Tag Archives: Welsh National Opera

La Cenerentola, WNO Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff  by Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Cinderella story with a twist, Rossini’s Cenerentola has all the magic of the fairy-tale –and more. The composer’s sparkling score, with the lightness of touch that characterisesso much of Rossini’s work, lifts it up even further. This revival by the WelshNational Opera , first performed back in 2007, cleverly uses a clutch of talented Italian singers performing the central male characters, giving extra appeal when touring to European cities.

This is comic opera at its best. Cenerentola keeps most of the ingredients of the fairytale with which we are familiar, with one notable exception. There is no glass slipper.

Instead we have a sparkling bracelet – two, to be exact. – the reason being that when the opera was conceived, in Rome back in 1817, it would have been considered bad form to show a lady’s ankles on stage.

Act I opens with the Cinderella of the story, here named as Angelina, slogging away at the housework, in the crumbling castle overun by mice where she slaves away trying to cope with the demands of her two ugly sisters Clorinda and Tisbe and trying in vain to get some sign of affection from her self-important stepfather Don Magnifico – portrayed with gusto by Fabio Capitanucci. His evident enjoyment of the role, coupled with a sonorous bass, makes this singer a perfect choice for the part.

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught has a voice of exceptional depth and clarity which calls forth our sympathy as she is vilified and hassled by Clorinda (Aoife Miskelly) and Tisbe                                                                                                                                         (Heather Lowe), both of whom give great performances as the two throughly nasty stepsisters who make Angelina’s life a misery. The arrival of Alidoro (Wojtek Gierlach),officially the Prince’s tutor and mentor but actually a kind of wizard in place of the traditional fairygodmother, disguised as a beggar, hints at the chnages to come. Angelina’s kindness convinces him that she is the bride for his Prince Don Ramiro (Matteo Macchioni). Macchioni’s pleasant tenor blends well with Erraught in their duets, but with the change of identity – his valet Dandini (Giorgio Caoduro) masquerading as the Prince andvice versa – it is the latter whose performance in Act II is of particular note.

Set against a minimalist backdrop presided over by a giant fireplace centre stage, WNO’s revival is notable for its attention to detail – watch closely in order not to miss any of this.

The stepped stage could be hazardous but at Sunday’s performance any possible pifalls were dexterously avoided, not least by the team of dancers that make up the pose of mice that is a feature of this production, swishing their tails and gesturing on stage throughout. So enchanting are the make-believe rodents and so expert their delivery of revival director and choreographer Xevi Dorca’s great choreography that they are at times in danger of diverting our attention from the main action as the story unfolds.There is a cleverly portrayed storm, an overturned coach, and much more to excite as Dandini and the Prince change back to their true persona and Anglina/Cinders dream comes true.

A happy-ever-after ending – although it is rather a shame that Rossini’s Cinders is still in her kitchen dress when she marries her Prince. She does wear a sparkling tiara, but a bridal gown would have been nice. Other costumes – among them those worn by WNO’s legendary chorus – are colourful yet traditional in some respects, so why not keep this one?

There are underlying themes – good triumphs over evil, etc etc – but this pantomimic take on Rossini’s popular comedy is fun and overall should not be taken too seriously.

Now touring

Music: Gioachino Rossini

Libretto; Giacopo Ferretti

Director: Joan Font

Revivial Director/Choreographer: Xevi Dorca

Barbara Michaels 

Review La Traviata, WNO, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff BY Barbara Michaels

 

(4 / 5)

 

After the epic production of War and Peace, which opened Welsh National Opera’s 2018 autumn season, the ever-popular La Traviata – Verdi’s most performed and well-loved opera – comes as something of a relief. The fact that this is a second time round revival of WNO’s original co-production with Scottish Opera in 2009, with a more recent revival just four years ago, proves the point.

Basically a love story, with the doomed love of Parisian courtesan Violetta for the young bourgeois Alfredo Germont centre stage, the themes – thwarted love, duty and tragic death– are still relevant today, as they were back in the mid-nineteenth century, when the opera received its first performance in Venice. Wisely, McVicar has chosen to keep to the traditional, with a sumptuous period setting whose opulence fairly reeks of decadence, represented in voluminous black drapes sweeping across the stage at opportune moments. This effective device works well– unfortunately the same cannot be said of the onstage activity inserted before the overture.

With twos sopranos, both of whom are experiencded in the role, singing the role of Violetta on different dates sprinkled throughout the run, David Poultney, in his final year as artistic director of WNO, could hardly lose. Making her debut on the Donald Gordon stage at the Millennium, Armenian singer Anush Hovhannisyan, who previously sang the role with Scottish Opera, proved once again what a fine voice she has. Her pure soprano, coupled with her acting ability, makes her an ideal choice for the role – heart-wringing in the final scenes. Opposite her, as Violetta’s lover Alfredo Germont,.Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang, has a strong voice and, while needing to display a stronger persona in scene two of Act II, nevertheless shows empathy with the role, coming into his own in the tragic ending and in his duets with Hovhannisyan throughout. .Interestingly, both these singers represented their respective countries in the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in which Wang reached the main prize final.

