Category Archives: Opera & classical

Review, Jennifer’s Higdon’s Blue Cathedral, BBC NOW, Hoddinott Hall by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In their official end of their season, BBC NOW would wrap things up in their trying year, with no St David’s Hall, at Hoddinott Hall. Though they usually have one last flutter in the Hoddinott before the last concert at St David’s (then off to the Proms in London), this smaller scale concerts still have a lot of punch.

A hefty Cello Concerto from Dvořák, with soloist Alisa Weilerstein was an impressive start. All the folksy, good hearted nature of the Czech composer’s homeland is here. Written both in the US (where he taught) and his home, the piece is a three-quarter hour delight. Retrospective in nature, the home sickness also messed into his past love affair with his wife’s sister, who originally never cared for Antonín. This didn’t stop him putting her favourite song in the concerto. You’ve got to really like the cello for this to truly work, though the orchestra do bring out some ringing moments. The brass felt rather loud, perhaps due to the direct acoustics of the reliable Hoddinott. It’s always looks silly for a percussionist to wait patiently and then just play one instrument…that being the triangle for this large piece. Alisa makes the solo role putty in her hand, she brought many truths and I also was taken with her passion. She didn’t shy away from broad, proud moments and subtle, tender bars were noteworthy. Not quite my favourite cello concerto, but lovely all the same.

Blue Cathedral was our post interval opener from Jennifer Higson. Inspired by imagery of a cathedral floating in the sky, this liminal space in musical form, had lots of percussion and flamboyant instrumental moments for the orchestra. Some serene, Debussy like phases flattered the audience and some little bouts of harsh dissonance cropped up as well. I found it appealing, though felt it didn’t quite find its footing in its ten odd minutes.

A real rarity followed and a problematic one at that. The joyfully energetic American conductor Ryan Bancroft has treated us to his countries great musical offerings most notably Charles Ives, with a 150th  birthday celebration this year. African American composer William Dawson saw great success with his Negro Folk Symphony in the 1930s. Though he could not bottle this popularity, he revised the work after visits to West Africa in the hope to rekindle its past success. Whilst Dvořák encouraged American composers to utilise spirituals and other music from Africa, he set the gold standard for its use. There is much flair and drama in Dawson’s symphony, the mark of slavery and faith pierce through. Its quite intense and theatrical, remarkably I was still bored by it. Even the lovely use of harp and an anvil at the conclusion didn’t win me over. Its fusion worked well enough, I just don’t think it maintained the stamina for the over thirty minutes. Whilst I have my own reservations, I cannot deny the works place in history nor it’s influence under diverse composition.

Listen to this concert on 13 June 2024 on BBC Radio 3: In Concert, then available for thirty days on BBC Sounds. 

Review, Angela Hewit, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Wigmore Hall by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I was keen to attend a recital with Canadian legends Gerald Finley and Angela Hewitt for an excitable programme. Finley sadly, could not make it due to a bereavement. So this raised a question…what would be done instead?

Hewitt was up to the task by taking on the Golderg Variations as a very palatable alternate concert. Prior to playing, she spoke of the promise of doing something another time with Finley. We were amazed as we were informed she has been playing the Goldberg for 50 years, come 2025. She remains the gold standard of the piece, no doubt there are a select other few living, who could earn this title today.

Some might be deterred by and hour and half of piano, yet with Hewitt its remains a privilege and a pleasure. She brings so much to Variations, the opening Aria remains one of the finest things written in the keyboard repertoire (this was originally a harpsichord vehicle). It’s the personal touches throughout the epic journey that thrive. This is my second time seeing her do this, last time I recall she brought on stage a sparkly crutch. I can’t get enough really.

The travels are broad and Bach show’s us his genius with clever transposition of the Aria, new colours, mood, visions and energies burst out. Timeless music this has always been…further study into Bach and his creations can only broaden his intrigue and admiration. Hewitt brings her own inflections and posturings, moments of stillness are latter met with flare and style. In one instance, there appeared an almost emotional breakdown, though we wouldn’t blame her. The music has a complexity that still beguiles today. The faster movements are filled with plodding panache, the slower parts have a sincere retrospection.

