Reviews written by registered user
Gyran

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286 reviews in total 
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Poor Wandering One, 18 February 2017
4/10

Director Mike Leigh must have fond memories of schoolboy productions of G&S operas as he faithfully reproduces one here. What is most noticeable about this production is that he succeeds in removing all trace of humour from the proceedings. There is no attempt to give the pirates or the young ladies individual characters. The ladies, in particular move around the stage like a flock of sheep. The choreography, such as it is, is lamentable. The production looks lost on the vast Colluseum stage. Designer Alison Chitty vignettes some of the scenes in garish geometrical shapes but this only serves to emphasise the emptiness of most of the stage. The recording of the vocal dialogue is unpleasantly boomy.

Joshua Bloom as the pirate king and Robert Murray as Frederic are rather bland. Andrew Shore struggles with his Major-General patter song and too often parts company with the orchestra. Claudia Boyle is an impressive Mabel and deserves to be in a better production.

This is one of Gilbert's sillier libretti although Sullivan provides some of his best music. It is debatable whether this silly story of pirates who are really noblemen who have gone astray can ever be successfully produced for a modern audience. The evidence of this production suggests that this opera is a poor wandering one.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Expressionist Llareggub, 12 November 2016
8/10

This is the strongest cast that I have ever heard for Peter Grimes. The sweet-toned tenor of Stuart Skelton in the title role reminded me of Peter Peers. Elza van den Heever is outstanding as Ellen, both dramatically and vocally. There is an excellent ensemble of supporting characters plus a huge chorus representing The Borough, which is really another character in this opera.

Director David Alden sets the opera in the 1940's. It almost seems de rigueur these days to set an opera in the period it was written rather than the period that the composer intended. In a grim tale, perhaps it is excusable to try to inject some light relief but, in my view, Alden makes the minor characters too grotesque. I kept on getting the feeling that I was watching Dylan's Llareggub rather than Crabbe's Borough. Auntie, the pub owner, is a cross-dresser in a pinstripe suit and Bud Flanagan fur coat. Her nieces, usually ladies of easy virtue, are robotic schoolgirls. This gives an unhealthy edge to the interest shown in them by Bob Boles and Ned Keene. Keene, the apothecary, is portrayed as a 1940's spiv, in keeping with the period setting. I have to admit that the grotesquery does come into its own in the superbly choreographed and sung set pieces such as "Old Joe has gone fishing" and "Grimes is at his exercise".

The set is expressionist. This works well in the sharply-angled dockside of Act II but it is less successful in other scenes. Act I is confusing since it takes place in a bare box with just a few trestle tables for scenery. The crucial scene where Grimes' apprentice is killed while climbing down the cliff from his hut is botched because the boy clearly has to climb up a ladder to get out of the hut. The street scene in Act III is like something out of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

I think that this film is the ENO's first venture into live screening for a cinema audience. Apparently, the director's previous experience is in making pop videos. There are lots of flashy camera angles but I was continually disconcerted by the fact that the camera kept on showing one character while another was singing.

Lost in Translation, 12 September 2016
7/10

This early opera by Berlioz is rarely performed and I have never heard or seen it before. On first viewing I was not impressed so I watched it again. This just confirmed my impression that it is a perfectly listenable two hours or so of lightweight music with a plot that verges on the pantomimic. It is an ideal subject for director Terry Gilliam with his background in animation. I was reminded of his Monty Python cartoons by the scuttling bent figures of the servants in this production. The stage fizzes with activity in an opera that is set during the Venice carnival. There are children, clowns tumblers and acrobats everywhere, on stage and in the audience. I got the impression that the production was probably more fun to watch live than on film.

The plot concerns Cellini's wooing of Teresa, the daughter of Balducci the papal treasurer. Balducci has promised Teresa to Fieramosca, a rival sculptor. Cellini plans to elope with Teresa despite the fact that he is still working on a papal commission: a huge gold statue of Perseus. During Mardi Gras Cellini clashes with Balducci and accidentally kills one of Balducci's henchmen. There is a showdown with the Pope who is mainly concerned with getting his statue finished. Cellini promises to do so by the following morning. He eventually succeeds in this, gaining the Pope's forgiveness, admiration from Balducci and Fieramosca and the hand of Teresa.

