marina Comparato’s Cherubino was far, far too feminine and I’m not sure that she was singing at her best.  The Marcelina was doing fine as a blowsy, rather vulgar woman until it came to her aria, which, in an amazing act of sadism we had to put up with.  I’m afraid she wasn’t up to its demands.  We also had Basilio’s and I’ve never really seen the point of that.  I really enjoyed Bruno Lazzaretti’s performance of the latter role – alert, singing the text as clearly and naturally as I’ve heard and he didn’t need the aria to help him.  What worried me most of all was how badly the cast blended.  I never imagined that the sextet in Act III could sound ugly but here were four voices simply not working together.

I’ve heard that the Italians don’t really get Mozart.  This felt like evidence of it.  Certainly the audience felt bored rigid and the pleasure that I’d anticipated in hearing an almost completely native Italian cast singing to an audience in its native language was lost.  There was barely a chuckle throughout the evening and, in this opera, that is a major achievement.

Do go to the see the San Carlo, but maybe take care about what you see.

Compelling Cosi from Opera North

5 Mar

Tim Albery has had the monopoly on Cosi fan tutte at Opera North for the last fifteen years or so.  His first, with designs by Martin Howland, in 1997 had a set that slowly collapsed in the Act I finale.  His second has designs by Tobias Hoheisel and I caught its third outing at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle on 4th March.

Albery is back to rehearse it with an entirely new cast and this performance had the freshness and questioning that you’d expect in a brand new production.  He portrays it as an experiment by Don Alfonso – the women are in a vast 18th century camera and the action takes place there.  At the end, Alfonso is left alone in there while the lovers have escaped outside.  It is as if he has helped them grow up.

Costumes, rather like Anthony Besch’s Scottish Opera production begin in greys, the officers and girls not too easily distinguishable.  As the opera goes on the colours become more vibrant, characters more distinctive.  Unlike Besch, these people do not revert to convention and the monochrome at the end, but are traumatised, unable to relate to each other.  Both readings work.

The direction of the singers was alert and truthful.  Despina had her doubts about joining Alfonso’s plots – persuaded by money. Ferrando’s love for Dorabella was as palpable as I’ve ever seen in Un aura amorosa – sung directly to Alfonso, who was looking distinctly guilty at this point.  At the end, the lovers hadn’t a clue who was in love with whom.  You sensed that both Alfonso and Despina had had some bad experiences in the past.  You followed the emotions like a play.

The cast is very strong indeed.  Nicholas Watts is stretched to his limits by some of Ferrando’s music, but the sheer intelligence of it and his committed acting made you over look the occasional shortness of breath.  Gavan Ring is a glorious Guglielmo: it’s a splendid, rich voice and he created a fine, impulsive character.

Maire Flavin was an outstandingly good Fiordiligi: she caught the conflict between what she knew to be right and the temptations offered by Dorabella and Despina.  I thought that her singing of both Come scoglio and Per pieta was glorious and she caught the conflict marvellously.  Helen Sherman was rather more anonymous as Dorabella, but she sang well and acted alertly.

William Dazeley was a really strong Alfonso – nasty, certain, in command and really strongly sung.  Ellie Laugharne’s Despina was also excellent – just the right mixture of seriousness and lightness and I thought she sang both arias really well – much more than the usual soubrette.

The piece was sung in English with excellent diction from the men, less clear from the women but, above all, there was the sense that you were following a play in which what happened was natural and true.

Jac van Steen conducted – fast tempi for the overture and for Soave sia il vento – I think he could have allowed that to breathe a bit more.  He slowed down later.  Orchestra was generally pretty good.

Great to see pretty full house for this and an audience that was patently enjoying and engaging with the wonderful opera.  You left disturbed, exhilarated and admiring the sheer genius of Mozart and da Ponte in creating an opera that, even after 28 visits, can still reveal more.

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.

Rough but Happy Figaro

8 Mar

The joy of The Marriage of Figaro is that it seems to provide an infinite variety of opportunities for directors to tell you something new.  It has to be a very poor, very brain-dead evening that gives you nothing.  The latest Opera North production, which I saw at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, which I saw on 7th March, proved this yet again.  It was far from being a perfect evening but there were at least three points which made it worthwhile to be there.

The first was Quirin de Lang’s absolutely perfect handling of the discovery of Cherubino in Act I: it’s a gift of a moment, but I don’t think that I’ve seen it done so well – he picked up the covering, saw Cherubino, uses it to prove his point and then realises that Cherubino shouldn’t be there in the first place.  It was a gem of a moment.  The second came in Act III as Barbarina lets slip what the Count has been saying to her.  The look on the Countess’s face, the sheer shock and hatred that she felt there turned this into one of those moments that stopped your heart.  Finally, at the very end, the last image of the Countess and Cherubino bumping into each other alone, suggested all that is to come.