After the panorama of depth, we return finally to the Aria once more. This has always been one of the most rewarding moments in the keyboard world. Those who may tire throughout, should find solace here. Hewitt knows the worth of this moment and we savour it at the conclusion.  This remained a heart felt silence which felt forever in the space.

I do hope to see her play in her special anniversary next year. It would be an honour. 

Puccini’s Il Trittico, WNO, a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Welsh National Opera delivers an excellent production of Il Trittico by Giacomo Puccini, where singers, chorus, and orchestra perform beautifully with skill and pathos. This is no small feat for a sophisticated and yet underrated work, consisting of three one-act pieces of starkly different registers. One only hopes that management will rethink the misguided cuts to the wonderful chorus and orchestra.

The night begins with Il Tabarro (the cloak), dark and intense, is perhaps the most refined musically of the three pieces. It tells the story of Giorgetta (Alexia Voulgaridou), dissatisfied with her life with Michele (Roland Wood) travelling from place to place on a barge. She falls for kindred spirit Luigi (Leonardo Caimi). Michele realises Luigi is Giorgetta’s lover, kills him, and forces her to look at her dead lover.

Roland Wood as Michele in Il Tabarro (photo credit Craig Fuller )

Contrary to Toscanini’s dismissal of the opera as grand guignol, Il Tabarro never indulges in sensationalism. Puccini’s mature music combines passion and restraint. Voulgaridou, Wood, and Caimi all deliver the haunting drama with great emotional depth.

A splendid Alexia Voulgaridou gives voice to the pain of Suor Angelica, the second piece. The story of a woman forced to become a nun after giving birth to a child. Her Princess aunt visits to tell her that her son is dead. Angelica kills herself in the hope of being reunited with him, then she despairs as she realises that her suicide condemns her to hell. In in her final moments of anguish, she experiences hallucinatory or mystical transcendence, and embraces her child. 

The subdue and soft music lets the tension between Angelica’s suffering and her hope unfold. Voulgaridou delivers Angelica’s irrational demise or transfiguration with striking pathos, doing justice to a much misunderstood Suor Angelica

Alexia Voulgaridou as Suor Angelica in Suor Angelica (photo credit Craig Fuller)

The night ends with the unadulterated fun of Gianni Schicchi, where a family is left penniless as the patriarch dies and leaves his fortune to a monastery. They engage the wits of peasant Gianni Schicchi (Roland Wood), who pretends to be the deceased and dictates a new will to the notary. As he does so, he makes sure the largest part of the family fortune goes to him. 

Haegee Lee as Lauretta and Roland Wood as Gianni in Gianni Schicchi (Photo Credit Craig Fuller) 

Roland Wood performs with humour and sagacity, Haegee Lee, as Lauretta, sings Mio Babbino Caro beautifully. The three pieces have an excellent cast all around, including Tichina Vaughn (The Princess in Suor Angelica and Zita in Gianni Schicchi), Wojtek Gierlach (Il Talpa in Il Tabarro and Simone in Gianni Schicchi), and Oleksiv Palchykov (Young lover in Il Tabarro and Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi), who entertain and enchant the audience.

In the expert hands of Carlo Rizzi, the WNO orchestra brings together the three pieces giving them a sense of continuity. They excel at balancing the restrained with the emotional thus delivering the intensity of Puccini’s music and drama. As Puccini would have wanted.

Review,A Little Night Music, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Hoddinott Hall by James Ellis

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I would finally return to see our National Orchestra, with their homestay concerts now at their base down Cardiff Bay. St David’s Hall wont open its doors for another year at least and it’s great to see the players where they live once again.