The vocal lines of Berlioz's music for the opera seem to be quite sparsely written. Most of the tunes are given to the orchestra while the singers mainly provide a sort of conversational counterpoint. This is not unusual; many composers, Verdi and Wagner to name just two, use the same technique but with Berlioz it all seems a little unsatisfactory. The production is given in English, which may be part of the problem. The translation is perfectly serviceable but somehow does not sit well with the music. Berlioz recycled some of the music in his Roman Carnival overture. There is a standout tenor performance by Michael Spyres in the title role but even he, singing "Light of my life…", cannot quite make it fit the Roman Carnival tune. Try singing it yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Corrine Winters, as Teresa, is easy on the eye but, occasionally hard on the ear in this high soprano role. I found myself fantasising how good Natalie Dessay might sound in the part. The two baritone roles Balducci and Fieramosca sung by Pavlo Hunka and Nicholas Palleson come over as pantomime characters. Paula Murrihy is charming in the trouser role of Ascanio, Cellini's apprentice. Willard White gives great value for money as a rather camp Pope with a mincing papal guard.

This was an Anglo-Dutch co-production and a film version, which I have not seen, exists of the Dutch production which was given in the original French. I would be interested to hear whether this version sounds better than the English one.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Blanchett DuBois, 12 September 2016
2/10

I struggled to watch this film. If it had been made by any other director I would have turned it off after 10 minutes. I only persevered because I have admired most of Woody Allen's work over the last 50 years. I have to admit that my main problem was with the character of Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett. Although it is probably a brilliant performance, Jasmine is the kind of person that I would run a mile from and I did not relish the idea of 90 minutes in her company.

The film is an homage to, or a rip-off of, A Streetcar Named Desire with Jamine channelling Blanche DuBois' flaky neuroticism and uncertain grip on reality. A quick google confirms my suspicions that Cate Blanchett has previously played Blanche DuBois on stage. The situation where Jasmine goes to live with her impoverished sister Ginger and her rough and ready boyfriend Chili echos Tennessee Williams' play: so much so that the only thing that wrong- footed me in the plot was that Jasmine does not end in some sort of sexual situation with Chili.

I have a problem with Allen's European-set films because of the clunky dialogue and implausible plotting. I don't have so much of a problem with his American films but it may simply be that I am not so well acquainted with the milieu. The plot does turn on two unlikely chance meetings in the street. Also Blanche and Ginger each find new boyfriends when they go to a stranger's party on a Sunday afternoon. Do sophisticated San Franciscans throw parties on a Sunday afternoon? Can strangers just turn up? Or is that just clunky plotting? Jasmine manages to fool her millionaire new boyfriend to the point where they are about to get married. I did not buy this for a moment as even a modicum of curiosity about her past life would have indicated that she was telling him a pack of lies.

The action in San Francisco is interspersed with flashbacks to Jasmine's previous life as a society hostess married to Alex Baldwin's financial wizard who turns out to be a Ponzi swindler. I will not give away how the swindle is unmasked. Let's just say that I found it implausible.

I admired the way that Cate Blanchett was able to ring the changes from glamorous confident wife to grovelling, unattractive fantasist although her performance does rather shout: 'Look at me I'm actress'. She won all the awards but, personally, I thought that the best performances came from Sally Hawkins as Ginger and Bobby Cannavale as Chili.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Height of Bad Taste, 9 August 2016
4/10

This is a production, in English, of the Berlioz piece that can never quite make up its mind whether it is an oratorio or an opera. It is certainly difficult to do as an opera because of its episodic nature although the Met's 2009 production made a good case with its imaginative staging.

Terry Gilliam's big idea is to set the opera in Nazi Germany. This does not work. The only thing that Mephistopheles has in common with the Nazis is that they were both evil. It seems trite to try to shoehorn a story about Mephistopheles' damnation into a plot concerning the persecution of the Jews, or vice versa. Shockheaded Peter Hoare is a problem in the leading role. With his vertical orange hair he looks like a cartoon character and is an unlikely lover for Marguerite. His strangulated tenor just cannot get round the music and his diction is so poor that I had to turn on the subtitles. Christopher Purvis is a much more creditable Mephistopheles. Best of all is Christine Rice who makes the most of the beautiful music Berlioz wrote for the saintly Marguerite. The ending of the opera strikes me as the height of bad taste. If I understood it correctly, we see a dead Marguerite on top of a pile of bodies in a gas chamber. A heavenly light shines on her as a chorus of children welcome her soul to heaven.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Interminable, 8 August 2016
1/10