These were the great moments in what was an enjoyable but rather mixed evening.  We begin backstage as scenery is manipulated into position for the first scene.  The Almavivas have obviously fallen on hard times – the wallpaper is torn, the ceilings and staircases have plaster disappearing.  Not quite sure how this helps.  Nor why it seems to be raining for most of the time – the Count can’t possibly believe that Susanna would seriously invite him for a tryst in the garden in this weather.  There were irritations of direction.  Sitting at the side in the stalls, the armchair for Act I directly impedes your vision and the Count sits in it quite a lot with his back to the audience.  The way the stage is divided up for the first Act can’t help the sightlines of a lot of people and didn’t help us hear some of the singers.  For Deh vieni, Susanna is placed right at the side of the stage so that anyone sitting on that side of the theatre can’t see her and have to watch an entirely empty stage.  Why?  These are technical points that you’d hope a director that cares about the audience would iron out.

Aside from these points, Jo Davies’s production is traditional, avoids too much seriousness and heartbreak and gets the social nuances well – it’s set, probably, in the early/mid 20th century but, these days, that’s virtually period.  The acting of the recitatives is superb – the characters deliver them as if it were a play and the Countess/Susanna tension over Cherubino in Act II is palpable.  It’s not particularly political, definitely farcical and generally astute.  It’s sung in Jeremy Sams’s excellent revised translation and it’s always good to have a full house listening and laughing at the jokes.  It’s certainly an improvement on their previous version and I’d be happy to see it again.

Musically, I felt that it was more problematic.  Alexander Shelley’s conducting was perfectly decent (aside from a cruelly fast Voi che sapete that robbed it of all its elegance and charm) but I wasn’t clear that he was particularly challenging his orchestra and you felt that they weren’t particularly involved.  Ensemble wasn’t great and, as an interpretation, this didn’t get anywhere interesting or even particularly involving.  Shouldn’t Opera North be aiming a bit higher for a new production?

There were some good performances.  I liked Richard Burkhardt’s Figaro very much indeed, particularly as he became darker in the last act.  I prefer a more revolutionary approach to Non piu andrai but he is a great stage presence and his personality held much of the performance together and he sang his Act IV aria with just the right bitter cynicism – he’s someone I’m taking increasingly seriously as a singer.  He had a very fine foil in de Lang’s Count whose acting of this stupid arrogant airhead was entirely convincing and very funny.  He tended to speak rather than sing the dialogue and his voice felt just a bit light for the role, albeit in a difficult acoustic.

Ana Maria Labin sang the Countess.  I was hugely impressed by her really gorgeous, creamy voice that is just about perfect for this role.  She did a really lovely Dove sono and acted the role impressively.  Of all the cast, she was only one who seemed to do interesting things musically. She’ll go far, I think.  Sylvia Moi was an attractive Susanna who acted the role really well and who sang nicely enough in a soubrettish sort of way.  Deh vieni made no impression.

Interesting that three of those four principals did not have English as their first language.  I was hugely impressed by their understanding and delivery of the text – the words really counted – but the vowel sounds gave them away.  Ought Opera North be going abroad for this opera?  Were there really no British singers?

Helen Sherman was an attractive Cherubino who didn’t particularly convince me that she was a boy, but displayed a strong, confident voice and boundless energy.  Gaynor Keeble was a really fine Marcellina – nicely acted, a good personality and good singing.  Dean Robinson seemed over-parted as Bartolo and his first aria made no impression.  Joseph Shovelton was a good, clear Basilio and Jeremy Peake made a really excellent, convincing Antonio – one of the best that I’ve seen.

I enjoyed myself.  As in any good Figaro there were those moments when I suddenly realised that I was smiling and that I was engaging with the acting and the drama and wanting to hear more.  It was alive, thoughtful, intelligent.  The audience had a lovely time and was really enthusiastic at the end.  I just felt that, musically, this could have been quite a lot better and quite a lot more interesting and I was disappointed that Opera North wasn’t able to produce more of the goods.  I’d hate to feel that, just because they were doing a guaranteed box office hit, they felt that they could cut corners.

Irritating Idomeneo

8 Nov

Idomeneo isn’t an easy opera but I wonder if it has to be as difficult and unpleasant as Martin Kušej’s irritating production of it at the ROH made it. I saw it on 6th November – there was no booing but I don’t think that the audience felt that it was one the house’s great evenings.