The concert title of A Little Night Music would suggest at the very least a billing of Mozart, yet he was no where to be seen. This was a more adventurous fit with a world premiere from Irish composer Stephen McNeff with The Celestial Stranger. With poems by Walt Whitman, Dylan ThomaS and Hawian queen Lili’uokalani, with a focus on the discovery of verse by Thomas Traherne, a clergyman and mystic this was the foundation. The theme is a traveller from beyond the stars and tries to navigate our own world. Here, with the evocative tenor Gavan Ring, the songs were strange, developing more character as each went on. With nods to Britten, this setting held up as evocative and weirdly sensual. Always a pleasure to hear newly commissioned work.

Fauré was the first composer to set music to the play Pelléas et Mélisande. This alluring story sees tragedy and allusion in equal measure. Fauré recycled other pieces for the rushed play opening in London, this being the incidental music. In these sequences there is the light air he is known for, sweet and touching, very French. Debussy handled the story best with his opera, the watery scope a landmark of its era. Several composers wrote music inspired by the story, yet I’m sure Fauré is the least interesting of the lot.

It has been 150 years since the birth of Arnold Schoenberg which might see many concert goers terrified at the prospect of listening to him live. In what is a safe bet, his Verklärte Nacht or Transfigured Night is a wonderful gateway. No one would be offended by this early composition, it is later in his life he created the infamous serialism technique. Originally for sextet, this lush, larger string ensemble bring to life the verse of Richard Dehmel, seeing a couple in the forest face their troubles and realisation of commitment to one another. This is quite splendid really. The harmonies are just right, some ornaments and tricks also feature. The players here oozed a loving determination. The piece shone, vigorous conductor Jac van Steen blowing a chef’s kiss as ever at the finish, this time heart felt. Those doubting the Austrian composer’s style should consider Verklärte Nacht as a starting point. You might just be surprised.

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and then available on BBC Sounds in July 2024. It will also be filmed for future release in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Digital Concert Series.

Review, The Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadlers Wells, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

I am ashamed to admit that my knowledge and version of Sleeping Beauty is entirely from Disney. I’m used to the owl dancing in a coat, an impossible leaning cake (which I want for every birthday, even at 31 turning 32) and the big dragon. So when I came to this production, the storyline following, at times, a different path, it was like a new story for me.

These differences are subtle. But to summarise the story of The Sleeping Beauty in this production: a girl (Aurora) is cursed by an evil fairy, after she isn’t invited to her christening. When she pricks her finger on a spindle, she would fall into a 100 year sleep. And so up until her 16th birthday, all sharp objects are eliminated from the palace. The evil fairy manages to sneak a spindle in and Aurora falls to her fate. Only true loves kiss releases her, where she awakes to a beautiful marriage and guests of fairy-tale royalty.

In this day and age, we are so used to modernisation of tales, of a reinvention of tradition, and often this is refreshing and allows the story to be told in a new way. However, Birmingham Royal Ballet went against this grain and kept it very traditional. And this, in itself, was absolutely refreshing. The opulence of the stage, the set, the costumes was exquisite and gave me a goosebump-ed feeling of the days of old, where audiences dressed up to attend and were part of the elite. The beauty of this, is that, at a very affordable price, anyone could come to this production and get that exact feeling. They get to come and feel special, and that was evident in the eyes of many young children in attendance.

The stage had so many layers to it and rose so high, that we felt as if we were really in a grand European castle or palace, with all the pomp and circumstance, the historical costumes along with the beautiful and decadent tutus, allowing us to not only be transported in time but in place.

Accompanied by a live orchestra, the tradition continued with the accompaniment, but also felt extremely special. There’s something about live orchestral music that makes you shiver with awe and excitement, and the atmosphere it helped to create were effective with the change of the mood of the scene.

The dancing of course was spectacular. Not a foot was wrong and tradition continued to seep through in each member, whether a principal or in the background. The only qualm is that some more technically advanced moves that required balance did not always translate to the dancers face and so the panic and concern of this became evident and made that moment lose its magic somewhat.

The end of the story, we are treated to new characters who attend the wedding. Puss in Boots, The White Cat and Little Red Riding Hood are introduced, providing some giggles and some change of pace. It’s only at the end in the final bow that a few more appear in the guise of a Sultan and another furry creature. This was a little confusing and likely to do with some tradition in the ballet. However, it felt a little out of place and distracted somewhat from the celebration of the cast.

