fri 24/01/2020

Opera Reviews

Katya Kabanova, English National Opera

David Nice

It's amazing how much you can tell of what lies ahead from the way a conductor handles a master composer's first chord. Katya Kabanova's opening sigh of muted violas and cellos underpinned by double basses should tell us that the Volga into which the self-persecuted heroine will eventually throw herself is a river, real or metaphorical, of infinite breadth and depth.

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Kaija Saariaho's Émilie, Opéra de Lyon

Igor Toronyi-Lalic Émilie du Châtelet: 'Châtelet (Karita Mattila) staggers around her orrery study barefoot like a 19th-century hysteric: temperamental, mystical and totally doolally.'

The new millennium shimmered into earshot with a musical masterpiece from a female Finn. Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin (2000) appeared to open up an enticing new operatic sound world, less dogmatic, more instinctive, colourful and intense, very much like the work's model, Debussy's Pélleas et Mélisande, had done a hundred years before. Ten years on, the critical establishment descended on Lyon for Saariaho's third opera, Émilie - which comes to the Barbican in...

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Tamerlano, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Graham Vick's Tamerlano is less of an opera and more of a warning. In four and half hours you see 26 ways of how not to handle the Baroque aria. Dramatic success in Handel and his psychological flights of mainly soliloquising fancy is never easy but last night's ill-fated Royal Opera House production (Placido Domingo called in sick a few weeks back) was a lesson in abject theatrical failure.

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Philip Glass: Satyagraha, ENO/ LSO, Alsop, Barbican

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

It has always been a cornerstone of my personal philosophy that beauty and insight can be found in the very lowest of common denominators. That Big Brother, Friends, Love It magazine or Paris Hilton provide revelations about life that are of as much consequence, of as much wonder, as any offered up by the classic pantheon. That that which the people respond to must and usually does have plenty of merit lurking within it.

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La Traviata, Chelsea Opera Group, QEH

David Nice

Marie Duplessis, Alexandre Dumas the Younger's real-life "lady of the camellias", was only 23 when consumption finally claimed her. Ignore a few lines about youth in Verdi's operatic treatment, though, and there's no reason why courtesan Violetta shouldn't be a woman of advancing years who finds true love with a man half her age or more; think Chéri (Colette's novel, not the film if you please).

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The Elixir of Love, English National Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

It takes roughly, ooh, about five minutes for Jonathan Miller's new production of Donizetti's The Elixir of Love (whose 1950s set had the audience gawping smilingly within seconds) to start electrifying the nerve-endings into orgasmic spasm.

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The Gambler, Royal Opera House

David Nice

Fasten your seatbelts; it's a bumpy ride to the casino. In Prokofiev's wilful but uncompromising take on Dostoyevsky's tale of obsession, all the private paths of love, lust and greed lead to the gambling tables - eventually. The composer saves up one of the most adrenalin-charged scenes in 20th-century opera for the last act, giving director and conductor some headaches in generating interest and comprehensibility along the way. With a dedication we can only imagine, Richard Jones and...

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Ruddigore, Opera North

graham Rickson A magical Ruddigore: Richard Burkhard as Sir Despard Murgatroyd (left) and Grant Doyle as Robin Oakapple

The plot of this rarely performed Gilbert and Sullivan spoof melodrama is gloriously amusing. The male heirs of the Murgatroyd family suffer under a witch’s curse which forces them to commit a crime each day, or suffer an agonising death. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd has fled the ancestral home and now lives under a pseudonym, meaning that his younger brother Despard has had to assume both the baronetcy and the duty to commit the daily crime. Unlike his older brother's dastardly penchant for stealing...

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Lucia di Lammermoor, ENO

David Nice

Is Donizetti's fustian operatic mash-up of Sir Walter Scott worth staging seriously? On CD, stupenda Sutherland and divina Callas continue to give us goosebumps with their darting, florid stabs at poor mad Lucia. If the difficult-to-achieve match of bel canto and dramatic intensity rests only with the lead tenor, as it did last night, what's left?

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Così fan tutte, Royal Opera/ Joyce DiDonato, Wigmore Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Two very different lessons on love this week. From the Aphrodite-like Joyce DiDonato at the Wigmore Hall, there emerged a correct, wise, honest way to achieve an enamoured state; from the familiarly fickle cast of Così fan tutte - an almost unwatchably faulty bunch of emotional primitives in Jonathan Miller's production for the Royal Opera - very much the wrong way.

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