Kušej wants to make a political point of the opera and he does so by changing the plot and telling you about this through the surtitles. There is no god, Neptune. Only a false cult led be a pantomime villain of a High Priest. Apparently, that High Priest “forces” Idomeneo to promise to kill his son because the priest is offended by the release of the Trojan slaves. The cult forces the chorus to praise Neptune and, it would, appear, a giant rubber shark. Idomeneo, apparently, is a totalitarian ruler, though there is no particular evidence of this in acting. I’ve no idea what the sea monster was or how Idamante killed it – the surtitles suggested that he “fell upon this plague”. On hearing this, the chorus take out red cloaks and these people, led by “The Voice” (so it says in the programme), depose Idomeneo. He is seen, apparently imprisoned and, I think, blinded. The ballet music is played, but there is no ballet. The front cloth falls and has some words projected on to it – some about regimes remaining the same. It rises and the stage slowly revolves and there is enough to suggest that Ilia and Idamante do not solve the problems of Crete.

Did it work? Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not its legitimate to use the surtitles to explain what’s going on – I’m not suggesting that it can never work.  Here it didn’t. I found myself confused by what was going on and often had problems working out who the chorus and actors were representing at any particular time and why it mattered.  The scene of Idomeneo’s arrival and, apparent discussion with the High Priest was mimed and, I thought, confusing.  I wasn’t sure why Elettra had a group of white-clad schoolchildren unless they were to set up the ballet picture of them all toting guns. The whole staging of the last part of Act III seemed confusing to me while the staging of the ballet music screamed that here was a director who had lost a battle over the cuts with the conductor and was taking revenge.

It’s in modern dress. The set – a sort of revolving maze would serve very well for a number of other operas and did well enough here about from a quite badly executed bank of mud, blood and clothes for Act III. There were a lot of distracting rain effects early on. There was the odd touch of interest: Elettra was an extremely attracting woman and there was an obvious attraction between her and Idamante. Kušej suggested a really interesting portrayal of Arbace as a Thersites-type clown or outsider without it really contributing anything to the story.  Most of the other direction of the characters would not have looked out of place in the most traditional production you could imagine.

Part of this is to do with what I think about Idoemeno.  For me, one of the important things about the opera is the impotence of individuals against the will of the gods and how things they cannot control affect their decisions and relationships. There is an element of politics in and about how decisions of rulers affect the people but this seems to me to be compromised when there are people themselves intervening. All the successful productions that I’ve seen have managed to get across a reality involving implacable, uncontrollable gods and events.  I didn’t get that here and Kušej’s replacement vision simply wasn’t well enough executed to work.

Musically, it had a lot going for it. Not everyone has praised Marc Minkowski’s production but, apart from an uncomfortably fast tempo for Zeffiretti lusinghieri and an irritatingly intrusive fortepiano, I thought that he provided very strong leadership.   He couldn’t make a strong case for the ballet music, partly because of the production, but mostly because its inclusion strikes me as completely incompatible with modern taste.  Mozart wrote it because it was required in Munich at the time (though, as the programme pointed out, he could easily have delegated it to someone else) and he’d surely have been only too happy to cut it if he felt that it wouldn’t go down well.  Here, I felt the overwhelming feeling of being kept in after school and all the boredom and irritation that goes with that – and the only thing I’d done wrong was buy a ticket!  Otherwise, the music sounded alert and dramatic but with enough relaxation for us to enjoy the textures and colours of the score. I thought the orchestra and chorus absolutely first rate and it reminded me of a what a wonderful score this is.

Matthew Polenzani made a young Idomeneo. I thought his singing excellent. What I missed was a level of anguish and intensity that you might expect from a man who is desperately trying to find a way of breaking a promise and then seeing the result – a tension that Philip Langridge used to manage wonderfully. I doubt that he had much help from the director.

Franco Fagioli was a counter tenor Idamante. He looked handsome and acted the role well enough. Vocally, I wasn’t sure whether he was quite right. He could clearly manage the notes and got quantities of passion and bravura into the music. On the other hand, the words weren’t clear and it struck me that this was a style of singing that might work for music of half a century earlier but which might not be clean enough for Mozart.

Malin Byström struck me as a marvellous Elettra. As I’ve suggested, she was a hugely attractive woman and sang her arias really beautifully – though there is a terrifying madness in her last number which she didn’t quite get. Sophie Bevan, perhaps a tad young, sang very nicely indeed as Ilia – she made it sound as fluent and easy as you’d hope.  As I’ve suggested, Kušej had come up with a fascinating concept for Arbace and Stanislas de Barbeyrac executed it brilliantly and sang really well – he made you regret that the role is so small and suggested all kinds about the man that you’d never get from the opera.  I’m still not sure what it had to do with Idomeneo but I’d really like to see him again – he strikes me as an important singing actor.  Krystian Adam made a suitably vicious High Priest.

