David pountney

Juicy solution to the Purcell problem: Opera North’s Masque of Might reviewed

Another week, another attempt to solve the Purcell problem. There’s a problem? Well, yes, if you consider that a composer universally agreed (on the strength of Dido and Aeneas) to be a great musical dramatist left only one stageable opera (that’d be Dido and Aeneas), but hour upon hour of theatre music that’s effectively unperformable in anything like its original context: i.e., yoked to text-heavy Restoration dramas. How to get this stuff back on stage?  The story is rudimentary – just enough to support song, dance and a thumping great moral Masque of Might, David Pountney’s new extravaganza for Opera North, is one solution, and it’s rather a fun one.

Wow, this is good: Grange Park Opera’s Ivan the Terrible reviewed

There are worse inconveniences than having to wear a face mask to the opera. But there’s one consequence that hadn’t really struck home until an hour into Rimsky-Korsakov’s Ivan the Terrible. The citizens of Pskov are massing in the streets. The Tsar’s army is approaching, and Rimsky is building one of those surging Russian crowd scenes: bass-heavy chorus blazing away while ominous bell sounds — basses, horns and rasping gong — shake the orchestra to its bones. Suddenly a bloodstained figure staggers in and collapses; a refugee from nearby Novgorod. ‘Your brother-city sends its greetings, and asks you to arrange its funeral,’ he gasps. At that point, I’d have given

Secret pleasures

Should a secret pleasure ever be shared? Spoiler alert: Susanna’s secret, unknown to her husband Gil, is that she smokes. And when, in his opera Il segreto di Susanna, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari finally gets her alone with her longed-for cigarette, he makes it feel like nothing in heaven or earth could top the sensuous bliss of that first solitary drag. Clarinet and flute coil languidly upwards, the air hazes over with muted strings, and the celeste adds the little spasms of tingling pleasure that Wolf-Ferrari’s contemporary Richard Strauss saves for love at first sight. Salome has nothing on this. By rights, Il segreto di Susanna ought to carry a government health

The Berlioz problem

Hector Berlioz was born on 11 December 1803 in rural Isère. ‘During the months which preceded my birth my mother never dreamed, as Virgil’s did, that she was about to bring forth a laurel branch,’ he writes in his Memoirs. ‘This is extraordinary, I agree, but it is true… Can it be that our age is lacking in poetry?’ And so on, for nearly 600 candid, facetious, outspoken pages. Berlioz’s Memoirs are the inner voice of the Romantic generation as you’ve always imagined it, and everyone who’s interested in music in the 19th century — no, scrub that, everyone who’s interested in European culture — should read them. As a

Another fine mess

I wonder why ENO has invested in a new production of Berg’s Lulu, when the previous one, which we first saw in 2002 and then in 2005, was so brilliant as to be virtually definitive. (Of course, that last word is anathema to operatic ‘creative’ teams, for obvious reasons.) Not that this new one, directed by William Kentridge, isn’t good too, though it is excessively busy, compounding the hyperactivity of the score and action. It doesn’t do anything to clarify matters, though almost all the questions one is left asking are ones that the composer-librettist has set. The very full and useful notes in the programme trace the history of

Hole in the heart | 6 October 2016

Richard Jones’s new production of Don Giovanni at ENO bears some passing resemblances to the opera as envisaged by its librettist and composer. Mainly, however, it goes its own way, refusing most of the time, especially at key moments, to listen to the music Mozart wrote, with consequences that Jones no doubt regards as ‘creative infidelity’. When we enter the auditorium we see a contemporary streetlight and a phone booth, straight out of Jones’s production of Siegfried at the Royal Opera 20 years ago. The curtain rises on a huge ‘Wanted’ poster of Christopher Purves, followed by a depressing series of bleak rooms, in one of which the Commendatore is

Pole apart

Alas, poor André Tchaikowsky. A survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, with an assumed name that probably did his musical career as much harm as good (he was born Robert Andrzej Krauthammer), he died of cancer in 1982 shortly after his only opera, The Merchant of Venice, was rejected by ENO. He’s remembered today principally for bequeathing his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company for use as a prop, in which capacity he starred alongside David Tennant in Hamlet in 2008. That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. Welsh National Opera’s programme book doesn’t credit the skull that’s removed from Portia’s casket in Keith Warner’s UK première

Speech impediment | 19 May 2016

‘So you’re going to see the gay sex opera?’ exclaimed my friend, open-mouthed. People certainly seem to have had some odd preconceptions about Mark Simpson’s new chamber opera Pleasure. The distinguished critic of the Daily Telegraph let it be known that he awaited ‘with trepidation, something set in the lavatories of a gay nightclub’. And to be fair, the news that Pleasure was to star Lesley Garrett — last seen in Welsh National Opera’s Chorus! ascending to the heavens aboard an enormous pair of lips — didn’t exactly dampen suspicions that we were about to see some sort of camp spectacular: Adès’s Powder Her Face meets RuPaul’s Drag Race. In

Excess baggage

Near the end of Elena Langer’s new opera Figaro Gets a Divorce, as the Almaviva household — now emigrés in an unnamed 1930s police state — prepares to flee, the Countess announces that she intends to leave her trunk behind. It’s not the subtlest moment in David Pountney’s libretto. Any opera that sets itself up as a sequel to The Marriage of Figaro is already courting comparisons that are both completely unavoidable and massively unfair. When the production of Figaro is as good as this one, that baggage can become so heavy that it’s immovable. Welsh National Opera isn’t the first company to present The Barber of Seville and The

Not a pretty sight

‘Forget Downton Abbey!’ exhorts David Pountney in the programme for Figaro Forever, Welsh National Opera’s season of Beaumarchais operas, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro and Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce. ‘A televisual age in which the vast narrative panorama of a “series” strung out across many episodes seems to capture people’s imaginations is perhaps exactly the right moment to follow the fortunes of the Count and Rosina, their servant Figaro and his fiancée, Susanna,’ he continues. What WNO’s artistic director means is the opposite of what he says. The reader is in fact being asked to remember Downton and make an improbable connection between the unpredictable

ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West is irresistibly seductive

Puccini’s La fanciulla del West is, one suspects, one of those works that modern audiences struggle to keep a straight face through. The hero, for a start, decides to call himself Dick Johnson. The piece’s Wild West trappings, long since staled into Hollywood cliché, still seem a strange fit for the operatic stage (it was performed here as The Girl of the Golden West, with Kelley Rourke’s translation delivered in a variety of American accents). The redemptive, into-the-sunset conclusion takes for granted a belief that capitalism in its most primitive, brutal form could leave a group of hardened Gold Rush miners capable of forgiveness. That it might have done, ENO’s

Robo-Tell hits Welsh National Opera

Is there a fundamental, insuperable problem with staging Rossini’s Guillaume Tell on a budget, without the resources to conjure up the sense of scale that was part of grand opéra’s appeal and raison d’être? Take away the special effects, whip away the phantasmagorical curtain, and, as with any Hollywood blockbuster, you are left with a modest little plot whirring away at its centre. In Tell, this involves the love between Arnold and Mathilde across a national divide. It’s the struggle of the Swiss — in a time before neutrality and cuckoo clocks — against their Austrian oppressors that, along with the Alps, forms the backdrop. Rossini’s score can occasionally seem