The Ab­stract and the Con­crete

The London Magazine - - ANDREW NASH - Andrew Nash

the fes­ti­vals of Bri­tain and Ire­land. Along­side the in­evitable pro­duc­tions of Caval­le­ria Rus­ti­cana L’Amico Fritz (1891) and Zanetto (1896), while last year’s Wex­ford Fes­ti­val am­bi­tiously mounted Guglielmo Rat­cliff (1895), the work Mascagni con­sid­ered his opera, Iris on Euro­pean cul­ture in the 1890s (con­spic­u­ous in the paint­ings of James Madame Chrysan­thème) found its way into mu­si­cal works as di­verse as Saint Saens’ La Princesse Jaune (1872) and Gil­bert and Sul­li­van’s The Mikado on 22 Novem­ber 1898, Iris was an in­stant suc­cess (En­rico Caruso took over the tenor role when the opera was per­formed in La Scala, Mi­lan the fol­low­ing Jan­uary). Like most of Mascagni’s ‘other’ works, how­ever, the suc­cess did not en­dure, and as an oper­atic ex­pres­sion of the con­tem­po­rary taste for Ja­panese ori­en­tal­ism, Iris Madama But­terly (1904).

Iris, which lies not in Mascagni’s mu­sic but the story’s lack of ac­tion, to which might be added a lack of com­plex­ity or hu­man­ity to the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion. On the sur­face the work is a sor­did tale of sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, but the mu­sic and li­bretto pit ex­pe­ri­ence and cor­rup­tion against in­no­cence and won­der. The thin plot is book-ended by a rap­tur­ous hymn to the sun, which be­gins por­ten­tously with a dou­ble bass be­fore ris­ing and swelling into an ec­static cho­rus, su young girl who lives alone with her blind fa­ther, lov­ingly tend­ing to the - ages to her pro­tec­tor the Sun. She is ab­ducted by Osaka, a young no­ble­man,

city). Ini­tially Osaka is in­ter­ested in Iris only for sex, but she re­sists his ad­vances and he gives up in dis­gust. He is drawn back to her when Kyoto – whose only in­ter­est is in his ‘mer­chan­dise’ (‘mia merche’) – pa­rades her in front of an as­sem­bled horde of lust­ing lo­cals. Other as­pects of the plot – the de­nun­ci­a­tion of Iris by her fa­ther who thinks she has will­ingly em­braced pros­ti­tu­tion, and Iris’s sui­ci­dal plunge into a sewer (though in the Hol­land

Dra­mat­i­cally, the work turns on the con­trasts of sor­did re­al­ism and sen­ti­men­tal fairy tale. The play of light and dark is cap­tured at the end when the the Sun God, while the voices of Osaka, Kyoto and her fa­ther con­fess their guilt. Olivia Fuchs’s stag­ing brought out these con­trasts well, strik­ing the right amount of pathos at the close with­out al­low­ing sen­ti­ment to over­ride our es­sen­tial dis­gust at the ap­palling fate of the cen­tral char­ac­ter. Three large bam­boo cages served as pro­tect­ing and im­pris­on­ing sym­bols of Iris’s fate, while the wa­ter lilies and night can­dles which grace the stage in the open­ing scene are re­placed at the end by the dank empti­ness of the sewer. - plic­ity and sparse­ness served the drama well.

sen­ti­men­talise a char­ac­ter who, in the throes of im­mi­nent pas­sion, longs only for her lit­tle gar­den and its bab­bling brook. Anne So­phie Duprels sang with as much nat­u­ral in­no­cence in the voice as she could muster and when con­fronted by her se­ducer in the brothel man­aged to com­bine sex­ual naivety with enough vo­cal force­ful­ness to cut through Mascagni’s heav­ily eroti­cised or­ches­tral writ­ing. Along­side her, Noah Ste­wart as Osaka cut - situra of the Act 1 ser­e­nade (the best known melody in the work), he pro­duced some high-oc­tane tenor singing in the failed se­duc­tion scene. He and Kyoto (well sung by the bari­tone James Clev­er­ton) were dressed in 1940s suits and struck a suavely sin­is­ter pose in their act­ing. Mikhail Svet­lov was gravely sonorous as Iris’s blind fa­ther. Stu­art Strat­ford, highly ex­pe­ri­enced

in this reper­toire, con­ducted with a sure con­trol of pace and dy­nam­ics.