I’ve a very soft spot for this opera and try to get to see it whenever it’s done.  This performance renewed my love for the music and admiration for an opera where you suddenly feel that Mozart is engaging with the form and able to get towards his ambitions in a way that simply doesn’t happen in, say Finta giardiniera.  I simply felt irritated at a production that didn’t help the piece or bring out its strengths.  It’s 25 years since it was last done at the ROH.  I can’t see this one coming back and hope we’ll get a different production in less time than that.

Final Finta

19 Aug

Dear Glyndebourne,

Please take your time.  I am a patient man and you have earned considerable respect and affection, but can you please tell why, for the love of any deity you care to believe in, you thought it was a good idea to put on La finta giardiniera, which I had the misfortune to see on 18th August.

It’s not that it was a bad performance, it’s that the opera is a complete stinker.  Once you get into Act II, I defy anyone to tell what is really going one, who is in love with whom or pretending to be in love with whom or why it matters.  There isn’t a single attractive character in the piece.  Motivation is perplexing, to put it kindly, though un-considered is probably more accurate.  And there is “pleasant enough aria that slightly outstays its welcome” after “pleasant enough aria that badly outstays its welcome” without anything more.  You get fed up of the ghastly little show-off of a composer that Mozart evidently was at 18 (yes, I saw Amadeus at Chichester recently).  As to the finale to the second Act, just when you think it’s going to end, another section comes along and you realise that it could go on like this forever.  No wonder, Frederic Wake-Walker was reduced to getting his characters to tear up the scenery to keep our interest going.  That’s what I wanted to do to the score.

Alright, I will grant you that there are moments where what is to come shines through.  I’m thinking of the finale to the first Act – where, suddenly, you realise that Mozart was, at heart, an ensemble composer and, rather like the quartet in Entfuhrung, everything begins to mean something.  There’s Nardo’s aria, originally in the first Act, here moved to the end, which reminds you of Aprite un po in Figaro and makes you wish that you were hearing that instead.  And the Sandrina/Belfiore reconciliation has some beauties.  Otherwise, I had a distinct sense of an audience slowly wilting and losing the will to live.  Rossini might have made something of it and at least there’d have been some decent ensembles and strettas.

Perhaps it was Robin Ticciati’s fault.  He clearly loves the score, but did he love it too much?  Were the textures just too heavy, the tempi a bit on the slow side and exaggerated?  Probably not.  There’s a limit to what you can do with a squib like this.  The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment were, of course, great – and I hope they’re playing some real, late Mozart soon.

There was a really good cast, too.  Christiane Karg, a lovely Aricie last year, seized Sandrina’s opportunities and sang really gorgeously begging the question, Glyndebourne, of why on earth you weren’t casting her as Susanna or Pamina.  Similarly, Nicole Heaston had a high time camping up the ghastly Arminda and sang strongly – you could have cast her as Elvira, for example – and Gyula Orendt sang his aria so well and displayed an engaging personality, making me wish that you’d cast him as Figaro in either or its last two performances here.  Joel Prieto as Belfiore displayed a pleasant, light voice as Belfiore and it would be nice to see him as Fenton or Rinuccio or even Ottavio.

I was slightly less taken by Joelle Harvey as Serpetta and Rachel Frankel’s rather anonymous Ramiro but both sang very nicely. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke sang his arias very well and displayed a very nice sense of humour as the rather fussy Mayor.  He plays character roles so often here that it was good to hear him sing a legato tenor role so successfully.

Frederic Wake-Walker attempted to make the piece interesting.  It was set firmly in the 18th century – suggestions of a Clarissa-like rape or argument during the overture in a set suggesting a down-at-heel baroque palace – also perhaps parodying pictures of Glyndebourne’s sets for Mozart operas in its early days.  He also set it in a theatre – and it looked as though many of the characters, at times, were simply marionettes.  As Sandrina and Belfiore go mad, they demolish the set and, at the end of the (thank God) heavily cut third Act, the went off in the woods together, leaving the remaining characters to sing the epilogue.  I had the feeling of someone trying too hard to keep us interested and I found myself becoming more and more irritated as the lengthy, irrelevant action went on and on and on.

So Glyndebourne, there are lots of other better operas you could have done and I resent your wasting my time and money and your talented cast on this one.  I suppose that I can at least be grateful that I’m now convinced that the piece doesn’t work and, if I have anything to do with it, this will be the last time I ever see it.  Please don’t do it again.