Category Archives: Opera Review

ANTHONY TURNAGE OPERA: ‘THE SILVER TASSIE’ (AFTER THE PLAY BY SEAN O’CASEY) ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3

Live from the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra presents Mark-Anthony Turnage’s The Silver Tassie. Ryan Wigglesworth conducts an all-star British cast and the BBC Singers. Presented by Andrew McGregor Live from the Barbican Hall, London Mark-Anthony Turnage: The Silver Tassie (Libretto by Amanda Holden after the play by Sean O’Casey) Act I Act II 8.05 Interval 8.25 Act III Act IV Harry ….. Ashley Riches (baritone) Susie ….. Sally Matthews (soprano) Croucher….. Brindley Sherratt (bass) Mrs Foran….. Claire Booth (soprano) Teddy ….. Marcus Farnsworth (baritone) Barney ….. Alexander Robin Baker (baritone) Jessie….. Louise Alder (soprano) Mrs Heegan …..Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano) Sylvester ….. Mark Le Brocq (tenor) Dr Maxwell/Staff Officer ….. Anthony Gregory (tenor) Corporal ….. Benedict Nelson (baritone) BBC Singers Finchley Children’s Music Group Kenneth Richardson (Director) Ryan Wigglesworth (Conductor) Sean O’Casey’s provocative 1928 play The Silver Tassie pries open the wound of the First World War and peers unblinkingly into its horrifying depths. The futility of war and its painful human cost is conveyed with even greater intensity in Mark-Anthony

Turnage’s beautifully crafted operatic adaptation, which explores what happens when young, football-mad Harry comes back from the war in a wheelchair. An all-star British cast has been assembled including Susan Bickley, Sally Matthews and Louise Alder, with rising young baritone Ashley Riches as Harry, for this long-overdue revival of the opera, premiered in 2000 at ENO. SYNOPSIS The Silver Tassie, Turnage’s second acknowledged opera, is on a much larger scale than his first, Greek.

Based on the play by Sean O’Casey written in 1927, it is set at the time of the Great War (World War I) and its title, referring to a footballing trophy, comes from a Scottish song text by Robert Burns ‘Go fetch to me a pint o’ wine, an’ fill it in a silver tassie; that I may drink before I go, a service to my bonnie lassie’. Harry Heegan (23) is a local hero – a soldier on leave from the Great War, and a renowned footballer. An only child, he lives with his parents (both in their 60s), having grown up close to the girl next door, Susie. In the flat above is a volatile young couple, Mrs Foran and her husband Teddy. The other main roles are Harry’s glamorous girlfriend, Jessie, and his best friend, Barney. Triumphant after a footballing success and winning the cup (‘The Silver Tassie’) for his team, he leaves for the front. The second act, a darkly expressionist vision of war, is cast for male voices (boys and men) only. In the second half of the opera, Harry is in a wheelchair, Teddy is blind and Jessie has deserted Harry for Barney. The final act, in which dance music plays almost continuously, brings the tragi-comedy to a poignant and moving conclusion, as Harry and Teddy set off to face the future.

LLOYD WEBBER/RICE: ‘EVITA’  (REVIEW FROM LONDON) ·

By Marit E. Shuman

 Rainbow High or Rainbow Low?

In the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, panache seems to overtake sincerity in this gilded, but nonetheless, enjoyable production. Title-role: Emma Hatton, no stranger to the West End (her credits include Elphaba in Wicked) or to the world of jazz and blues, seems to rely heavily on the latter in the delivery of her performance.

A vocally taxing role, Evita swoops from dusky, barely audible low notes all the way up to belted passagio, and then some. To quote Patti LuPone, originator of the role of Evita on Broadway, “There’s a couple of notes that aren’t as strong as your top notes or your bottom notes and that’s exactly where the score sits.” Where LuPone punched through the Es, Fs, and Gs, that characterize the vocal line (at the cost of her vocals, to be fair), Hatton backs down and floats them, in a breathy, bluesy manner. This approach adds a layer of sensitivity to Evita, by the addition of more dynamic contrast, but at what cost? Some of the strength, drive, and fearlessness of Eva Perón seem to be lost.

 

Playing opposite Hatton, making his West End debut in the role of Che, is Gian Marco Schiaretti.  Extremely handsome, he moves about the stage with ease and confidence.  Classic Che beard tightly clipped, army reliefs tightly fitted, and vibrato tightly coiled, this “boyband Che” brings charisma to the role, and, when he moves to his higher register and gives up trying to speak-sing, reveals an expressive and powerful voice. Unfortunately, the honesty and gravity of Che, as narrator, are glossed over by all the glitz.