Ten years after it was made, I tracked this film down on Amazon. It never got much of a release in the UK and, as far as I know, it has never been shown on television. I'm not surprised. It is even worse than Woody Allen's other two British ventures: Match Point and Scoop. Everything I said about those two films applies in spades to Cassandra's dream: implausible plot, terrible dialogue and wooden acting. It employs a large number of fine British actors. I can only imagine how thrilled they were at being invited to appear in a film by the great Woody Allen and how shattered were their illusions after they had read the script. It was like a 1950's British second feature. Surprisingly, it lasts for 148 interminable minutes. Woody usually confines himself to a snappy 90 minutes. The kindest thing I can say about this film was that I never would have recognised that it was a Woody Allen film. There are a large number of 1 star reviews for this film on IMDb, most of them saying more or less what I have written here so there is not really anything else that I can usefully add.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Emperor's New Curtains, 6 August 2016
2/10

This is a film of the revival of Peter Konwitschny's production for English National Opera. It is difficult to see why anyone would want to film this unphotogenic production. The scenery consists of red curtains, although, occasionally, a character will draw back the curtains to reveal… more red curtains. There is a chair onstage throughout and, in Act II, we have the additional excitement of a pile of books. Don't get too excited though. Konwitschny has made cuts to the libretto so that any trace of light relief has been removed, notably the gypsy/toreador business in Act II. The result is just the gloomy bits of La Traviata, played continuously, without an interval.

Ben Johnson has to play Alfredo as a charmless, borderline Aspergers' character who is totally inept socially. Unfortunately, this lack of charm also rubs off onto his singing. At the ball, while everyone else is in evening dress, he wears a duffel coat, white, woolly cardigan and corduroy trousers. In Act II, captioned three months later, he is in the same cardigan and trousers which must have been getting a bit niffy by then. As Violetta, Elizabeth Zharoff, with a startlingly wide vibrato, gets off to a shaky start and does not impress in the virtuoso numbers that end Act I. One does have to sympathise with her having to sing, say, Sempre Libera in English. The English translation, throughout, is very clunky and the singers often have to sing several syllables on one note to fit everything in. Zharoff's performance does get better though and she is much more moving in the two final acts. A young-looking Anthony Michaels-Moore lacks gravitas, both physically and vocally as Germont. Not much is made of the minor roles either with, in particular, Martin Lamb having to play Dr Grenvil as a buffoon. The chorus, throughout behave like rampaging idiots.

Mentioning idiots brings me back to director Konwitschny. He introduces a character, Germont's daughter, who looks like a 12- year-old schoolgirl, which completely undermines Germont's argument about her engagement being in danger of being broken off. Konwitschny makes no attempt to dramatise the card game; the participants just stand there flicking cards in the air. In the final scene Violetta does not even get a deathbed; she has to manage with the same old chair. The final quintet is performed with Violetta on stage and Alfredo, Germont, Annina and the doctor standing in the audience. Alfredo keeps changing his position from the centre aisle to the side aisle forcing the unfortunate audience members on the second row to stand as he barges through them. I think that this is supposed to be funny but the people on the second row did not look amused. At the end, Violetta does not die she just walks off-stage. I would like to think that this is her expression of disgust at all that has gone before. Sadly, she does not seem to be the only one to be suffering from consumption. The audience at ENO could cough for England.

Zoroastre (2006) (TV)
Not Chariots of Fire, 13 June 2016

I never buy a programme when I go to the theatre or the opera because I believe that, if you can't work out what a performance is about just by watching it, it can't be much of a performance. Fortunately I did read the synopsis of Zoroastre on Wikipedia before I watched it, otherwise I would not have the slightest idea what was going on.

Apparently Rameau's librettist Louis de Cahousac was a keen freemason and the opera is a thinly-disguised advertisement for freemasonry. In this respect it bears some similarity to Mozart's Magic Flute. In this production from the 18th century Drottningholm Theatre all the goodies wear white and all the baddies wear black rather in the manner of a western.

The plot, such as it is, pits the good magician Zoroastre and the Princess Amélite against the evil sorcerer Abramane and Amélite's scheming sister. The Wikipedia synopsis gives the impression that the opera is much more exciting than it really is, with Abramane whizzing around on his flaming chariot. The production does utilise Drottningholm's flying chair here but it is a rather creaky effect. Otherwise the production takes place on a bare stage.

Rameau's music, on the whole, is soporific. I quite enjoyed the duet at Zoroastre's and Amélite's wedding performed by Anders Dahlin and Sine Bundgaard but there are no big arias. As in most Rameau operas, there is a lot of dancing and Rameau seems to reserve his best music for these dances. He seems to be very unimaginative both musically and dramatically compared with, for example, his contemporary Handel.