Overall, seeing traditional ballet and in the form of a story I thought I knew, but evidently did not, was magical and special. We were transported in time, in place and into a fairy tale world.

“Music is at the heart of who I am” An interview with RWCMD, Student Musician Sophie Hallam

Hi Sophie, great to meet you. You are currently studying Music Performance (Flute) at RWCMD, Cardiff, can you give our readers some background information on your career to date?  

Hi Guy, it’s lovely to meet you too! I have been playing the flute for 13 years, previously studying with Berkshire Music Trust, (a registered charity who support everyone to have access to music education regardless of their background) …or Berkshire Maestros as it was known back then! Throughout my time with them I played in numerous ensembles, the most senior being Berkshire Youth Symphony Orchestra, Newbury Concert Band and Newbury Flute Choir.

Since joining the RWCMD in 2020, I have been part of the RWCMD Symphony Orchestra and also formed the Eira Quintet and the Corriera Trio with other members of the college. 

So, what got you interested in the arts? 

I have always been interested in the arts as a whole, singing was one of my hobbies from the moment I could get words out of my mouth! It was actually my mum who got me interested in playing the flute, as she had her old one in the house and let me have a try when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with it straight away and have never looked back since. 

What importance does music have in your life and how have you combined the life of a student musician and opportunities to perform live in your professional career?  

Music is at the heart of who I am. There is not much I do without having music of some description either playing in the background, or playing it myself. It is something that I use to help regulate my mental health, as I believe music can be so empowering regardless of whether you are the listener or performer. The college provide us with many opportunities to sign up to perform, both inside the college and out in the community, so it is all about finding a balance and being disciplined and realistic with how much you can take on alongside the mandatory work that comes with the degree. Alongside this, I often go to schools or learning centres with my ensembles to do community workshops, which is something I hope to continue doing throughout my professional career. 

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama is a Conservatoire, some of our readers may be unfamiliar with this term, how does this differ to study at a University?

That is a great question! Studying at a conservatoire is a lot more performance based than studying Music at a university. We have two solo performance recitals per year (one short, one long), a technical exam specific to our instrument, an orchestral excerpts exam and an ensemble recital. There is still some written assignments each year, however these aren’t as heavily weighted. 

Along with the members of The Eira Quintet you are part of one of the RWCMD, Woolcott Residencies, these provide students with the tools, support and mentoring needed to set themselves up as creative businesses working in a collaborative, entrepreneurial manner. They are an innovative training programme designed to support RWCMD students working within the community, and to give local people a sense of ownership of the arts. Your Residency is based at St Johns Church adjacent to The Hayes, Cardiff. How did you come to be involved in this project and what are your ambitions for its delivery? 

 The opportunity to become the artists in residence at the church was advertised to the students at college, so we applied and were lucky enough to be offered the position! We have a few different plans for concerts to deliver at the church, including one hopefully collaborating with the choir, as well as workshop ideas for local schools and members of the community. We were also honoured to perform as part of the St David’s Day service and hope to be involved in more of the church’s events across the residency. 

As part of the Woolcott Residency, each ensemble will be encouraged to curate and nurture their own relationship with a venue, delivering regular educational workshops, concerts and participatory sessions for at least a year. You will be performing in the Church in the near future, how do you approach performing in a church and what has the response been so far? 

 Yes, we are really looking forward to this performing, we have some really fun music lined up! Performing in a church definitely brings some challenges due to the boomy acoustic, so we have to make sure we over do any detail in the music for it to come across. Also, as the venue is a sacred place, we always make sure to have conversations with the church clergy to make sure they are happy with the music we perform and the way we use the space. So far we have had a very positive response from both the clergy and the members of the community towards our performances, as well as from the Mayor of Cardiff and staff from the Cardiff and Vale Music Service. 

You also recently performed in The Old Library as part of Pamela Howards, Welcome to Wales Exhibition. The exhibition had a theme of retracing the stories of immigrants who’ve travelled through and to Cardiff. As young musicians how can you reflect contemporary society?  