Roland Woods’ sonorous baritone lends gravitas to the role of Germont pater, while Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, who hales from mid-Wales, is appropriately lively as the party girl Flora. Conductor James Southall’s interpretation of Verdi’s wonderful score is magnificent, as is the choreographing of the masquerade,by Andrew George and revival choreographer Colm Seery with some wonderful jumps and grands jetės executed superbly by the dancers.

An opportunity for the always reliable WNO chorus to shine and for the ladies to enjoy wearing the elegant gowns of the era, with their low cut bodices and the bustles favoured at that time, although the latter was a somewhat over-generous embellishment to Violetta’s gown in Act I , while in the second half the trousers of Alfredo’s suit appear over-long. Minor details – but why not get them right?

Overall, though, a revival that has stood the test of time.

Run: Various dates throughout October and November, ending November 23rd.

Music: Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: David McVicar

Revival Director: Sarah Crisp

Artistic Director: David Poultney

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 

Review Tosca, Welsh National Opera by Roger Barrington

photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

(4 / 5)

 

An opera in three acts by  Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa after the play by Victorien Sardou

Cast:

Floria Tosca – Claire Rutter (Soprano)
Mario Cavaradossi – Hector Sandoval (Tenor)
Baron Scarpia – Mark S. Doss (Bass-baritone)
Cesare Angelotti – Daniel Grice
Sacristan – Donald Maxwell
Spoletta – Michael Clifton-Thompson
Sciarrone – George Newton-Fitzgerald
Gaoler – Jack O’Kelly

WNO Orchestra conducted by Carlo Rizzi

Production:

Original director – Michael Blakemore
Revival director – Benjamin Davis
Designer – Ashley Martin-Davis

Michael Blakemore’s 1992 WNO’s Tosca is revived in a scintillating production currently at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Tosca is probably the first example of verismo, the operatic movement that followed literature in its change from romanticism to realism, and in its more extreme form. naturalism.  The tale set in set in Rome in June 1800, with the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It depicts jealousy, abuse of power, murder and suicide.

The three principal characters are Tosca, a celebrated soprano opera singer, Cavaradossi a painter and her lover, and Scarpia, the chief of police  who lusts after the Diva. The story is fast paced and exciting with its inevitable tragic conclusion.

British soprano Claire Rutter manages to convey the prima donna character of Tosca to excellent effect. Sudden mood swings, demanding and flamboyant behaviour  comically shown when her lover Cavaradossi’s portrait of the Magdalene resembles an imaginated rival. Her rendition of Tosca’s aria “Vissi d’arte”, a lament to God for having repaid her cruelly for her good deeds, demanded your sympathy and compassion.

Mexican Hector Sandaval, (not to be confused with his compatriot, the martial arts exponent), possesses a highly cultivated tenor voice and this was shown to good effect during the climatic final act with Cavardossi’s famous aria, ”  E lucevan le stelle”.

American Mark S Doss amply displayed the sadistic nature of  Scarpia, although at the conclusion of Act 1 with the sublime Te Deum, he lacks the power of Bryn Terfel or the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the same role. Having said that, this is the highlight of the production with Doss backed up by the chorus largely made up of local schoolchildren.

The orchestra of the Welsh National Opera under the baton of Carlo Rizzi played beautifully throughout and added to the high quality of the singing significantly.

I would like to see the WNO  the next time they perform Tosca, having a new production as Blakemore’s twenty-six year old production, is getting a little long in the tooth.

Another small blemish was in the final scene where Tosca dramatically jumps to her death from the parapet of the Castel Sant’Angelo, her head momentarily reappears thereby defying the laws of gravity.

Should you be looking for an introduction to Grand Opera, then Tosca with its riveting story-line and fast pace provide the basis of an experience that can open a new world of high art.

Duration: 2 hours 40 minutes with 2 intervals.

It plays at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay until 20 February 2018 and tickets can be purchased here

End

Roger Barrington

Photos

 photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 

 photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

Roger Barrington

Review Der Rosenkavalier, WNO, Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff by Barbara Michaels

Photographic credits Nilz Böhme 

(4 / 5)

 

“Age doth not wither her.” The old adage definitely can be applied to Rebecca Evan’s portrayal of the demanding central role of the Marschallin in a new production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. Evans is at the top of her scale, with a soaring soprano and equally at ease in Act I as the skittish Bichette (her lover’s name for the Marschallin) and in the final scenes as a mature and gracious lady, bowing to the inevitable.

Right from the start there is poignancy behind the comedy, as a lone figure portraying the Marschallin in age is seen either seated in a chair or wandering around at the back of the stage. A nice touch of individuality in that the (non speaking) part is played by actress Margaret Bainton who was in the chorus of the WNO for thirty-seven years and played a child in Der Rosenkavalier fifteen years ago

The Marschallin is married to a high-ranking Field Marshall who is conveniently away on duty as she enjoys a bit of rumpy pumpy with her young lover, Count Octavian (nicknamed Quinquin) , only to be most inconveniently interrupted by the boorish Baron Ochs, up from the country and hell-bent on acquiring a young wife with money. The machinations become more and more involved, as Octavian is nominated to carry the obligatory silver rose – the Der Rosenkavalier of the title and traditionally symbolising and engagement– to the Baron’s prospective bride. What no one has bargained for is that the two young people are instantly smitten with one another and fall in love.

