Posts Tagged ‘ETO’

Jason, English Touring Opera/RCM 04 October

October 6, 2013


Picture from ETO's Facebook page

Picture from ETO’s Facebook page.  (That set makes it look as though everything is happening indoors…)

This blog and its pals thoroughly enjoyed their outing to the wilderness that is SW7 for this opera by Francisco Cavalli, dating from 1649.  The important thing is that the music is really very, very good.  Since Cavalli had moved some way towards giving important characters nice cantabile arias by comparison with Monteverdi, it’s also more accessible and immediately appealing than you might think.  The orchestra–identified as the Old Street Band, which seems to be ETO’s period instrument group–played divinely under conductor Joseph McHardy, and I have never seen an opera orchestra looking so happy either.  The singers were uniformly very good as well–there was a cast change announced, which I think came down to Demus/Apollo being sung by a student cover from RCM–it certainly didn’t detract from anything.

The story is that of Jason and Medea (obviously enough) turned into a tale of amorous entanglements and happy endings, which was the kind of thing that happened to Classical plots in those days.  My only criticism would be that the opera was surely aiming at a sharp contrast between knockabout farce and the romantic-tragical-dramatic, but the farce was not really in evidence here and many jokes went missing.  On the other hand, the full-on treatment of the Royal Academy of Music’s 2010 production with self-propelled stage props and the like would have been difficult for a touring production.

Go see!–that music really is extremely lovely.

Il tabarro/Gianni Schicchi ETO/Hackney Empire 11 March

March 13, 2011


Upon entering the auditorium I thought not for the first time what a good theatre the Hackney Empire is:  it seems like the crumbling fabric is held together by sheer glamour.

The performances certainly lived up to the setting, and both of them were characterised (already!) by seamless teamwork.  I thought with some disgust at my own optimism–as though I’d never seen the thing before–that Il tabarro might actually turn into that rarity, an opera about people who work for a living.  But of course instead of that you have to have the plot, the body falling out of the cloak, and the point made by spectacle, not music.

Then Gianni Scicchi confirmed its standing as the only funny opera in the repertoire.  Funny as in makes people laugh.  It also revealed a rare level of precise direction and split-second timing.  Again very much a team effort, though of course it belonged to Richard Mosley-Evans as Schicchi.  And the orchestra played beautifully in both pieces.

On the pavement outside I ran into an ex-colleague who remarked with an air of some disapproval that Gianni Scicchi had been played for laughs.  I had to concede that it was indeed so…

Promised End (Alexander Goehr) ETO Linbury Studio 9 October

October 10, 2010



Rehearsal photo from ETO Facebook site


We wondered whether those antlers were meant to look like a dragon:  How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child, perhaps.

When the opera began, it turned out to be  scenes from King Lear with Shakespeare’s text set as accompagnato:  there were some shortish choruses and the occasional instrumental interlude and at one stage the Fool and Tom/Edgar actually got to sing in unison….Hasn’t this been done before, stretching back to Dargomyzhsky if not further?

The main effect was that you couldn’t make out the words very easily, but there was a nice Japanesey production of ‘Scenes from King Lear‘ to look at.  Occasional choruses and instrumental passages offered hope of effectiveness.

At the interval, my companion said that she wanted some good Verdi-style tunes.  I said that it was certainly easier to make Shakespeare into an opera if you translated him into Italian–since he’d already put everything he wanted to say into the English text, adding music was superfluous.

It seemed to me that if you didn’t know the play you’d have little idea of what was going on and who those people were, while of course you did know it so the thing was just a static piece of commentary.  The characters did what they did not because of their personalities and the situations on stage, but because it had already been decided in another text.  So, like Ades’s Tempest, but not consuming resources on such a grand scale.   I found I could understand why Britten had decided to set Midsummer Night’s Dream–there were plenty of opportunities for the free addition of musical frivolity, unhindered by any cogency in the text.

I felt the second half was more promising–general reflections were generally given to the chorus ,  Tom (or Edgar) and the Fool actually got to sing together.  But there was complete silence as Gloucester gathered himself for his supposedly fatal leap, when surely one would expect some orchestral illustration or commentary or preparation in an opera…?  I was quite touched by the scenes between Lear and Cordelia, but not nearly as much as I should have been.