I think our work at the exhibition reflects the positive direction that society is going in in recognising the struggles that have happened in our history and working on preventing them from happening again. We are very fortunate to have the luxury of studying at RWCMD, so I think it is fantastic that these stories are being given the setting to be shared both with us as students and the wider community. We always strive to include a diverse range of composers in our repertoire to reflect how society is moving in this direction. 

If you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why? 

If you had asked me this question a couple of years ago then I would have said music education without a doubt, as I believe that it is so important both for a child’s development but also for the future of the arts as a whole. However, in light of recent events I would now choose to fund professional orchestras and venues as they are now the organisations that are struggling with a lack of funding. 

What currently inspires you about the arts in the Wales? 

I find the Welsh Government’s attitude to music education very inspiring! They see the importance of music in schools and have put a plan in place to allow children of all ages to participate in musical activities and/or learn an instrument without any limitations of cost. I think this is exactly what the future of the arts needs and it brings a lot of hope into the sector. 

What was the last really great arts event that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

I may be biased, but I recently went to the “Opera Double Bill” at the Sherman Theatre. This was a performance of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Resphigi’s La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco by RWCMD’s David Seligman Opera School. As far as I know, everything from the set design to the musicians on and off stage was done by college students, and it was all to such a high standard. I enjoyed it so much that I went every night! 

If you are interested in study at RWCMD you can find out more about future Open Days here

Britten’s Death in Venice – A Review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The WNO’s production of Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten is a symphony in black and white with minimal staging, effective choreography, and powerful singing. It’s a beautiful and haunting painting that conveys the internal anguish of the protagonist at the core of Britten’s extraordinary music.

Death in Venice is based on the novella by Thomas Mann, where Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous author who travels to Venice to find inspiration. There, he develops an attraction for an adolescent boy, Tadzio. Disciplined and ascetic in character, Aschenbach is torn between his sensual desire and his detached reason. As his attraction becomes an obsession, Venice is taken over by cholera. His passion makes leaving impossible. A glance from Tadzio makes Aschenbach rise from his chair only to collapse and die.  

Aschenbach’s travel to Venice is as internal as it is physical. The initial confusion of the mind that makes him unable to write is lifted at the sight of Tadzio, whom Aschenbach sees as the embodiment of ancient Greek beauty. Yet, the aesthetic appreciation quickly plunges Aschenbach into an internal conflict between his rational mind and his passion for the boy.

Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Olivia Fuchs, who directs this production, weaves together the different elements of music, video, acrobatics, costumes, and song with great efficacy. A black and white video is projected onto the background. It alternates depictions of the sea, at times choppy and at times smooth, Venice almost as a shadow, and Tadzio up close. The most intense moment is when Aschenbach, played by a wonderful Mark Le Brocq, is alone and the scene has nothing but a picture of Tadzio. Throughout the opera, Le Brocq excels in intensity and harrowing beauty. 

Alexander Chance as The Voice of Apollo, Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach, and Roderick Williams as The Voice of Dionysus. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Aschenbach’s internal anguish mirrors the Nietzschean theme of the conflict between Apollo, god of reason, and Dionysus, god of passion. The battle between Apollo and Dionysus unfolds musically in the contrast between the countertenor voice of Alexander Chance as Apollo and the deep baritone voice of Roderick Williams as Dionusus. This is heightened by the juxtaposition of Apollo, dressed in a golden suit, and Dionysus, in a red suit, against the black and white background of the chorus, dressed in white when playing the hotel guests, and in black as Venetians. 

Baritone Roderick Williams and countertenor Alexander Chance are equally enthralling. Tadzio has no voice; rather he embodies beauty through movement to a percussion music which Britten developed drawing on Balinese gamelan. The choice of sensual acrobatics performed beautifully by Anthony César of NoFit State Circus, directed by Firenza Guidi, conveys powerfully the Greek idea of beauty. The homoerotic acrobatic duel between Tadzio and another boy, performed by Riccardo Frederico Saggese, is allusive yet restrained. The result is mesmerising. 