to La Cener­en­tola, The Queen of Spades and Die Fle­d­er­maus, there was a Bo­hème which im­pressed some crit­ics but which I found ill-con­ceived. and place, and Stephen Bar­low’s de­ci­sion to back­date the ac­tion to evoke the Shake­spearan theatre robbed the work of its es­sen­tial warmth and pathos. The gar­ret was set up as a stage-within-a-stage with shak­ing pil­lars Elizabeth, while Rodolfo’s dress sug­gested the poet was meant to be Shake­speare him­self. With­out a door to knock, there was no room for Mimi to fall in­no­cently into Rodolfo’s life in Act 1, and no touch of feigned in­no­cence when he openly pock­eted her key in front of her dur­ing his aria. It was spir­ited at times, but rarely mov­ing (per­haps that was the point). The mu­si­cal feisty and char­ac­ter­ful as Musetta. Matthew Wal­dron con­ducted with sen­si­tiv­ity and coped well with a rhyth­mi­cally re­bel­lious Rodolfo.

mu­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture is of­ten de­lib­er­ately evoca­tive of the lo­ca­tion of his pro­duc­tion of La Fan­ci­ulla del West stage move­ment all evoke the Wild West of the mid-nine­teenth-cen­tury, mas­cu­line world of the gold dig­gers. The trav­el­ling min­strel’s nos­tal­gic lament for home (smoothly sung by Thomas Humphreys) was ar­rest­ing in its sim­plic­ity. As the ‘fan­ci­ulla’ her­self, Claire Rut­ter scaled the per­ilous heroine a good deal more fem­i­nine than usual, of­fer­ing a win­ningly gen­tle at­tack on many of the ex­posed high Cs. As the ban­dit Ramer­rez, Lorenzo De­caro phrased hand­somely in a voice that was ro­bust and heroic, if a lit­tle mus­cu­lar at the top of the range. Stephen Gadd made the Sher­riff Jack

drew lus­cious sounds from the Bournemouth Sym­phony Or­ches­tra in what

99-year lease to pro­duce opera at its new home in the Theatre in the Wood for the fu­ture swept aside mem­o­ries of the past in pre-per­for­mance an res­i­dency in grand style with con­cert per­for­mances of Tris­tan und Isolde, along­side less grand (but ap­par­ently warmly re­ceived) per­for­mances of Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, and a pro­duc­tion of Verdi’s supreme achieve­ment in grand opera (pos­si­bly in all opera) Don Carlo. Wisely, in view of the ver­sion of Don Car­los with Aida be­hind him and Otello in prepa­ra­tion. This Don Carlo, per­formed at La Scala in 1884 in an Ital­ian translation (Verdi com­posed and re­vised the work in French), may be struc­turally less sat­is­fac­tory than the a strong case for its artis­tic im­por­tance, notwith­stand­ing a con­tro­ver­sial change to the end­ing.

