Malin Byström

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…)

Idomeneo

Temple of Athena, Rhodes

Another new production at the Royal Opera House; another unsatisfying evening in the theatre. Much has been said about Martin Kušej’s new production of Idomeneo, mostly about the shark. In many respects the shark was the least of its problems.

By the interval (by which time the shark had made its appearance) I was feeling relatively well-disposed towards the production. It was one of those standard grey-white walls, unspecified-villains-in-trenchcoats, bewildered-peasantry-in-50s-ish-modern-dress affairs. Much use was made of the revolve, as different empty room configurations swung into view. The basic theme was of dystopian civilisation in which the libretto’s references to Neptune are applied to a sort of cult which demands his worship: hence the shark becomes some sort of ritualistic maritime offering. By the interval, though creaking a bit at the seams, it was holding together passably well. (more…)

My week at the Metropolitan Opera

Lincoln Center - Metropolitan Opera House

The Metropolitan Opera House at night, as the audience files out of Madama Butterfly

I have just returned from New York, a trip that was based around celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday. During the 8-day stay, we took in five operas at the Metropolitan Opera House and, since I didn’t take a laptop with me, one post-trip round-up will capture thoughts on them all.

Overall, it was great to ‘live’ a different operatic experience for a week: everything about the Met is gargantuan, including (to be blunt) its own sense of self and the resulting hyperbole. In contrast, those fellow audience members with whom we chatted were reassuringly down-to-earth, and we had some great discussions, comparing notes on singers and performances across the Atlantic. And yet, from the security guards, to the rather prickly (and not particularly well-informed) backstage tour guide, to the social conventions around the front of house, it is all just slightly starchy when compared, dare I say it, to Covent Garden: more emphasis on a ‘sense of occasion’ than a night in the theatre, perhaps.  Maybe it’s the shades of all those Rockerfellers, Astors and Vanederbilts etched into the marble foyer. (more…)

Holten’s Don Giovanni

Kasper Holten’s production of Don Giovanni, which opened at Covent Garden last night, would appear to have one eye set on its DVD recording or HD transmission. Equally, it seemed an exercise in bringing some HD clarity to the stage visuals. Whether, ultimately, it functions as an insightful production of the opera is a matter of some debate, but it seems hard to deny that the projected visuals, matched with remarkable technical facility to the moving set, were a tour de force of their kind. (more…)