On a minor note, the production could have made better use of light design to emphasise Aschenbach’s internal turmoil. Overall, it is one of the best productions the WNO has given us.

Antony César as Tadzio, Riccardo Frederico Saggese as Jaschiu, and the cast of Death in Venice. Photo credit Johann Persson.

Review, Orchestra of the Swan, Revolutionaries, Renegades & Visionaries, Stratford Play House by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In what would be a trip finally making it to Stratford Upon Avon, I was here for a few days. I caught the eye of an exciting concert. The Orchestra of the Swan offered up a riotous evening of Avant-Garde delights, of both the musical and spoken kind.

It was a hefty programme, spanning almost a Millenia, thanks to narrator Mogali Masuku. She delivered all the spoken material, with a sharpness and attention. Though she did fluff quite a few lines, perhaps a bit more rehearsal would have helped. Saying this, I loved her energy, she sat during the music and was easily lost in her own little ballet. It was highly infectious. Her range of writing saw Dickens, Blake, Dr King, Hildegard von Bingen with plenty more. There may not have been much of a through line between the spoken work, but the emphasis on the radical paired well with the music which followed.

David Le Page as director and lead violin exuded vitality, the whole group of musicians played wonderfully with him. The orchestra has a great air to them, approachable and highly attractive. Amazing how with such breeze they change from one work to another, with little of tonal whiplash. Revolution 9 from John Lennon is a brief affair, recognisable and easily parodied as a meditation on the number and some fluttery notes that follow. Extracts from Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 proved perfectly suited with Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Paranoid pangs of being taken in the night by the powers that be are spoken of, were a real worry for the composer also. Perhaps the best pairing of the night, the Shostakovich was alert and wonderfully deary.

Blake’s America a Prophecy, with Mogali reading was wonderfully evocative of the new world and its use of metaphor. Biber’s Battalia is a resounding thrill, proving composers were tinkering with discordant ideas a long time before modernism. The amazing, putty like effect of smearing the notes to create the fermentation of unease, without really being too challenging musically. The piece proves a lot and is always a lot of fun. Jean-Féry Rebel, in an arrangement by Le Page of Choas was another addition to this idea, I found I had goosebumps throughout. Classical in form, though not afraid to shock with further alternative ideas on shape and harmony.

Readings from John Cage and the I Ching, are fascinating views on quietness and the random manner of life. Hearing 4’33 by Cage, we sit in silence, the players at a complete rest. Via a computer, no notes were given to Cage for the pieces and so he famously chose to present it as a piece of music anyway. How sacred a moment to spend in almost silence, the Quakers and others know the value of it and we should to. I found it rather cathartic to be in my own rest state if only for these few minutes. Dare I say…twas life affirming.

Piazzolla’s Four for Tango is another shock and delight, proving you can meddle with convention, this time in the tango genre. Gil Scott-Heron (another Le Page arrangement) and the iconic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was a jazzy scope, the words of truth ringing out circling the Civil Rights Movement, Mogail coming into her own here, aside a reading of Martin Luther King. Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix (a Le Page arrangement) also went down well, a perfumed, heightened listen. The end featured T. S. Eliot and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony finale, a stirring sprit to wrap up with, the latter being solidly done, the former abstract yet true.

This sold out concert proved a triumph and would have faired well with a younger audience, as a first experience of concert going.

Cosi Fan Tutte – A review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Welsh National Opera’s staging of  Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte takes literally the opera’s alternative title, The School of Lovers, setting the action in a British school with a 1970s feel. The first act opens with the chorus in school uniforms carrying gigantic cutouts of genitals and plants onto the stage and forcing sexual innuendos on the opera. 

