fri 18/10/2019

Opera Reviews

Werther, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

We all knew about the throat problems and the vocal-cord-threatening surgery. But Rolando Villazón's post-operation return to the Royal Opera House last night appeared to reveal heart issues too. At least that was the only way I could explain the endless arm-swinging and chest-clutching. Twenty, perhaps 30, times he clutched and swung. Surely this wasn't Villazón's attempt to characterise Werther's heartache, was it?

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From the House of the Dead, Opera North

graham Rickson

Janáček’s stark Prelude is a stunner: there’s no conventional beginning, no conventional thematic development; it simply starts, as if a light switch has been flicked on, and the baleful opening theme is distorted, repeated, squeezed until it leads into an extraordinary stretch of solo violin writing. Based on Dostoevsky’s novel,  Janáček’s final opera isn’t a faithful adaptation – it’s a selection of loosely linked scenes spread over three concise acts.

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Pelléas et Mélisande, Barbican Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

"Ne me touchez pas! Ne me touchez pas!" Mélisande's jittery first words could be the motto for the whole of Pelléas et Mélisande. How to touch, what to touch, when to and when not to touch, more specifically, how to mark without bruising, are the subjects and challenges thrown up by Debussy's delicate piece of operatic symbolism. Ones that all the artists in last night's concert performance at the Barbican Hall tackled with incredible levels of musicality.

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The Coronation of Poppea, King's Head Theatre

Igor Toronyi-Lalic Young sopranos Jessica Walker (Nero) and Zoe Bonner (Poppea) in one of their many sexy turns

When OperaUpClose's bar-side production of La bohème beat the ENO and Royal Opera House to the Olivier Awards' Best New Production gong earlier this year, it was hard - even in these award-sceptical...

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The Tsar's Bride, Royal Opera

David Nice All weddings for the Russian rich end in tears: Paul Curran's updated Rimsky-Korsakov at Covent Garden

Long before the curtain rose on this soapy operatic tale of power and poison, one big question loomed: could director Paul Curran, could anyone, bring Rimsky-Korsakov's sweet, doomed and very Russian bride to convincing life? The music's mostly strong, and unusually singer-friendly for this composer; the historically dodgy plot's patchy, but not inimical to resetting in the queasy milieu of the new Russian rich. Given the bloodstained start in a swish Moscow restaurant, I thought Curran...

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Fidelio, Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre

graham Rickson Steven Harrison as Florestan (left) and Emma Bell as Leonore (right)

Unpleasant feelings of confinement and claustrophobia hit you when the curtain rises after Beethoven’s disconcertingly jolly overture; one small room is visible on stage, framed by black curtains. The sun shines oppressively through the barred windows, and the characters look constrained, physically awkward. After the occasionally over-the-top visuals of several recent Opera North...

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Iolanthe, Wilton's Music Hall

David Nice

What's this? Goosebumps? Tears? Surely not in the usually brittle world of the Savoy operas. Yet handle Sullivan's pathos with tenderness, make everyone believe in a recognition scene between a sinning fairy and her preening peer of a husband, and the spectators will be putty in your hands.

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Piccard in Space, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

I reviewed excerpts of Will Gregory's new opera, Piccard in Space, last year. His funky, plushly Moog-ed, concerto-like suite struck me as rather tasty. I even said that I couldn't wait for last night's fully worked-out operatic world premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. How wrong I was.

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Fidelio, Royal Opera House

David Nice

I have no problem at all with updating Beethoven's early-19th-century paean to love and liberty: there are any number of tyrants and prisoners of conscience to whom its universal message could apply.

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Intermezzo, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

David Nice

A glittering, gaudy surface and an epic, sometimes disturbing underbelly are what many of Klimt’s canvases and Richard Strauss’s autobiographical bourgeois comedy of marital misunderstanding have in common. It was the main idea of Wolfgang Quetes’s Scottish Opera extravaganza to bring those mythic resonances in harmony with the realist conversation-piece aspect of the opera. But you don’t do Intermezzo without a capricious heroine of huge charisma like Glyndebourne charmers...

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