Gerald Finley

Tell me more…

Red Apple. [Creative Commons: Abhijit Tembhekar]

Tell’s famous shooting of the apple on Jemmy’s head was a brilliantly realised theatrical trick. [Creative Commons: Abhijit Tembhekar]

Having seen it at Sunday’s matinee, my thoughts about the Royal Opera’s new Guillaume Tell (production by Damiano Michieletto) will not rank amongst the more fulminating of the online debate. In short: musically stellar; visually interesting-tending-to-the-inert; dramatically stimulating. Notably, I didn’t find it – and that much-commented-upon sexual assault scene – particularly offensive.

I had expected to hate it. The way it was described conjured up the Royal Opera’s truly horrendous production of Rusalka, or the dull and pretentious Idomeneo. Both of those were in a league apart in terms of clumsy over-conceptual plot-handling and poor visuals. The atmosphere of Tell was well-established by the mud floor and general air of bleak oppression (however difficult it is to project a voice over so unreverberant a surface). On the night I had placed it in that miserable indefinably-somewhere-between-50s-and-70s period, but in fact it was set around World War 1, so my programme tells me. Chairs in abundance, against which much violence was wrought. Visible, hung strip-lighting as well. Baddies in combats wielding guns. It was not entirely cliché-free.  (more…)

A magical Parsifal

Curtain Call at Parsifal

Curtain call at Parsifal, showing the basic set with woodland surrounding a geometric playing space and the Grail ‘cube’.

I’m not sure Parsifal has ever quite worked this spell on me. It’s entirely possible I was just ‘in that zone’ and receptive to its very special charms. However, I also think that this was one of the most successful new productions Covent Garden has had for some time. Whilst Stephen Langridge’s production is not without flaws, in comparison to a number of recent new productions on London’s stages, it is something of a triumph. With a very strong cast – and some notably outstanding and character-redefining performances – it was a special evening indeed. (more…)

A triumph of gentility and detail

Despite its length, despite its huge demands for chorus and orchestra, despite its air – from the very first bars of the overture – of pompous grandiosity, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is, at its heart, an intimate tale.  A small community, with its rituals and ceremonies, its civic pride in the very best sense, is thrown into turmoil by an outsider who captivates them whilst breaking their rules and dearly-held traditions.  And in the process, one tale of love blossoms whilst another is set aside.  And in David McVicar’s production for Glyndebourne, I can’t think when I’ve been more struck by this intimacy of the work, or seen it so thrillingly surfaced. (more…)

The over-inflated Anna Nicole

The revised Royal Opera House curtain, Anna Nicole-style

The revised Royal Opera House curtain, Anna Nicole-style

I tweeted it at the time, and I say it again here.  I so wanted to like this.  The Royal Opera House had pulled out all the stops – not least in the marketing department – for this collaboration of Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas (of Jerry Springer, the Opera fame).  It was not, however, to be, and I fear that what follows is going to make me appear humourless and about 25 years older than I am.  Whatever.

Arriving at the opera house, the audience were left in no doubt that this was ‘an event’.  Photo boards all around the House, more usually given over to vintage images of opera stars of yore, were covered over with the same pouting, bosom-caressing image of (I think) Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna Nicole Smith, and likewise all of the television screens carried that image.  In the auditorium, her face was strapped to every cherub on the balcony fascias, a Marilyn Monroe style headshot was placed over the head of Queen Victoria, and the ROH curtain was replaced by a vivid pink number, with the Royal crest reinterpreted to include two body builders but, rather daringly, retaining the crown and both Dieu et mon droit and Honi soit qui mal y pense.  Considering that the usual translation is Shame be to him who thinks evil of it, this gaudy reworking signified one of the evening’s more notable ironies. (more…)

Glyndebourne’s suave Don Giovanni

A fabulous 50th birthday trip for my partner and some select friends to Glyndebourne, to see the new production of Don Giovanni. Broadly, very good. Not perfect, but very good.

Jonathan Kent’s production had things updated to somewhere around the 1950s (judging by the Marilyn Monroe effect applied to Zerlina) and to Italy, if Masetto was anything to go by.  Don G spent most of the time in a white tux, and Donna Anna and Donna Elvira wore various chic numbers of the period.

The production revolves around a much-revolving tall box, which initially turns slowly during the overture, revealing sides that are alternately large white gloss brick and either an ornate classical portico or a full-height portrait in ‘Old Master’ style of a woman reclining.  Through the evening, this box spins to different angles and is opened out into a myriad different spaces and shapes.  The effect is impressive, and there are no end of interesting tableaux possible.  Act 2 sees a slightly more decrepit – and, for the actors, perilous – version of the cube in play.  The final dinner scene was played at a dramatic angle, rising up away from the audience with Don G’s seat at the table high up at the back of the stage.  The table was upturned by Don G, revealing the Thriller-esque grave from which the Commendatore would rise to initiate vengeance.

(more…)