Whereas the roles of Evita and Che seem to be lacking something, in terms of integrity, so too does the music. As is the norm nowadays, with theatres trying to cut costs, the orchestra that Webber’s iconic songs were written for consists of three keyboards–playing the parts of various instruments, such as strings and harps–a couple of trumpets, and a guitar.

All in all, a fun production but fluffy–ephemeral and insubstantial.

© 2017 by Marit E. Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Pamela Raith

ITALY’S ELITE LA SCALA APPALLED AT OPERA GOERS TURNING UP IN T-SHIRTS, MINI-SKIRTS AND FLIP-FLOPS ·

(Nick Squires’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 7/14.; via the Drudge Report.)  

As one of the world’s most celebrated opera houses, La Scala in Milan expects a certain degree of decorum, but guardians of the elite institution have been appalled at the shabby state of audiences this summer.

Instead of donning jackets and evening dresses, ticket holders are turning up as if dressed for the beach, as temperatures reach 95F or more during one of Italy’s hottest summers for years.

The worst culprits are normally foreign tourists but even Italians, who are normally renowned for their stylish dress, are not averse to arriving in shorts, mini-skirts and sandals.

(Read more)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/14/italys-elite-la-scala-appalled-opera-goers-turning-t-shirts/

 

ALEX ROSS ON THOMAS ADÈS’S OPERA ‘THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL’ ·

 

(Ross’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 8/22.)

In Salzburg, Thomas Adès gives Luis Buñuel’s cool, eerie film from 1962 a new, tragic volatility.

The British composer Thomas Adès is as compelling as any contemporary practitioner of his art because he is, first and foremost, a virtuoso of extremes. He is a refined technician, with a skilled performer’s reverence for tradition, yet he has no fear of unleashing brutal sounds on the edge of chaos. Although he makes liberal use of tonal harmony—including opulent, late-Romantic gestures, for which mainstream audiences profess to be starved—he subjects that material to shattering pressure. He conjures both the vanished past and the ephemeral present: waltzes in a crumbling ballroom, pounding beats in a pop arena. Like Alban Berg, the twentieth-century master whom he most resembles, he pushes ambiguity to the point of explosive crisis.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/08/22/thomas-ades-the-exterminating-angel

FROM BRITTEN TO BERLIOZ: OPERA’S DEBT TO SHAKESPEARE ·

 

(Rupert Chrisiansen’s aricle appeared in the Telegraph 8/9.)

As we present our Glyndebourne stream of 'Béatrice et Bénédict’, Rupert Christiansen asks why so many composers love the Bard

At the last scholarly count, almost 300 operas have been drawn fromShakespeare’s plays. These range from The Fairy Queen, Purcell’s late 17th-century fantasia on the theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to musty obscurities such as von Lichtenstein’s 19th-century Ende gut, alles gut (All’s Well that Ends Well), and modern novelties such as Brett Dean’s Hamlet and Ryan Wigglesworth’s The Winter’s Tale – both of which receive their world premieres next season, at Glyndebourne and the London Coliseum respectively. 

In general, it is plot and character, rather than Shakespeare’s poetic language, that have provided the inspiration for operas based on his plays. Although Britten used Shakespeare’s text for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, cutting it drastically but leaving it otherwise virtually unchanged, this is an unusual practice. The great majority of composers have worked up completely new librettos, which make only general or passing reference to the original words. 

(Read more)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opera/what-to-see/from-britten-to-berlioz-operas-debt-to-shakespeare/

*****SARAH KANE: ‘4.48 PSYCHOSIS’ OPERA (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Steph Powers’s article appeared in the Independent, 5/26.)

Suffering from suicidal depression, Sarah Kane experienced her sharpest, most anguished clarity at 4.48am: hence her visceral final play, 4.48 Psychosis. In it, mental extremes are unflinchingly distilled. Wreathed in dark humour or bleak, lyrical beauty, words fragment and coalesce through angry pain and medicated stupor into skinless and terrible lucid freedom.

Where this first ever operatic setting by Royal Opera/Guildhall Composer-in-Residence Philip Venables succeeds is through simple honesty. With a score ranging guilelessly from motoric arrhythmia to wispy renaissance, director Ted Huffman and team attempt neither dramatic adornment nor explanation but allow the text to breathe within a kaleidoscope of inner-outer conflict.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/448-psychosis-lyric-hammersmith-review-sarah-kane-s-final-play-about-her-suicidal-depression-a7049726.html

DEBATING ‘OTELLO,’ BLACKFACE AND CASTING TRENDS ·

 

 

(Ben Brantley’s and Anthony Tommasini’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/30; via Pam  Green.)