The pro­duc­tion, di­rected by Jo Davies, em­pha­sised the opera’s dark­ness. The set de­sign by Les­lie Char­teris, with two tow­er­ing walls nar­row­ing the stage, cre­ated a claus­tro­pho­bic at­mos­phere, while the aus­tere black cos di­rec­tion was bru­tally re­al­is­tic. The snarling cho­rus, ac­cent­ing the down rose above a tow­er­ing cross at the back of the stage. In this vi­sion there was lit­tle room for Verdi’s mu­si­cal ges­ture of sal­va­tion (de­rived from his ha­tred of the in­sti­tu­tional power of the Church). The ce­les­tial voice which wel-

comes the souls of the heretics to Heaven was barely au­di­ble and passed al­most un­no­ticed as a stray child was hurled onto the pyre. Most con­tro­ver­sially, Davies’s pro­duc­tion al­tered the end­ing so that Carlo is not drawn into the tomb by the ghost of Charles V (the mys­te­ri­ous monk of Act 1) - tion­al­ists, but it is ar­guably more con­sis­tent with the tone of the opera’s li­bret­tists. In Friedrich Schiller’s play, upon which the opera is based, Car duty. It could be ar­gued that this pro­duc­tion re­stored the spirit of Schiller. - ent with Davies’s dark in­ter­pre­ta­tion that there should be no sal­va­tion for Carlo and Elis­a­betta.

The cast was mostly im­pres­sive. As Don Carlo, Ste­fano Secco sang fer - in­gly sung by Vir­ginia Tola. Her Act 2 aria was silken in tone but the vo up at forte and thread­bare at pi­anis­simo. The strong­est purely vo­cal per heart, but oddly lit­tle tonal vari­a­tion ei­ther side of the mor­tal wound­ing top notes of ‘O don fatale’ were not ab­so­lutely se­curely fo­cused but the de­liv­ery was im­pas­sioned and drew the big­gest ap­plause of the evening. Clive Bay­ley may not have the most Ital­ianate tone, and there were some mo­ments of over-ac­cen­tu­a­tion, but he was ap­pro­pri­ately black-voiced with

a good body of sound and suc­cess­fully cap­tured the du­al­ity at the heart of - - ing the core of the King’s frag­ile con­science. Once again, the Bournemouth Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, con­ducted by Gian­luca Mar­cianò, played su­perbly (a no­tably haunt­ing per­for­mance by the solo cello at the start of Act 3) and the scaled down cho­rus was again ex­cel­lent.

At Worm­s­ley, Gars­ing­ton Opera’s show­piece this year was Mozart’s Idome­neo. In ad­di­tion to Eu­gene One­gin and a dance adap­ta­tion of Haydn’s or­a­to­rio The Cre­ation in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Ram­bert School, there was also a new pro­duc­tion of Rossini’s early com­edy L’Ital­iana in Al­geri, imag­i­na­tively con­ceived by di­rec­tor Will Tuck­ett. Ge­orge Souglides’s spec­tac­u­lar set - a giant white stair­case sup­ported by gold pil­lars - was full-on Lib­er­ace kitsch, while the vel­vet stools, wa­ter foun­tain, and domed arch­way suit­ably evoked the palace of the Bey of Al­giers. There was a de­light for once, was played not as a buf­foon but as a youth­ful, nasty despot, which sat­is­fy­ing. Among the largely ex­cel­lent cast, Ric­cardo No­varo, a late re­place­ment as Tad­deo, gave an ob­ject les­son in how to act with the voice. As Mustafa, Quirin de Lang’s rather cav­ernous bari­tone lacked a de­gree As Lin­doro, the small-voiced tenor Lu­ciano Botelho dis­played an ac­com - tive in the pas­sage­work and en­sem­bles than the ex­posed Act 1 aria. Is­abella her­self, cos­tumed in the golden age of Hol­ly­wood, was sung and char­ac­terised su­perbly by the mezzo Ezgi Kutlu. With a well-fo­cused lower reg­is­ter and dom­i­nated the stage. L’Ital­iana is a work of many set num­bers, but its youth­ful sparkle (it was com­posed in only twenty-seven days when Rossini was just twenty-one) lies in the manic en­sem­bles, chore­ographed here to per­fec­tion. The cast – clearly well-re­hearsed – brought out the mu­si­cal char­ac­ters stam­mer their con­fu­sion in dif­fer­ent tonal ex­cla­ma­tions.

