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Verdi's Falstaff at the Royal Opera House, London

22 May 2012, London, UK

Ambrogio Maestri as Falstaff
Ambrogio Maestri as Falstaff(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

Review by Francis Muzzu

Verdi's Falstaff is the Royal Opera's contribution to this summer's World Shakespeare Festival in London.   A new production by Robert Carsen (shared with La Scala and the Canadian Opera Company) it is updated to the 1950s; a second Elizabethan Age, and one of comparable social mobility to the first. 

It all works well (with the aid of some judiciously tweaked surtitles) and Paul Steinberg's oak-panelled sets look very fine indeed, as does Alice Ford's rather fabulous kitchen.  The comedy unfolds naturally and is generally unforced, and Daniele Gatti leads an equally flowing performance in the pit and is attentive to his singers.  

Ambrogio Maestri's Falstaff is rightly dominant in both presence and voice, and rules the stage; Dalibor Jenis puts up a good fight as Ford.  Mistresses Ford, Page and Quickly (respectively Ana Maria Martinez, Kai Rüütel and Marie-Nicole Lemieux) are sharply characterised and elegantly sung, though their voices are more Glyndebourne-sized; and Amanda Forsythe’s Nanetta and Joel Prieto’s Fenton sound delicious but very small-scale. 

Grab one of the few remaining tickets if you can – it’s great fun.

Robert Carsen's new production of Falstaff runs at Covent Garden until 30 May

 

Toby Spence wins RPS Music Award

9 May 2012, London, UK

Toby Spence at the RPS Music Awards
Toby Spence at the RPS Music Awards(Photo: Simon Jay Price)

British tenor Toby Spence has won the singer category at this year’s prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards for his ‘vocal beauty and dramatic maturity’ in a range of operatic and concert repertoire, including the role of Lensky in ENO’s Eugene Onegin.

He was joined on the winners’ podium by director Deborah Warner, whose acclaimed production of Onegin for ENO received the Award for Opera and Music Theatre. A community opera by Spitalfields Festival, We Are Shadows, also topped the Learning and Participation category.

Spence’s victory was particularly poignant since he has recently undergone surgery for thyroid cancer, a fact announced only days before the Awards ceremony in London.

Although Spence is expected to make a full recovery, he had to pull out of ENO’s forthcoming production of Billy Budd in which he was due to have played Captain Vere. (He will be replaced by Kim Begley, last heard at ENO as Walter in the UK premiere of Mieczysław Weinberg's The Passenger.)

 

English National Opera 2012/13 season announced

4 May 2012, London, UK

John Graham-Hall as Eschenbach in Britten's 'Death in Venice'
John Graham-Hall as Eschenbach in Britten's 'Death in Venice'(Photo: Brescia e Amisano)

Report by Classical Music

The UK premiere of Philip Glass’ The Perfect American, an opera based on the imagined last days of Walt Disney's life, was the headline item at ENO’s recent 2012/13 season launch. High billing was also reserved for the world premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden, to a libretto by David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas).

Composer/conductor Ryan Wigglesworth takes up the position of composer-in-residence, the first to hold such a post since Mark-Anthony Turnage. Wigglesworth will also be conducting Calixto Bieito’s Carmen, which is described as a ‘new version’ of the maverick Catalan director’s Liceu production.

In 2013, Verdi's bicentenary will be marked by a new trimmed down production of La traviata with no intervals, by the iconoclastic German director Peter Konwitschny, while Benjamin Britten’s centenary brings a revival of Deborah Warner’s production of Death in Venice, starring John Graham-Hall as Aschenbach.

The season also marks a return to productions led by opera and theatre directors rather than celebrities from other creative fields. Highlights include Yoshi Oïda making his ENO debut with a new production of Vaughan Williams' The Pilgrim’s Progress (an opera last seen at  ENO in 1951); Rupert Goold with a new production of Berg's Wozzeck; choreographer-director Michael Keegan-Dolan presenting ENO's first new Julius Caesar since 1979; David McVicar leading the UK stage premiere of Charpentier’s Medea; and Richard Jones with a revised version of his Paris Opera production of Martinů's Julietta.

 

Pulitzer Prize for Music goes to Great War opera

27 April 2012, New York, US

'Silent Night' at Minnesota Opera
'Silent Night' at Minnesota Opera(Photo: Michal Daniel)

The Pulitzer Prize for Music has been awarded to Kevin Puts for his opera Silent Night, which received its world premiere at Minnesota Opera last November.

Adapted from the 2005 movie Joyeux Noël, Puts’ opera is set during World War I and depicts an impromptu ceasefire negotiated by Scottish, French and German officers on Christmas Eve 1914. For 24 hours, these opposing forces laid down their arms and shared champagne, chocolate, pictures of their families, a game of soccer, and Christmas mass, and allowed each other to bury their dead.

Described by members of the Pulitzer Prize jury as a ‘stirring opera … displaying versatility of style and cutting straight to the heart’, Silent Night is Puts’ first stage work, though he is already well established as a composer of symphonic music in the US.

The Pulitzer Prize was launched in 1943 but has only been awarded for opera on seven previous occasions, including last year's winner, Madame White Snake by Zhou Long.

 

COMPETITION | Win a 10-CD set of Sumi Jo's The Erato Recitals

26 April 2012

Opera Now has four copies of this newly released 10-CD compilation from Erato to give away!

To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject SUMI to competitions@rhinegold.co.uk, or send a postcard to Rhinegold Competitions, 20 Rugby Street, London WC1N 3QZ. Please include your full name, address and a contact telephone number. (Deadline for entries: 31 May 2012.)

The set brings together 10 albums recorded by Sumi Jo for Erato and Warner Classics in the 1990s, and provides an astonishingly complete retrospective of her career. The voice sounds fresh, flexible, pinpoint in its accuracy but full of colour and never mechanical or soulless. There’s a palpable quest for perfection in this singing that at its best leaves you gasping, ‘How does she do that?’

The range of music on offer is extremely eclectic to say the least – from choral and operatic classics by Handel, Purcell and Mozart (the Queen of the Night is Jo’s signature role) to virtuosic Italian bel canto favourites by Rossini and Bellini and French grand opera rarities by Thomas and Meyerbeer. Johann Strauss II looms large, demonstrating Jo’s lightness of touch, a quality that she brings to songs by Stephen Sondheim and variety Broadway hits. There’s even a pleasurably kitsch Christmas disc thrown into the mix.

Jo delivers equal commitment and professionalism to whatever repertoire she sings, never compromising the voice or resorting to cheap ‘crossover effects’.

Many of these recordings have been unavailable for a number of years, so this is a chance for Sumi Jo’s fans to replenish their collection, and for a new generation of lovers of great singing to experience a superb artist at the height of her powers.

Sumi Jo: The Erato Recitals
Warner Classics/Erato
2564 66637-3


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