When the Metropolitan Opera announced it would forgo the traditional darkening makeup for the title character in its new production of Verdi’s “Otello,” it set off the latest in an ongoing series of debates about the depiction of race in theatrical settings. In an email exchange, two critics for The New York Times — Ben Brantley, whose specialty is theater, and Anthony Tommasini, whose area is classical music — discussed the “Otello” staging, the uses of blackface, casting trends and more. Here are excerpts from their conversation. 

ANTHONY TOMMASINI Colorblind casting has taken hold over the last couple of decades, both in the theater and opera worlds. Today, if a production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (or Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” in the opera house) starred a black Romeo and a white Juliet, it would simply be a nonissue.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/arts/music/debating-otello-blackface-and-casting-trends.html?mwrsm=Email&_r=0

Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http 2015:// www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.

DONNACHA DENNEHY/ENDA WALSH: ‘THE LAST HOTEL’ (SV PICK, SCT) ·

 

(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 8/10.

It seems like an innocuous question, asked by a chatty Irish woman of a hesitant English couple who have arrived to Ireland by ferry: “Was it a nice crossing?” But in Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s darkly absorbing new opera, it becomes something more freighted. “Well, it was a bit choppy,” offers the husband, “but painless enough, all right.” From this point on, the crossing will be choppier and hardly painless.

Inspired by the grim, true story of an Irish woman’s assisted suicide in 2002, but radically transformed, Dennehy’s score and Walsh’s libretto provide a work of wide imagination, unsettling meditation and archly quotidian detail.

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/the-last-hotel-review-an-opera-about-rehearshing-for-death-1.2312761

Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http 2015:// www.stagevoices.com/ . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.

MICHAEL FEINGOLD ON NEW YORK CITY OPERA II ·

(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 10/25.)

Though many people trace the beginnings of New York City Opera's downfall to its 1966 move from New York City Center to a new home at Lincoln Center (in what was then called the New York State Theater), the events that led to NYCO's filing for bankruptcy last month actually occurred far more recently. As a surprising recent article by James B. Stewart revealed in The New York Times, the cold fiscal facts had little to do with either the company's artistic profile or the "business model" on which it was run, although both could be said to have helped grease the company's steep downslide. Ultimately, the cause was sheer, and shocking, monetary mismanagement, under former board chairman Susan L. Baker's aegis: Beginning in 2008, the company's substantial endowment ($51
million as recently as 2001) was simply thrown overboard in a series of panicky gestures that actively shriveled both NYCO's producing presence and its financial stability.

Raids on a nonprofit institution's endowment, as Stewart points out, can only be made after clearing
a series of legal hurdles. The mayor's office, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, and an assistant to the state's Attorney General all signed off on the deal — though the last of those, at least, saw fit to attach to her approval a list of stringent restrictions (apparently not all heeded by the
board). Under this less than vigilant custodianship, City Opera rolled rapidly downhill to its inglorious mid-season termination.

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/10-2013/people-for-or-against-the-peoples-opera-part-ii_66422.html

MICHAEL FEINGOLD: CITY OPERA AND THE GREAT BEYOND ·

(From Theatermania, 10/18.)

New York City Opera has died. I grieve for its lost glories, mostly now long gone, but I'm not going to fill this essay with mournful memories. Instead, I think it would be wise to consider what sort of institution New York should create to replace NYCO. So we had better consider what City Opera achieved, why its existence was (and could again be) important to the city, and what went wrong
to cause its shockingly speedy downward spiral, after more than six decades of comparative success.

For make no mistake, a replacement institution will certainly arise. The nonsense currently being spouted about New York City's inability to support two opera companies, is, precisely, nonsense. New York City, bursting with wealth and artistic talent, can support any damn thing it needs; the trick is making it see that a given thing is needed. During the bulk of its 70-year life, City Opera was able to make a convincing case for that need. Inevitably it faced struggles, including financial struggles: No opera company in history has ever lived without them. Opera is expensive, and its success cannot be wholly measured at the box office. Unlike other kinds of theater production, it tends to require large ongoing forces. For those who act in spoken plays and vernacular musicals, a rotating repertory may be merely desirable as artistically nourishing — I personally see it as optimal — but for the singers of opera's long, vocally arduous leading roles, repertory is a physical necessity.

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/10-2013/people-for-or-against-the-peoples-opera_66372.html