Don Alfonso (José Fardilha) is the headteacher betting with school kids, Ferrando (Egor Zhuravskii) and Guglielmo (James Atkinson), that their fiancés, Dorabella (Kayleigh Decker) and Fiordiligi (Sophie Bevan ) can be easily seduced. The lovers accept and dress up as late 1960s hippies with fake moustache and set off to woo each other’s girlfriend. Don Alfonso engages the service of Despina, here a dinner lady, to add pressure on the girls. Dorabella and Fiordiligi resist the admirers as much as possible but they are outnumbered and outwitted by the conspiracy.

Egor Zhuravskii as Ferrando, Rebecca Evans as Despina, and James Atkinson as Guglielmo. Photo credit Elliott Franks 

The Così Fan Tutte is by no means an easy opera for a contemporary audience. It is blatantly sexist with men putting pressure on women to the point of emotional abuse. The seducers are not only faking love but also pretend to take poison to blackmail the girls into giving in to their advances. Lorenzo Da Ponte’s drama makes fun of the late 18th century battle between reason and sentiment. Mozart’s music delivers its irony by juxtaposing dramatic arias with musical clichés to draw attention to the contrived nature of the situation. This complexity is lost under the direction of Max Hoehn. 

Hoehn’s overtly sexual comedy comes dangerously close to a Benny Hill sketch. Rebecca Evans, as Despina, gives a solid vocal performance, weighed down by the heavy-handed interpretation set by the tone of the production. There is no subtle irony to counterbalance the deep sentiment expressed by Dorabella and Fiordiligi. The occasional incursion of members of the chorus as teenagers doing nothing but playing with cutouts on the scene only succeeds in trivialising the drama. 

Egor Zhuravskii as Ferrando. Photo credit Elliott Franks.

The fine performances keep this unsteady ship afloat. Egor Zhuravskii excels as Ferrando. Sophie Bevan gives a good performance as Fiordiligi, though at times a little strained. Kayleigh Decker, as Dorabella, and Rebecca Evans, as Despina, give good solid performances. The trio Bevan, Decker and José Fardilha, as Don Alfonso, deliver an exquisite Soave sia il vento. This production cuts slightly the opera yet the orchestra, conducted by Tomáš Hanus, maintains a pace that still feels too slow. The strength of this production lies in the ensemble pieces delivered beautifully by the six singers. 

Review, William Thomas & Florent Mourier, Opera Rara, Lansdowne Club, London by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Opera Rara are on the prowl for the lesser heard, lesser staged in the operatic world. They have no council funding and have excelled with rarely seen delights. This saloon concert at the Lansdowne Club, a charming membership venue over looking Berkeley Square proved a thrill. I was taking the charm of the older gentlemen’s club, I was warmly welcomed and they were happy to allow me to sit and have a drink before. It was all rather fetching, it was seeing the club’s cat that really did it for me, Harry one of two who live there.

This was a fine opportunity to hear emerging bass singer William Thomas and on piano Florent Mourier. The chance to hear encounter lesser heard Verdi and Donizetti songs was a treat and in such a fine space. We heard many songs on the night, too many to mention. Thomas who is such a talented bass, felt quite special sitting and listening to him. The bass does not always get a lot of love and a fine, young singer like this could break down many barriers. Even in the Italian or the French repertoire (such was the influence of Parisain opera and all things francophile) from the two composers.

Starting with Donizetti’s Troppo é vezzoza la ninfa bella, we couldn’t have had a better start. Thomas plays the odd little characters well in these songs, humour aside great timing also important. My Italian plus one said the language was clear, though not all the time as is the way with words used in opera. Hearing Verdi, In solitaria stanza had a sweet Bellini reference, more influence from the past. Deh, pietoso, oh addolorata had the words of Gothic God Goethe. Mourier had a few rehearsals with Thomas prior, you would think they have played together for years. His piano skills meshed marvellously for these songs, he seems to get these hardly hear song like few do. Together, magic was made between Thomas and Mourier, both at the top of their game. An encore would preview his role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra coming up in Manchester, wetting mouths. 

Seriousness met fun, romance and tension, in the club saloon setting you couldn’t ask for much more. 

Opera Rara perform the original Verdi Simon Boccanegra from 1857 at Manchester Bridgewater Hall 18 April 2024.