Saimir Pirgu

Uneasy lies the head…

Duomo di Firenze, Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

Duomo, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore, Firenze; Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

It’s a tricky one, don’t you find? When you’re struggling to maintain your grasp on regal power because the anonymous, writhing naked men dwelling in the depths of your psyche simply won’t stop distracting you. They become particularly lively, and things reach a particularly feverish and catastrophic pitch, when a so-called prophet rides into town promising all sorts of pleasures…

Thus runs, broadly, the theme (it’s not so much a plot) of Szymanowski’s Król Roger, at least in Kasper Holten’s well-judged production at Covent Garden. At last, a new production at Covent Garden that can be considered a fairly comprehensive success. The monumental head, filling the stage, starts out as some sort of totem of established worship, framed within a galleried set. As it turns, it reveals a metaphorical chamber, with enlightenment above (symbolised by piles of books) and the aforementioned baser elements slithering in the depths. This colossal stage-picture allowed the themes of Szymanowski’s opera to be very well elucidated: pulses of movement in the sensual depths accompanied each hint of King Roger’s seamier psychological undercurrents, until things disintegrated completely and broke free from the central cranium. Knowledge, again symbolised by books, was destroyed in a flaming pyre in the third act, giving way to the pursuit of pure pleasure – except for Roger, who sees a possibility of rebuilding a more meaningful life.  (more…)

Rigoletto back with a bang

Discounting the dreadful Anna Nicole, to which wild horses couldn’t drag me back a second time, the Royal Opera’s season opened with Verdi’s dark 1851 masterpiece, Rigoletto. On 27 September, it was a full-blooded performance of Italian vigour, and definitely one to blow the cobwebs away.

Maurizio Benini was on duty in the pit, driving the orchestra hard whilst still allowing space for the singers: the contrast was thrilling as the big set piece act-closers hoved into view… The storm of act 4 – surely one of Verdi’s most atmospheric effects, with the chorus providing the howling wind to follow the orchestral thunderclaps – was beautifully, hauntingly realised. The orchestra played wonderfully throughout, with particularly characterful brass and woodwind contributions and some very threatening timpani. (more…)