Posts Tagged ‘Opera North’

Norma, Opera North/Theatre Royal Newcastle 10 March

March 11, 2012

***

This time the comment was there are no springs in these seats.

The production featured a chorus of grubby proletarians (surely they should have been peasants) in a large wooden shed (surely they should have been outside) oppressed by top-hatted capitalists in the form of Pollione and Flavio.  There was a lot of random stage business to distract from the action, and equally distracting was the presence of characters who shouldn’t really be there dramatically.

Often the programme will give a clue to the production concept in these cases, but this time it only offered some enigmatic b/w photos without captions or picture credits (which might have given some clue).  Whatever it was, the concept did involve Norma and Adalgisa doing a lot of grovelling around on the floor, presumably so as not to make things too easy for them in singing.  That levitating log played an important parrt, and also reminded me unpleasantly of the giant ‘Nartish’ turdgods from the Mariinsky Ring a couple of years back.

As Norma, Annemarie Kramer sometimes gave the impression she felt she had already done enough in previous performances and now she wanted to go home.  Pollione (Luis Chapa) started off loud, coarse and uncertain in intonation but improved as the evening went on–it helped that he was figuring more in ensembles as well.  I thought Oroveso was well sung by James Creswell, although he was on stage many times when he should not have been.  Keri Alkema was very good as Adalgisa.

I had two main problems with this evening.  Annemarie Kramer didn’t really come to terms with the vast range of emotion demanded by the role–from psychotic rage to beatific self-sacrifice–probably she was just tired.  Also the storyline of heroic impossible love and sacrifice really made no sense in this dingy depressing overcrowded setting.

Giulio Cesare, Opera North/Theatre Royal Newcastle 09 March

March 10, 2012

****

To start with the important things:  this time round, the view on the seats was that they were too narrow and too uncomfortable, the rake was wrong or the pitch or both.  A fortune had been spent to no effect.  I can’t say I can really offer an opinion–in my Newcastle days, I remember meeting a girl at a party who worked in the box office here, and someone with a job and a regular income was definitely on a different socio-economic planet.

After that introduction, we got a very good performance of Giulio Cesare, where the revolving Egyptian pyramid constrained by Roman concrete did duty for all kinds of things and the production was fresh and inventive.  Pamela Helen Stephenson was suitably mannish as Giulio Cesare in a battle-weary greatcoat while the countertenor James Laing was camply evil and perverted as Tolomeo.  Sarah Tynan was very lovely–also clearly a very good actress–as Cleopatra and sang very accurately.  She didn’t really suggest a woman who could dispose of her husband-brother and several other rival claimants to the throne without any bother at all, but that’s not in the piece either so not her fault. But perhaps the partt needs someone to wallow more lushly.

I thought the best singing (and performances) came from Kathryn Rudge as Sesto and Ann Taylor as Cornelia, both of whom were extremely affecting.  The orchestral playing (conductor Robert Howarth) was jolly good too.

Well done everybody!  Well done Opera North!

Madama Butterfly Opera North/Theatre Royal Newcastle 08 March

March 8, 2012

**

Picture from musicalcriticism.com

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.  This must be about the worst playing I’ve ever heard from an orchestra at the opera .  It was far too loud and too crude and any exposed woodwind passages were a source of deep anxiety.  In the first half at least, the orchestra was also often out of synchronisation with the singers.  Caught up in the general spirit of things , Anne-Sophie Duprels (Cio-Cio-San) spent her whited-up first half mugging at an audience apparently located somewhere around Scotswood.  She also seemed to be finding this part far too spinto for  her, and was having difficulties with uncontrolled vibrato in a second half when a nice page-boy cut had restored her to the essence of Frenchness.  All this is a pity, since in my opinion she’s usually marvellous.

I think that the production would have been condemned as outright racist if it had applied to any people other than the Japanese.  But we nuked them and they employ half of Sunderland as well, so that’s all right.  (Anyway this is largely the fault of Puccini and his librettists I suppose.)  I also found a lot of the direction in naively doubling music with movement simply simple-minded.

As to the good points of the evening, I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Pinkerton as a fat oaf with no redeeming qualities at all, and rather well sung by Rafael Rojas.  Ann Taylor’s Suzuki was certainly the best performance on view, though Wyn Davies also did himself a big favour by not being the conductor this time round.

As we were left the theatre, the person behind me was complaining about the seats being far too hard.  While true, this was about the least of our problems…