This is a visually attractive staging, lit from above, emphasising the female singers' décolletage. So, on the whole, this production can only be recommended to dedicated titmen.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Not a Masterpiece, 7 March 2016
2/10

This is the first opera that I have seen under the auspices of the Opera Platform. This is a European group of opera houses that have got together to do something about the paucity of opera that is available today, both live and on television. They put recent films of European operas on the internet for all to see for free. This is very commendable and I am sure they are very proud of their achievement but I wish they had not put a huge Opera Platform logo on the screen. I needed copious amounts of insulating tape to mask it out.

This is a film of the recent production of Szymanowski's Krol Roger at the ROH. I learned that, in Polish, Roger is pronounced with a double d sound. So it's Roger the Dogger not Roger the Dodger. The opera is supposed to be set in 12th century Sicily although, in this production, director Kasper Holten follows the tedious modern practice of setting it in the period in which it was written eg the 1920s. The plot was fairly impenetrable to me. It appears to be about a king who is torn between Christianity and ancient religions. There is a shepherd who preaches the ancient ways but, in this production, he looks more like a pop singer. The queen and most of Roger's subjects go off with the shepherd. Roger agonises for a bit but finally seems to arrive at some sort of reconciliation between Christianity and the ancient ways. I have heard the suggestion that Roger's anguish reflects the way that Szymanowski was torn between his Christian faith and his homosexuality but I couldn't possible comment on that.

The first act is dominated by a giant head in the middle of the stage which does interfere with the action somewhat. In Act II the head revolves to reveal a scaffold on which scantily-clad men gyrate. Mercifully the opera is only 90 minutes long but it seems much longer that that. I could not detect anything worthwhile in the music although the three leads all acquitted themselves well: Mariusz Kwiecien as Roger, Georgia Jarman as his wife Roxana and Samir Pirgu as the Shepherd. I think that this is the first opera that I have heard in Polish. It seemed to me to have all the disadvantages of Russian as an operatic language with none of the compensating factors.

This production was very well reviewed and the ROH audience on the night were very enthusiastic so maybe it's just me who did not get it. Sometimes I think an opera is rubbish and I return to it 5 or 10 years later and realise that it is a masterpiece. Somehow, I do not think that this will happen with Krol Roger.

Much more than a star vehicle, 2 March 2016

One could be forgiven for imagining that Giordano is a service station on the M5 but Umberto Giordano was, in fact, an Italian composer of verismo operas. Andrea Chénier dates from 1896 and has a libretto by Luigi Illica, better known for La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Not surprisingly then, the libretto is the best thing about this opera. It tells a good story in the tight four act, two-hour structure that is familiar from Illica's other works. In fact, in a world of stupid opera plots, the libretto of Andrea Chénier would be a good candidate for the title of most intelligent opera ever.

Sadly, Giordano's music is not of the same standard. It is at best workmanlike. Although it offers plenty of opportunities for star performers to sing their hearts out there is nothing that you can actually hum as you go home from the opera house. Jonas Kaufmann and Eva Maria Westbroek give their all as the tormented poet Chénier and his aristocratic lover Maddalena but for me, the star is baritone Željko Lučić as the mentally-tortured servant Gérard.

The story starts in pre-revolutionary France. There is a ball at the house of an aristocratic family. Gérard, the butler, despises his employers and pities his elderly father: "For sixty years, father, you have been in service and fathered slaves". The poet Andrea Chénier arrives and Maddalena is immediately attracted to him. She wants to hear some of his poetry but, at first, he says he is not in the mood. Finally he relents and sings a song of love for his country, to the disgust of his fellow aristos. The ball ends in disarray with the news that the rebels are at the gates. Gérard throws off his livery and lets the rebels in. Rosalind Plowright, in a delicious cameo as the Contessa, delivers the best line in the opera: "That Gérard ruined by reading".

Six years later, Gérard is a leader of the revolution. Chénier is on the run and Maddalena is in hiding. Maddalena is captured and offers Gerard her body if it will save Chénier's life. There are shades of Tosca here but Gérard is a more complex character than Scarpia. He actually loves Maddalena and, for her sake, defends Chénier at his eventual trial. To no avail of course. Chénier is sentenced to the guillotine but Maddalena swaps places with another prisoner so that she can share her lover's fate. Shades of Aida here but the last scene as the doomed pair pledge their love is very moving.

I have seen the 1980's productions of Chénier, starring Plácido Domingo and Jose Carréras and like this David McVicar production they were both opulently and traditionally staged. The plot would lend itself to being staged in modern-day Syria but, fortunately no- one has thought of this yet. This is a fascinating production of an opera which is much more than a star vehicle. There are 23 named singing roles and also a lively chorus that is particularly effective in the trial scene.


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