The best all-round per­for­mance I wit­nessed at this year’s sum­mer fes­ti­vals, how­ever, was Gars­ing­ton’s Idome­neo. The opera was cut to a more man­age­able length, close in text to the 1951 Glyn­de­bourne pro­duc­tion, but with a mezzo-so­prano Idamante. Re­gret­tably, both of Ar­bace’s arias were omit­ted. While these do lit­tle to ad­vance the ac­tion, they are beau­ti­ful and the ear longs for them. Tim Al­bery’s pro­duc­tion, with sets de­signed by Han­nah Clark, struck a bal­ance be­tween the ab­stract and the con­crete, al­low­ing the per­for­mance to throw out loose con­nec­tions be­tween the myth­i­cal and the real with­out im­pos­ing a rigid con­cept which would have made the fab­u­lous im­plau­si­ble. The set was dom­i­nated by two large ship con­tain­ers, sym­bolic of ro­mance and hero­ism run aground, and sug­ges­tive of the en­vi­ron­men­tal and mi­gra­tion crises of our time. The cos­tumes brought to mind the world of Peter Grimes, a re­minder that ob­ses­sions and neu­roses have al­ways ac­com­pa­nied tales of the sea. One con­tainer was col­lapsed into the sand, out of which emerged the Tro­jan pris­on­ers in Act 1 (greeted with blan­kets and mugs of tea) and into which were dumped the bin bags in Act 3 con­tain­ing - pris­on­ment of both char­ac­ters – Ilia lit­er­ally a cap­tured Tro­jan, Idome­neo on reach­ing land (who turns out to be his son Idamante).

Once past some di­rec­tion­less mo­ments in the over­ture, the pro­duc­tion was sure-footed through­out. When the sea mon­ster vis­ited its plague on Crete, stage opened up to cre­ate a chan­nel through which the plague me­taphor­i­cally ran. In Act 3 the ‘Voice’ (pro­jected here as the God Nep­tune) which - ered with oil in a black leather coat. This small but chill­ing part was sung, im­pos­ingly, by the bass Ni­cholas Masters in a suit­ably dark voice.

Toby Spence gave an au­thor­i­ta­tive per­for­mance as Idome­neo. Search­ing for force and dark­ness in the vo­cal line, his recita­tives were well-pointed and the arias de­liv­ered with a strong pulse, al­though the very top notes

col­oratura, were a lit­tle smudged. There was con­sid­er­able artistry in his vow lifted by the Gods, he de­ployed a softer head voice, cap­tur­ing the re - brant singing of Caitlin Hul­cup, who de­liv­ered the trouser-role of Idamante spec­tac­u­larly. The part was orig­i­nally writ­ten for a cas­trato and in places Hul­cup sounded un­can­nily like a male so­prano. Rhyth­mi­cally pre­cise, she brought a won­der­ful va­ri­ety of colours as she al­ter­nated be­tween the roles lover Elet­tra, who grad­u­ally sinks into de­spair, Re­becca von Lip­in­ski acted mar­vel­lously, only oc­ca­sion­ally al­low­ing wild­ness to dis­rupt her im­pres­sive vo­cal line. Her Act 1 aria be­wail­ing the loss of Idome­neo’s love was de­liv­ered in her ri­val Ilia’s bed­room and de­scended into clothes-throw­ing. as well as rage, be­fore she was car­ried away cry­ing and wail­ing.

The cho­rus per­formed splen­didly, pro­duc­ing an es­pe­cially beau­ti­ful sound in the cho­rale-like farewell in Act 2, which an­tic­i­pates the fa­mous Act 1 trio in Così fan tutte. To­bias Ring­borg favoured brisk tempi that pro­vided - for­mance which demon­strated how di­rec­to­rial re­straint can pay div­i­dends in the face of mu­si­cal and myth­i­cal se­ri­ous­ness.

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