As often with operatic comedies, there is a hint of pantomime. The young Count Octavian is a female role, performed here by the delightful Canadian mezzo-soprano Lucia Cervoni, making her debut with WNO and singing the role with evident relish. Brindley Sherratt’s Baron not only shows perfect timing but his mastery of a difficult bass role, requiring as it does a range that is rare, Sherratt being one of the few who have this accomplishment. The Baron’s intended is Sophie, daughter of the daughter of nouveau riche businessman Faninal. Singing Sophie is the delightful newcomer Louise Alder, in Cardiff for Singer of the World and only the night before shortlisted as a contender for the title, while as Faninal her social climbing father with dreams of grandeur, Adrian Clarke is a Hitler-like figure of hand-rubbing nastiness.

Strauss’s wonderful music, bound together with its string of memorable waltz melodies, is a given, but in the hands of WNO’s new young conductor Tomáš Hanus takes on new dimensions, underlying the comedy and recognising the poignancy beneath. A small caveat – there is a sight hesitation, no more than a breath, in Act II when the tempo drops, otherwise this would have been five star. All in all – a masterpiece culminating in the superb singing of the trio as the opera draws to a close. Director Olivia Fuchs and designer Niki Turner are to be congratulated. Turner has resisted the temptation to go overboard, and instead opts for a single glittering chandelier that reflects the opulence of 1911 Vienna against elegant pale grey walls. An added pointer to the theme of the opera are the sands of time running out from above onto the stage, much appreciated by the audience but a nightmare for the stage hands.

Music: Richard Strauss

Libretto: Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Director: Olivia Fuchs

http://www.wno.org.uk/event/der-rosenkavalier

Review Macbeth WNO by Barbara Michaels

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All photographic credits Patrick Redmond

(4 / 5)

Reviled by many as one of Shakespeare’s more unpleasant plays, and referred to by thespians as ‘The Scottish Play’ because of its reputation for bringing bad luck to performances, Macbeth was described by Verdi himself as ‘One of mankind’s greatest creations.’ Oliver Mears’ gripping modern day production for Welsh National Opera, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Opera, holds its own, opening up a huge range of interpretations on account of its deep psychological reference.

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For those unfamiliar with the play on which it is based, Macbeth is a soldier whose wife’s aspirations of greatness are his downfall, leading to his ultimate death. Returning with his friend Banquo after a successful battle, he meets a coven of witches who predict that he will become firstly Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland, but that it will be Banquo’s children that subsequently inherit. On arriving home, Macbeth tells his wife who informs him that Duncan, the present King of Scotland, will be visiting and staying the night. Duncan duly arrives and announces that he is bestowing on Macbeth the title of Thane of Scotland. Not content with that honour, Lady M. sees this as the perfect opportunity to kill him and thus make the second part of the witches’ prophecy come true. She easily persuades Macbeth to murder his monarch while he is asleep, but the killing doesn’t stop there.

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A balletic opening with the witches grotesquely portrayed as shaven-headed mannequins, and grey-haired humpbacks gets the action started before Spanish baritone Luis Cansino appears in battledress as Macbeth. The appearance of Lady Macbeth in Scene 2 leads into the first murder, followed by the duet which Verdi himself described as being of major importance. The justly renowned chorus of the WNO are increased in number with extra singers in order to cope with different guises which include not only the witches’ coven, but ghostly apparitions, and others, including in the final act refugees from the havoc caused by Macbeth’s widespread killings of those he sees as threats to his rule.

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Sung by American soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, this Lady M is a ballsy, modern woman, sexy even at her desk and displaying her thighs with calculated intent. This is a power-crazy female who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Williams has the demanding role to a T, fully in control from start to finish; not until the final act do we see the cracks in the surface which reveal the deep underlying psychological problems as lady Macbeth sleepwalks, rubbing her hands to rid them of the bloodstains no longer there and singing broken phrases opening up into great arches of song. Musically, Williams is superb, with a soaring soprano that takes the breath away, both in breath-taking solo arias and duets with Macbeth.

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Set and costume designer Annemarie Woods has created a minimalist Scottish castle and a wood that moves, plus costumes with swinging kilts. There are, however, two provisos – Duncan’s costume of bright blue jacket, knee-length white socks topped off with a gilt crown is a tad pantomimic, while the dark kilts and gilets worn by the chorus in the final act are reminiscent of school uniform.

Runs: September 15, 17 and 24th; October 12th; November 2, 9 and 23rd.

Macbeth Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre

Opera in four Acts based on the play by William Shakespeare

Music: Guiseppe Verdi

Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave

Director: Oliver Mears

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels