Tag Archives: Opera

La Traviata – a review by Eva Marloes

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

In the past week, the documentary In Plain Sight, an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Sunday Times, has alleged that comedian turned wellness guru Russell Brand is responsible for exploitative treatment of women, including rape and sexual assault. Just like when the #MeToo  movement emerged, many have questioned the women speaking out. Women are still exploited by powerful men and their sexuality is still policed.

La Traviata couldn’t be more topical. Verdi’s opera was shocking in depicting and taking the side of a ‘fallen woman’, what today might be an escort. Alas, the unimaginative direction, originally by Sir David McVicar, here by Sarah Crisp, makes it look preposterous and bizarre.

Violetta, a courtesan, meets Alfredo at a lavish party. She decides to leave that life and live with Alfredo supporting their life together financially. Unbeknown to Alfredo, his father asks Violetta to leave his son to protect his and his family’s reputation. 

Stacey Alleaume as Violetta and Mark S Ross as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera

Violetta leaves Alfredo who feels spurned and acts his revenge by throwing money at her in public to repay her. Verdi thinks she has a dignity and should be respected.

It is none other than Alfredo’s father who defends her and condemns his own son for disrespecting her. Yet, only at the very end Alfredo learns that Violetta sacrificed their love and life together for his reputation. He comes back to see her dying. 

La Traviata could still be a powerful story if set in today’s times, just as James Macdonald’s clever production of Rigoletto did by setting it in Washington DC in the #MeToo era. 

The WNO’s traditional setting fails to convey Verdi’s intention. The choice of a very dark set design, presumably to symbolise impending doom, has a jarring effect on the opening scene whose frivolity and joviality are dampened. It weakens the unfolding of the tragedy and frustrates the solid performances of the artists. 

David Junghoon Kim shines as Alfredo, just as he did as the Duke in Rigoletto. He is at home with Verdi and gives a performance full of pathos. His beautiful tonality and powerful voice deliver longing and sorrow effectively. Stacey Alleaume as Violetta has a splendid coloratura. She’s at ease on high notes and bel canto. In the ‘croce e delizia’ duet with Alfredo in Act I, she seemed often overpowered by David Junghoon Kim when singing at a lower range. She is stronger in the second act with Mark S Ross, playing Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont, and the final dying scene. Mark S Ross has a beautiful baritone voice. He gives an excellent performance.

The WNO’s chorus is strong as ever. The orchestra, under the baton of Alexander Joel, gives a solid, albeit uninspiring, performance.

David Junghoon Kim and Stacey Alleaume in La Traviata, photo by Julian Guidera.

WNO’s Ainadamar – a review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Ainadamar is an homage to poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was killed by the fascist falangists during the Spanish civil war in 1936. It is told through a series of tableaux where actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca’s muse, reminisces with her student Nuria of the time she met Lorca, her attempt at persuading him to leave Spain, and his execution.

Ainadamar, which in Arabic means fountain of tears, is one of the early works of eclectic composer Osvaldo Golijov, who excels at weaving together folk, pop, and classical music in harmonious balance. Here, Golijov brings together flamenco’s cante jondo (deep song), electronic sounds, mournful ballads, and classical opera references. His musical complexity is refined but overly dominated by longing and anguish.

The astounding performances of Jaquelina Livieri as Xirgu, Hanna Hipp as Lorca, and Julieth Lozano Rolong as Nuria, make for intense moments of longing, hope, and loss. The imaginative light design and direction keep the audience engaged countering a too simple narrative with no emotional arc.

Hanna Hipp as Federico Garcia Lorca, photo credit Johan Persson

Ainadamar opens with Margarita Xirgu (Jacquelina Livieri) preparing to go on stage as Mariana Pineda, the 19th century liberal martyr subject of Lorca’s play. She tells her student, Nuria (Julieth Lozano Rolong) of meeting Lorca in a bar in Madrid. The scene shifts from a light-hearted rumba to a nostalgic duet. Jaquelina Livieri’s agile and rich voice make Margarita spell-binding. Mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, as Lorca, has power and stage-presence, yet tender in her duet with Livieri.

The memory of Havana is broken by the harsh radio broadcast of fascist Falangist Ruiz Alonso. Alfredo Tejada, as Alonso, conveys power and anguish as flamenco cantaor  counterbalancing Lorca’s flamenco cante jondo

Alfredo Tejada as Ruiz Alonso, photo credit Johan Persson

In another flashback, Margarita recounts her attempt at persuading Lorca to flee to Cuba. The nostalgic and dreamlike image of Havana, the route not taken, is a sensual and playful moment that gives way to grief. Lorca does not want to run away and chooses to be executed. 

The final tableau is in the diegetic present of 1969 when Margarita is dying in Uruguay recalling Pineda’s last words of freedom. She is joined by the ghost of Lorca. The scene fades out rather than reach a climax. The sense of loss and longing dominates Ainadamar from beginning to end. There is intensity but no drama. 

Photo credit Johan Persson

La Bohème – a review by Eva Marloes

photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Welsh National Opera reproposes Annabel Arden’s 2012 production of La Bohème, set in the early 20th century. It is a straightforward interpretation of Puccini’s opera with a minimal and, at times, unimaginative setting. The WNO succeeds in offering a production that is skillful and entertaining. Strong performances bring to life the romance, tragedy, as well as comedic elements of the opera.

Rodolfo (Jung Soo Yun) and Marcello (Germán E Alcántara) are skint artists living in a cold attic in Paris. Rodolfo falls quickly in love with frail Mimì (Elin Pritchard), but their complicated relationship flounders under the pressures of poverty and Rodolfo’s guilt for making Mimì ill. In contrast, Marcello’s affair with coquettish Musetta (Aoife Miskelly) is passionate and often funny. The friends Schaunard (Mark Nathan) and Alcindoro (Alastaire Moore) add to the bittersweet comedy of the production.

Elin Pritchard, as Mimì, and Aoife Miskelly, as Musetta, shine giving by far the best performances. Pritchard, who was a superb Michäela in a past WNO’s Carmen, is graceful and powerful. She conveys a tender tragedy infused with love and loss. Aoife Miskelly, who previously delighted the audience as the Cunning Little Vixen, performs with brio, charm, and sophistication. Miskelly has a beautiful light in her voice.

Baritone Germán E Alcántara gives a powerful performance with. Jung Soo Yun has a beautiful tonality but limited range. Jung’s voice lacks the power needed to counter the orchestra. This is disappointing, especially after he gave a masterful performance in Les Vêpres Sicilliennes.

photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

The quartet of the two couples Mimì and Rodolfo, and Musetta and Marcello is effective though underwhelming. Mark Nathan, as Schaunard, and Alastaire Moore, as Alcindoro, give robust performances holding the scene in Act Four.

The WNO’s choir is impeccable, as always, with a strong stage presence. The orchestra, under the baton of Lee Reynolds, gives a solid performance. This production of La Bohème is let done by the rehashing of a past production lacking in imaginative interpretation and an overly minimal setting, which here includes video projections of birds and of snow.

Madam Butterfly, review by eva marloes

WNO Madam Butterfly – photo credit Richard Hubert Smith

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Under the direction of Lindy Hume, the Welsh National Opera’s Madam Butterfly is set in an imaginary dystopic future to convey the cruelty of imperialism. The opera is no longer set in Japan but in an exotic oasis for the pleasure of wealthy American men. It reminded me of the 1964 Russian propaganda film I Am Cuba by Mikhail Kalatozov. In the film, Cuba is the seductive playground of rich Americans, a country turned prostitute by Batista. Although too propagandistic in narrative, the unorthodox cinematography of I Am Cuba, with its extreme wide-angles and complex tracking-shots, made the film unsettling and powerful. Alas, Lindy Hume’s anti-colonial vision for Madam Butterfly loses force by decontextualising the drama.  

