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ENO’s cool new Boccanegra fired up by superb music making

9 June 2011, London, UK

Bruno Caproni as Simon Boccanegra
Bruno Caproni as Simon Boccanegra(Photo: Mike Hoban)

Review by Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar

Dmitiri Tcherniakov paints a colourless world of fascist, grey-suited thugs in his new production of Simon Boccanegra at English National Opera. The dark intrigues of Genoa’s political underbelly take place in a functional council chamber, flooded with cold, glaring light. There’s nowhere to hide from tyranny in this calculating world, and certainly no place for tenderness. Emotions, boiling and messy, have to remain repressed beneath a thin carapace of masculine self-control.

Tcherniakov’s blunt take on Boccanegra isn’t always coherent, but it largely works. His characters are mostly psychopaths, emotionally stunted and brutalised by their obsession with power. It’s a cool approach to Verdi’s most heartfelt exploration of the father-daughter relationship.

The staging is elevated to a higher plane by some exceptionally fine music making. Conductor Ed Gardner illuminates this subtle, quicksilver score by picking out highly distinctive colours and voices within the orchestra. The playing is quite superb, and the show is worth it for this alone.

There is also strength in the cast. Rena Harms as Amelia is a dreamy teenage goth, struggling to find a sense of identity. Her voice has power and an attractive, edgy darkness that soars over the ensembles. Peter Auty is a touching Adorno (though too cuddly to be a sexy biker-boy). Brindley Sherratt is outstanding as Fiesco – a truly patrician performance. Roland Wood is an excellent Paolo, barely able to suppress his inner turmoil.

Bruno Caproni as Boccanegra doesn’t quite carry the sinister gravitas that this production needs. He just can’t pull off the ‘Marlon Brando’-style rebel of the Prologue, here set in the 1950s. He sings utterly beautifully, however – a glowing, burnished high baritone with not an ounce of strain.

Musically this Boccanegra is a tremendous achievement for ENO. You’ll either love or hate the staging, but it is a thoughtful attempt to make sense of the irrational emotions and psychological conflicts in this complex opera.

ENO's Simon Boccanegra runs until 11 July.


Opera Holland Park 2011 opens with Don Pasquale

8 June 2011, London, UK

Donald Maxwell as Don Pasquale
Donald Maxwell as Don Pasquale(Photo: Fritz Curzon)

Robert Thicknesse reports on the opening night of Don Pasquale at Opera Holland Park.

A clever, original and hard-working production by Stephen Barlow, set in an ineffable English seaside resort, this Don Pasquale has a sting in the tail that wrung the evening’s only proper belly laugh out of me.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Richard Bonynge's phoned-in conducting performance, which made this score the apogee of easy elegance and charm, a turgid colour-by-numbers plod that apparently takes many decades to perfect.

Donald Maxwell is the poor old bachelor being mistreated by Colin Lee’s beautifully sung Ernesto and Majella Cullagh’s Norina.


Garsington Opera's new venue opens in Buckinghamshire

7 June 2011, Buckinghamshire, UK

Garsington Opera's new Wormsley pavilion
Garsington Opera's new Wormsley pavilion(Photo: Dennis Gilbert)

Andrew Green attended the opening night of this year's Garsington Opera festival and reports on the success of the company's relocation to Buckinghamshire.

First there's the long drive into the heart of the magical Wormsley estate, enclosed by rolling hills on either side. Then the walk alongside a picture-postcard lake, past a meandering line of marquees (looking for all the world like a siege encampment) housing scores of Garsingtonians upending the first champagne of the season.

The pavilion, when it first comes into sight, is a delight of Japanese simplicity and draws you up the hill - talk about seduction! But what matters above all else are the very first sounds to hit 600 pairs of ears: the result made this pair more than happy.

All in all, the re-located Garsington Opera has fallen on its feet.


Anna Netrebko signs new recording agreement with DG

6 June 2011, Hamburg, Germany

Anna Netrebko
Anna Netrebko(Photo: Felix Broede / DG)

Deutsche Grammophon has signed a new exclusive recording agreement with the Russian soprano and operatic superstar, Anna Netrebko.

Already a seasoned DG artist with numerous critically acclaimed recordings to her name, Netrebko’s audio and video discography is set to expand significantly under the new agreement.

Her past projects with DG include Verdi’s Violetta and Mozart’s Susanna at the Salzburg Festival; French, Italian, and Czech arias with Gianandrea Noseda; Italian arias with Claudio Abbado; and songs from her Russian homeland with Valery Gergiev and Daniel Barenboim.

She also features as Norina on the label’s latest DVD and Blu-ray release of Don Pasquale from the Metropolitan Opera – a role for which she was credited by the New York Observer as “not just a Met star, but the Met star”.

Commenting on the new recording agreement, Deutsche Grammophon’s President, Michael Lang, said: “Our long-term partnership with Anna has created the most inspired, beautiful, and artistic recordings. We are thrilled to continue this tradition with such a superb artist.”

Anna herself added: “I am happy to continue my collaboration at Deutsche Grammophon — it’s one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. We have many exciting new ideas that I look forward to begin recording.”

Anna Netrebko will feature the cover artist for our October issue. 


Thought-provoking new season announced by ENO

26 May 2011, London, UK

'The Passenger' at Bregenz Festival
'The Passenger' at Bregenz Festival(Photo: Karl Forster)

Risky certainly. Some might even call it foolhardy in the current economic climate. But there’s no doubt that ENO’s 2011/12 season plans represent considerable bravado on the part of its artistic and management team.

With 11 new productions in the planning, the programme includes a swathe of 20th-century works that deal with powerful, political themes.

These include John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer, based events surrounding the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, a flashpoint in the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Weinberg’s The Passenger, meanwhile, deals with persecution and exile inflicted upon the Jews in the Second World War, based on personal stories of a victim and a perpetrator.

There are two operas by major contemporary German composers in the mix: Detlev Glanert’s Caligula explores the psychopathic nature of political dictatorship. Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz is an exposé of society’s attitudes to mental illness.

The season sees a staging of Damon Albarn’s new opera Doctor Dee. The Blur and Gorillaz frontman ponders British ritual and symbolism as he revisits the life of the influential Elizabethan, John Dee. The London premiere is part of the London 2012 Festival celebrating the Olympics.

“We’re being risky, yes,” says ENO artistic director John Berry, “but by showcasing top British talent in our casting and dealing with thought-provoking subjects that generate challenging, intelligent debate, I hope we’ll be offering our audiences something that they can’t get anywhere else in the opera world today.”

Follow the link below for full details of ENO’s new season, which also includes new productions of The Marriage of Figaro, Castor and Pollux (ENO’s first-ever Rameau staging), Eugene Onegin, The Tales of Hoffmann, The Flying Dutchman and Billy Budd.


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