Picture from


At the end, my companion said there was no point in an opera where you didn’t like the music.  I felt that you didn’t need or want pretty, pleasant, or prepossessing music for Lear,  but a lot of operatic possibilities had just been passed up.  Why not have an overture for instance to establish the character of Lear and the general mood.  Why not have some ensembles, or extended orchestral passages?

Tolstoy complained with especial respect to King Lear that in Shakespeare the characters came on stage and mouthed general (often insufficiently moralistic) reflections on life, the Universe, and everything in a way that such a person in such a situation simply would not do.  But Shakespeare only had his characters’ words to work with–he didn’t have an Ancient Greek chorus (which is where their general reflections usually live) or an opera composer’s chorus, orchestra and everything else.  So I think you need to take a lot of the content out of the characters’ words and put it somewhere else if you’re doing an opera…

As ever in these situations, the performances and production were beyond reproach–you just felt they might have had more to bite on.   Perhaps Nicholas Garrett as Edmund came off best, certainly in the sense of us being able to understand his words.  Roderick Earl as Lear seemed to be rather too young, vigorous and compos mentis, but of course that’s an expectation based on Shakespeare rather than Goehr.  The fact that Nigel Robson (Gloucester) was the one singer I was familiar with, together with having read something to that effect, led me to think that the main point of this treatment was supposed to be the parallelism between Lear and Gloucester, but I don’t think it came out that way.


Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’ld use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.

Is this the promised end

Or image of that horror?

Fall, and cease!

Flavio (ETO, RCM 21 October)

October 23, 2009
Picture from

Picture from

So  a visit to another world, or rather more than one of them–first of all South Kensington, which is so obviously not a part of London that only foreigners (and a few dinosaurs) live there.  And then to the world of Handel’s operas,

dove ignoto è ancora
Al nostro mondo il mondo

to quote Emilia  (though we actually had the words in a pretty sprightly English translation).

A world indeed still unknown to our world where characters comment on the emotions they might be feeling rather than displaying them; where the music shows commendable economy in reusing the same material many times over without the precision you might expect in something called the Britten Theatre; where it all too often points to generalised settings of ‘lugubrious’ or ‘self-satisfied’ rather than engaging with the action and emotions; where you build your expectations for a heroic  tenor declamation and you get a counter-tenor; where (as my companion observed, since we were sitting in the front row) the strings don’t have proper bows; where the lady sitting next to me told me off for laughing in the interval and spoiling her recital of the complete contents of the programme to her partner; where damned few of the audience are going to see 70 again, never mind 60.

Words came out in the likeness of a wreathed vagina pouring out Handel–

And this was the worse kind: in the other kind there’s some classical or Biblical story to hold on to so at least you’re not entirely carried away to the altro mondo di noia.

Anyway, the thing began and the set consisted of a plain box painted blue while props comprised many red-bound books for characters to obediently consult or tear pages out of in a rage; or in the alternative daggers.  Sometimes daggers were hidden or mislaid in books just for a change.  And the lighting (credited to Kevin Treacy) did wonders in creating interesting and lending variety without much help from, well, the music was the main culprit since I think translation improved the words in this case.

So in the first act I oriented myself in this unfamiliar universe and the process was quite interesting even if the universe wasn’t.  Then I spent the second act mostly sunk in despair that it really was going to be like this and contemplating revenge on my various enemies, rather like a Handelian hero but without the obsessive repetition.

Then having adjusted myself to the Lilliputian scale of things, I found I was quite interested: the music came into focus as Emilia agonised over whether to kill her betrothed Guido after he had despatched her father Lotario, and I even forgave Guido for being a countertenor.

Then the third act passed in really quite sprightly fashion as Emilia (Paula Sides) and Guido (James Laing) agonised,  Flavio (Clint van der Linde) reunited Teodata (Carolyn Dobbin) and Vitige (Angelica Voje) with even five seconds or so of humour; and everything ended happily with more than one person being allowed to sing at the same time as a special treat.

Actually I thought all the singers did very well, especially in not dying of boredom at an early stage of the proceedings–Carolyn Dubbin provided the best acting skills in the soubrette role, while Paula Sides probably had the most demanding part to master and did so very well.

So well done to everyone, and especially me for even managing to enjoy it!