Posts Tagged ‘ Donizetti ’

Lucrezia Borgia, ENO: review

ENO, Coliseum
Dir: Mike Figgis
ENO Lucrezia

Mike Figgis, who directed the film Leaving Las Vegas, has turned to opera. With mixed results. Donizetti’s, Lucrezia Borgia has everything a director could wish for: rape, murder, incest and tragedy. It’s a gift, in short, and an over-excited Figgis throws everything at this sumptuous production. The evening drips with jewels and velvet, but instead of being elegant and graceful, the production stumbles under its own voluptuousness.

Things get off to a bizarre start, with a film apparently in homage to the Twilight franchise. According to the director’s note in the programme, the footage is supposed to fill in the background details of Lucrezia’s life. The result is an eye-brow raising mixture of budget soft porn and medieval morality play. Such a simplistic “whore-of-Babylon” view of Catholicism has not been expounded since the Mystery plays and such blatant anti-Popery sits awkwardly next to Donizetti’s nuanced work.

Three more films punctuate the evening but they are so different from Donizetti’s version of the story in style and tone that they add nothing but momentary titillation (this production is definitely not for kids). The Lucrezia in the short films, played by Katy Saunders, is so completely two-dimensional and different from Claire Rutter’s brilliant representation on the stage that many of my fellow audience members were utterly confused.

Lucrezia Borgia

Further confusion is caused by Figgis’ decision to turn the male “trouser role” of Orsini into a woman. Traditionally, these parts are male characters but sung by women (like the princes in modern pantomime, for example). Figgis’ clear impatience with this convention means we are presented with a female Orsini – Elizabeth DeShong in the role wears a corset, high heels and has long wavy hair – but who wears men’s clothes, talks like the other men and is supposed to be a soldier. An unnecessary and confusing change.

All that aside, the music is magnificent. Claire Rutter in the lead role is both hateful and tender: she lurks in the shadows like a spectre, aware of her own powerlessness but adept at getting what she wants. Rutter’s Lucrezia is not the caricature villain of Figgis’ film – and thank goodness. She is a complex woman and Rutter’s voice manages to suggest years of repressed emotion much more effectively than tens of Figgis’ background films could have done. Her first aria, as she gazes at her sleeping long-lost son is masterful and her argument with her husband, Alfonso (sung by Alastair Miles), bristles with tension and resentment. Michael Fabiano as her son, Gennaro, is desperate and pleading, jovial and amorous and steals the second Act with his opening aria.

The orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel, is energetic and bright – just the thing for Donizetti – and the horns are particularly strong. The musical aspects of the evening are brilliant – it’s just a shame the staging lets them down. Figgis is new to opera – and his production reflects this. The set (by Es Devlin) is magnificent and the costumes beautiful but it is as if Figgis has created his idea of opera – all extravagance and gold leaf – rather than looking at the work itself.3 Comedy Masks

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La Fille du Régiment, Royal Opera House

Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Conductor: Bruno Campanella
Director: Laurent Pelly

For an opera written by an Italian, Donizetti’s ‘La Fille du Régiment’ is rather heavy on the French nationalism. So much so, in fact, that one song from the opera became a favourite Bastille Day anthem. The rather silly story follows Marie, the eponymous “fille,” who was abandoned on the battle-field as a baby and adopted by a regiment of soldiers. By one of those strokes of luck which only occur in comic operas, Marie discovers she is actually an aristocrat and heiress. Reluctantly, she leaves the regiment and the man she has fallen in love with, to live in her ancestral home. But the regiment don’t give her up without – well, without a fight.

The role of Marie demands not only a colossally versatile and athletic voice but also the energy and exuberance of a tiger cub. Happily, Natalie Dessay, in this revival of Laurent Pelly’s production, has exuberance in spades and trips up and down Donizetti’s virtuosic coloratura with ease. Each vocal flourish sounds as effortless and throw-away as a girlish chuckle. She flits around the stage like a sparrow and brings a tomboy’s mischievousness to each note and movement: her standing ovation was enormously deserved. After her carefree, pitch-perfect performance, the audience even forgave her cheeky gesture of encouragement to those punters who remained seated.

Next to Dessay’s magnificently accomplished performance, that of Colin Lee as her greenhorn lover, Tonio, cannot but pale in comparison. A slight hesitancy was noticeable in his realisation of the role: a result of his lack of experience with the character (he shares the role with Juan Diego Flórez, who played the lover almost exclusively last time round). The role, though dramatically dull as the proverbial ditchwater, does include one notoriously difficult aria – and Lee managed it with aplomb.

Ann Murray as the ageing aristocrat, La Marquise de Berkenfeld, has fun with the comic role and Alessandro Corbelli as the soldier, Sulpice, gets into his stride in the second Act. Despite making only two brief appearances, Dawn French momentarily steals the scene as the “old trout” La Duchess de Crackentorp, decked in a fabulous turd-shaped wig. Laurent Pelly’s direction is witty, smooth and always remains just the right side of kitsch. In the pit, Bruno Campanella conducts the Opera House orchestra with more than enough gusto and just a pinch of self-parody.

There are one or two slips here and there – in the otherwise militarily disciplined choreography – revivals are traditionally given only a short rehearsal period. But while Donizetti’s opera may not be pulsing with filigree emotional detail, Laurent Pelly’s production draws on the very best traditions of opéra comique to create a piece of unforgettable entertainment with an endearingly excitable ingénue at its heart. 4/5

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