English National Opera

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…)

Masterful Mastersingers

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Anyone coming afresh to the superlative performance of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the Coliseum last night would be astonished to find out that the company behind it was facing such challenges as it is. English National Opera demonstrated in this one performance just how essential it is as a part of London’s operatic life. It was a performance of fresh immediacy, for once the English language translation absolutely sharpening its focus, and a production of inventive, well-observed detail. (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…)

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…)

ENO Medea

Medea programmeFinally, I made it to the last night (afternoon, actually) of the ENO show that seems to have had people raving – positively, for once.  After Barry Kosky’s rather preposterous Castor & Pollux, ENO’s second go at the French Baroque was Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Medée (or Medea, as it was presented in this instance…)  There are elements of the genre that don’t quite do it for me, but this was overall a fantastic piece of theatre.