wed 19/06/2019

Opera Reviews

Classical and Opera 2000-9: The Highs and Lows

theartsdesk

 

No great new movements or radically transformational figures emerged to dominate classical music in the Noughties (not even him up there). Just one small nagging question bedevilled us: will the art form survive? Well, it has. What appeared to be a late 20th-century decline in audience interest in the classical tradition was in fact a consumer weariness with the choices on offer.

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La Bohème, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Very few of the staged goings-on in Covent Garden’s revival production of La Bohème this weekend rose above the level of mediocrity. The singing was blighted by illness and Eastern European bad habits. The 1970s set was as fresh as a fridge full of condemned meats. The 1970s vision of 19th century costume was extraordinary, as if the set of Abigail's Party had been emptied over the singers' heads. And yet, what an enjoyable evening.

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Imagine: Placido Domingo - The Time of My Life, BBC One

David Nice

How old Placido Domingo? Old Placido Domingo in not bad vocal health, to paraphrase Cary Grant's celebrated telegram reply. The other answer depends on your source of reference. Domingo is 68 in the eyes of last night's rather lazy, over-reverent Imagine, but 75 according to my not so New Everyman Dictionary of Music. Where did that come from?

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Carmen, Live from La Scala broadcast

Adam Sweeting Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose clashes violently with Anita Rachvelishvili's Carmen

It was well worth a dash down a rain-deluged Shaftesbury Avenue to catch this live digital broadcast from Milan at the Odeon, Covent Garden. For a start it meant saving a plane fare and a ticket at 250 euros or (much) more, and it also meant eavesdropping in vivid close-up on what may have been a nugget of history in the making at the grand old opera house.

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Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera

David Nice

Seeking the snows of yesteryear, I remember a time when John Schlesinger's Covent Garden Rosenkavalier filled every moment of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's rococo libretto and Richard Strauss's jewel-studded score with life and meaning. 25 years on, its creator is no more, a revival director (Andrew Sinclair) fails to pull a dramatically variable cast together and many startling new productions have shown more readiness to engage with the opera's Viennese time machine...

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Otello, LSO, Sir Colin Davis, Barbican

David Nice Sir Colin Davis rehearsing the LSO last week: Starbursts and moonshine, but less of the broader sweep

Let's suppose that off-centre genius among opera directors Richard Jones had been asked to bring his imagination to bear on Sir Colin Davis's latest Verdi-in-concert. I imagine he might have weighed up leading men, chorus and the conductor's unexpected blend of manicure with flash alongside swathes of masterful beauty, and decided to follow up his 1940s Windsor Falstaff at Glyndebourne with a 1970s Otello set in Surbiton.

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Swanhunter, Opera North

graham Rickson Andrew Rees as Lemminkäinen with Yvonne Howard as Lemminkäinen's Mother

The violin figure which opens Jonathan Dove’s delightful Swanhunter evokes Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. The allusion is surely deliberate. Like L’Histoire, and in contrast to Pinocchio, Dove’s large-scale Opera North commission of two years ago, Swanhunter is a 70-minute, chamber-sized work designed for performance in small venues.

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The Tsarina's Slippers, Royal Opera House

David Nice Larissa Diadkova (Solokha) and Maxim Mikhailov (the Devil) in The Tsarina's Slippers

A vain, capricious girl sends her lunk of a suitor on a quest for the best ruby slippers in the world, while said lunk's mother, the village witch, cosies up to the Devil. It's a whimsical Christmas Eve tale, exuberantly narrated by Nikolay Gogol in his Ukrainian-based Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka; but you wouldn't think there would be much room for pathos and sentiment. Trust Tchaikovsky to favour the heartfelt and the melancholy in his very characteristic early opera Vakula...

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Angela Gheorghiu, Royal Festival Hall

Adam Sweeting

The famously tempestuous Romanian soprano is, we learn, living a separate life from her husband Roberto Alagna. If Opera's Most Romantic Couple is no more, will Brand Angela be terminally damaged? Surely a showcase performance in the South Bank's International Voices season would be just the thing to rally the faithful and reaffirm Ms Gheorghiu's spectacular star quality, but I must admit that by the time we reached the interval, I was beset with gnawing doubt.

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Maria di Rohan, Royal Festival Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic Krassimira Stoyanova's Maria di Rohan was the show-stopper

So many 19th-century opera plots park themselves on fertile historical ground, amid all the colour, character and juice you could ever want, and then spend three hours picking at some anaemic daisies at the edges. It was a worry last night as I watched Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan in concert at the Royal Festival Hall.  By sidestepping the heavyweight power players of Louis XIII’s reign, the eminently operatic figures of Cardinal Richelieu (endlessly...

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