Posts Tagged ‘opera review’

On the 2015 production of Madama Butterfly by the Royal Opera House

April 9, 2015

Went to see it this afternoon. This review is by a new guest author Patrick Murray

Set at the end of the Japanese period of isolation Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is a tragic tale, based on a true story, of an innocent young Geisha, Butterfly, who renounces her culture, religion and family to marry an American sailor, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. He abandons her, returning several years later with an American wife in tow. All this time Butterfly believes he will come back to her and raises their son. This is not to be. Forced to give up her son to the new American wife, she kills herself “to die with honour” rather than live without it.

Speaking of living without honour, where to start with Mr Pinkerton? He is a shallow, ignorant, arrogant man who respects nothing important. He does not respect Butterfly’s culture and he does not respect love. This is portrait of a man who is little more than a moral vacuum. However he does not marry her out of malice, but because he believes love is about joy and happiness and that this is a good intervention in Butterfly’s life, despite repeated warnings from his friend. Needless to say, Pinkerton is proven drastically wrong. His final moment of shameful dishonour is when, upon his return to Japan, he realises what he has done and stricken with guilt he flees as he cannot bring himself to face his former wife. It is left to others to clear up the mess he has made.

The production from the Royal Opera House was quite simply magnificent. Puccini’s rich, beautiful music was played brilliantly, from the dramatic crescendos to the tender moments of hope and heartbreak. The cast was superb. Kristine Opolais as Butterfly was incredible in particular, but it feels wrong to single out any particular individual.

It is not hard to miss the symbolism that Puccini is going for here. The final scene of her plunging a dagger into her chest as her son waves a miniature American flag whilst the cherry blossom falls from a tree speaks to that. In truth it is such an incendiary opera that one wonders whether Puccini would have prosecuted for incitement or radicalisation if he composed it today!

My only regret is that this was the final performance with Opolais so I can’t see it again. Just magnificent – 5 stars from me!

Patrick Murray


On ‘Andrea Chenier’ by the Royal Opera House

February 7, 2015

‘Revolution devours its children’ – sings Gerard, a former servant, now a celebrated citizen amidst a new era during the French revolution. There are no happy endings, apart from death in unity and death for love and ideas.

This opera by Umberto Giordano is as fast-paced, feverish and incendiary as the times of the French revolution its set in. It hasn’t been produced here for 30 years because the best-class singers who can do it justice only come once in a generation. Luckily for us, this time is now and this singer is Jonas Kaufmann – his performance was out of this world, absolutely the best it could be. In fact every one is this opera was great- Zeljko Lucic, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Elena Zilio – the cast was simply perfect. However, just singing praises is boring – to the story!

This story could not be more relevant. Chenier is being condemned and killed for his satirical poems about the French Revolution. Just this year the world was terrified by the killings of cartoonists in France – murdered for their satire. There is nothing new under the sun.

The past few years we’ve been observing revolutions all over Middle East. The West got very excited, the fight for democracy, etc. However, revolutions lead to civil wars, civil wars lead to terror, neighbours, friends, killing each other. Whoever wins isn’t necessarily going to be merciful and even if they are, they have blood of thousands on their hands. Chenier starts by supporting the revolution but after seeing its terrors, he changes his mind. What matters in the end is love. Revolution has not freed Gerard either, his passion in the end was stronger – ‘it is a mere change of masters.’ While in this context he means the master – aristocracy to the master – passion, I interpret it further to be a transition from the master – aristocracy to the master – the mob. It is easy to fall out of their favour, anyone can be ‘the enemy of the state’, this ‘justice’ is also cruel to those who don’t agree with the current masters. Gerard calls the mob ‘blood-thirsty villains’. Indeed they are scary in the opera, they can and will devour all on their way: poets, lovers, mothers.

Ultimately, however, this is a love story. Revolution may be glorious and epic but ‘the flame that lights the universe is love.’ I think with everything that’s going on the world, this can be a good lesson to us all.

On ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ by the Royal Opera House.

January 3, 2015

Last night I saw ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ in the Royal Opera House. I’ve been waiting for this opera for ages as it was my chance to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a Russian baritone who I absolutely adore. My whole family in Russia pretty much worship him and there is a real cult of his personality that I grew up with. Hvorostovsky’s fame is not only due to his amazing opera achievements but also his performances of Russian traditional songs and old war songs. Big live concerts on national television, concerts on the Red Square or any kind of family celebrations – he is there, singing and being admired by the whole nation. Needless to say I was very excited. Immediately he had a very strong presence on stage. There could be no mistake of who he is. Well, this time he was Renato, Riccardo’s advisor and a loyal friend. Well, that is until he murders him (oops, spoilers). In short, I was not disappointed in the slightest and left really happy for having seen a legend live.

As for the opera itself, it was very enjoyable. It follows the standard structure: love that is not to be, friendship that is not to last, hope for happiness, then betrayal and death. That has been a formula for centuries and it works. Here the director Kathrina Thoma has added some extras, such as moving statues. While that was awesome in ‘Blink’, Doctor Who, I didn’t entirely get it there. Other additions didn’t spoil the opera but did not enhance it either.

Overall, I will recommend seeing it. There are a few performances left in January. I bought my ticket for 12 pounds, which lacked a seat. This brings me to my conclusion: a strong cast and wonderful music by Verdi make this opera worth standing for.

On the Met’s Eugene Onegin

October 25, 2013

First of all, before people to whom I owe money get annoyed, I didn’t actually go to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I saw it live in HD in a cinema in Northampton. It was relatively cheap, I had the best view and I ate pop corn.

The story in Eugene Onegin is very close to my heart as it was first read to me when I was very small by my grandmother, who at the time was a teacher of Russian literature and a huge fan of Pushkin. I then had to study it at school as it is (rightly so) compulsory in Russian state schools. When I read it after finishing university in England, I fell in love with it all over again and saw it in a completely different light. Needless to say, my expectations of this production were high.

The story, (which if you haven’t read, you must) is an incredible tribute to mistimed love, friendship, selfishness and the way we view ourselves in society. The music by Tchaikovsky is magical and makes all those emotions even more powerful. It isn’t a happy story but you feel like a better stronger refreshed person after this viewing. I went to see it with someone who never read Pushkin before, or seen an opera for that matter, and he completely fell in love with it too.

The only happy character in the story is called, like me, Olga, yet I hope to be a complete opposite of her in my life. If I ever resemble her, shoot me. My favourite character has always been Tatiana, here played by Anna Netrebko. Everyone who ever mentions her name gets a crazy look in their eyes and repeatedly tells you how brilliant she is. I get wierded out when people do that. Alas, after seeing her performance I am now one of those people. She is fantastic! Amazing strong voice, incredible acting skills.. She was Tatiana! A difficult character so loved and cherished – she nailed it!

Mariusz Kwiecien, who played Onegin had a surprising performance. Whenever I saw Onegin before, he was always played as a very arrogant person. Often that arrogance was exaggerating to make the point (but that’s our Onegin, huh). Kwiecen takes a different approach and plays him simply as a very very bored young man (which of course he is in the book.) That actually turns out to be a much more powerful way to play him as doing something bad out of boredom rather than arrogance somehow makes it so much worse.

However, the best performance in the whole opera, without a doubt, was Piotr Beczala, playing Lenski. All I can say is that his charm, his voice, his charm completely disarmed me. Perhaps I am biased as he sang ‘I love you Olga’ repeatedly and flattery does work wonders.

Overall, it was a wonderful production with great cast that met and exceeded my expectations.
I will gladly give it 5 stars. And some extra points for enabling me to eat popcorn while live opera. Which was also delicious.