Edward Gardner

The Dame, well-piqued

Queen of Spades, Russian Deck [Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]Last Saturday we caught the opening night of English National Opera’s new production of The Queen of Spades. Not entirely a success, albeit with flashes of magnificence.

Most of the problem was David Alden’s: the production had an air of cheapness about it, not to mention laziness. Present were the trademark harsh side-lighting and oddball extras, as well as much piling up of chairs, not to mention the frankly puerile appearance of a bunch of stuffed carton character heads at one point. Of darkness and tension there was practically none. (more…)

Giddy Gilliam in Barmy Berlioz

benvenuto cellini firenze

Benvenuto Cellini bust on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence.

Terry Gilliam’s second foray into opera direction, again Berlioz, is if anything more successful than the first. I hadn’t known any of Berlioz’s 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini, which tells the story of Cellini’s brush with both papal and paternal wrath in his simultaneous failure to cast a monumental statue of Perseus and his attempts to woo the daughter of a papal exchequer. The work seems sprawling, to put it mildly, and rambles along with rousing ensembles punctuated by less distinctive recitatives and short arias. Gilliam’s madcap treatment of the work would appear to meet its flaws head on in a spirit of riotous abandon. (more…)

Peter Grimes

David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes was new to ENO in 2009, with some of the same cast as this run, and looking back at my reflections I seem to have been impressed. If I am perhaps a little more reserved on second encounter, four years later, it is still a powerful account of Britten’s pre-eminent work. (more…)

It certainly sounded like Fidelio. Mostly.

Last Sunday, I saw the Royal Opera House’s Elektra, by all accounts a barnstorming performance of the work. Unfortunately for me, someone checking their phone was only one of the ways in which the row in front seemed intent on bobbing about and generally disrupting my ability to engage in the work. So I wasn’t really in a position to write it up and instead will, sadly, just have to write it off. (more…)

Death in Venice

ENO Death in Venice

ENO Death in Venice – (c) ENO/Hugo Glendinning – click to jump to their Flickr page for more

In Britten centenary year, when better to encounter his Death in Venice for the first time? Especially in so graceful and poignant a production as that provided by Deborah Warner for English National Opera.

There was atmospheric assistance on hand, after a run of particularly humid (and drably grey) days in London we had just a small insight into the stuffy, oppressive air that pervades the work. This saw the rudimentary Coliseum air-conditioning turned well up, so that most of us in the Balcony were assailed by sudden and severe gusts of cool air. At times this nicely mirrored the billowing curtains of the hotel scenes that separated the lobby from the balcony overlooking the ominous lagoon. The light shifted and changed over the lagoon, and the cityscape of Venice shifted elegantly into and out of focus as the scenes moved between the Lido and the city. Walls and curtains moved silently to change the locations, leaving most of the downstage area empty. If there was one minor carp, it would be the near-impossibility of creating claustrophobia on the Coliseum’s yawning stage, but this production did come as near as any to achieving it. (more…)

Peter Grimes: ENO at the Proms

I’m pleased to be able to file a happy report from the Royal Albert Hall, following the disappointing Novello Prom and a Yeomen of the Guard that suffered for being on too hot a day, and viewed from the precipitous heights of the Balcony. The television relay confirms that as having been quite excellent, but I was unable to form a reasonable opinion on the night.

Pebbles on Brighton Beach

However, this time with the benefit of a side stalls (front row, near the stage) seat, this Grimes was pretty spectacular.  Largely the same cast as the ENO theatre run of 2009, minus in particular Gerald Finley’s Balstrode, it was as theatrical as if they had all just gathered themselves up and rushed round from the Coliseum that afternoon. (more…)

ENO Billy Budd: awash on the wide expanses

Claustrophobia seems to me a vital ingredient in the atmosphere of Britten’s below-decks tragedy. It was a quality most notably missing from David Alden’s expansive, flat production for ENO. However good the singing, however spirited the playing, there was a crippling lack of atmosphere to this presentation of Billy Budd. (more…)