The opera begins with women in white short tulle dresses and tall pink wigs. Among them is Cio-cio-sa/Butterfly, who is to wed American soldier Pinkerton. The action takes place in and around a two-storey rotating white cube. Hume sought to emphasise the exploitation of Butterfly who is sold as trophy bride and quickly discarded. Butterfly is a victim of a misogynistic colonial society. Yet, by erasing Japan from Madam Butterfly, the colonial othering of Cio-cio-sa is lost. Relationships of power are all dependent on context. They cannot be abstracted. Cio-cio-san is the trophy bride because she is a Japanese young girl to be collected like a colourful butterfly. 

WNO Madam Butterfly Alexia Voulgaridou Cio Cio San Peter Auty Pinkerton photo credit Richard Hubert Smith 

In addition, there is a lot more to Cio-cio-san than Hume’s direction implies. She is here painted as a victim, disregarding how 15-year-old Cio-cio-san, notwithstanding being still a child, escapes her family and clan. She goes against her home society to affirm her own will. She stays loyal to her American husband and to his country to the very end. The tragedy lies in the fact that she finds her downfall in her loyalty and shame. Alexia Voulgaridou gives a rounded performance making one forget the awkward futuristic setting designed by Isabella Bywater. 

Voulgaridou gives an impeccable performance as Cio-cio-san. Her voice is powerful and agile; it develops in intensity as the tragedy unfolds. Her interpretation is subtle and convincing. Kezia Bienek, as Suzuki, is also noteworthy. She conveys the melancholy of her role as Cio-cio-san’s sister perfectly. Together, Voulgaridou and Bienek deliver a beautiful duet full of warmth.  

Julian Boyce as Imperial Commissioner and Tom Randle as Goro give solid and sophisticated performances, less impressive is Peter Auty’s Pinkerton. Excellent is the orchestra conducted with fervour and depth by Carlo Rizzi. The impressive performances, the orchestra, and Puccini’s music make one forget the contrived setting. 

Review An Evening with Bryn Terfel and Friends Festival of Voice by Helen Joy

Bryn-Terfel-Photo-credit-Mei-Lewis
Photographic credit Mei Lewis 
 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
I sat on a wooden seat I remembered well from school days, from weddings, from funerals; from happy, sad and scary times. The doors open to the green light and the bird song, to the passers-by and the church bells.

We are a congregation of grey hairs, crumpled linen and sensible shoes, mostly. Only a few lift their phones to film as the orchestra and conductor walk in but this is not the place for pop concert technology and they are gently reminded as such.

This is the place for the wet velvet voices of the truly gifted to fill these old bones of a building with the beauty of centuries. And I am lost – I have no notion how to describe the feelings inside me.

Bryn Terfel – always magnificent with the strength of the lion; Rebecca Evans – the exquisitely powerful song of the angel; Hannah Stone – enchanting us all with the magic harp; Gareth Jones – blooming with the pride of leading Sinfonia Cymru. Bach, Handel and Mozart would have been thrilled – although they may have shown it in different ways!

So how do I describe an hour in their company? I thought about Epstein and his Christ In Glory looking out and over us – the bold decision of a Bishop and his Dean and Chapter in 1950 to recover their cathedral and make her grand again after the destruction of war – and found these words by their architect, George Pace: Mystery should be veiled and vista should open upon vista..seemed to sum it up rather well.

 Type of show:         Opera selection, harp

(Bach, Handel and Mozart, including Brandenburg Concerto No.60)
Title:                           An Evening with Bryn Terfel and Friends
Venue:                       Llandaff Cathedral
Conductor:               Gareth Jones
Bass Baritone:        Bryn Terfel
Soprano:                    Rebecca Evans
Harp:                            Hannah Stone
Orchestra:                  Sinfonia Cymru
Date:                              7pm, Tuesday 7th June only
http://www.wmc.org.uk/WhatsOn/voice/
 
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