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Opera Review: The Magic Flute

26 Feb


Plot: Mozart’s final masterpiece is the story of a terrifying and joyful journey in pursuit of love, wisdom and happiness. From the stratospheric arias of the Queen of the Night, through the jolly folk tunes of Papageno the Birdcatcher to the profound music of Sarastro, leader of the enlightened ones, it is a full expression of Mozart’s musical and dramatic genius.

This is a restaging of Nicholas Hytner’s 1988 production and having missed it at the ENO last year I didnt want to pass up the chance. Fellow opera fan Abigail has already given it a thumbs up so I was quite looking forward to it. This is somewhat my introduction to Mozart’s work and by the time the overture has finished I knew I would have one helluva time, and then there’s Papageno! Oh I just loved him! Roderick Williams did a really winning performance. With his melodious baritone voice and his comic timing in full gear. Maybe it’s just me but I really couldnt care less about Tamino and Pamina. The most interesting characters were really Papageno and the Queen of the Night, okay, maybe Sarastro even.


I am really tempted now to catch the ETO’s version that will play at the Hackney Empire next week.

The Magic Flute: 4/5

Opera Review: Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci

3 Oct

Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana

Plot: Lola and Turridu were to be married, but Turridu was conscripted and spent some years away from the village. Lola meanwhile married Alfio, the carter and the main provider for the village. Turridu has secretly resumed his relationship with Lola, though he has promised to marry Santuzza. While the village attends Easter Sunday mass, Santuzza tells Lucia, Turridu’s mother, that she is pregnant with Turridu’s child and that Turridu continues to sleep with Lola. Santuzza fails to confront Turridu, and his indifference provokes her to curse him. Santuzza discloses Lola and Turridu’s relationship to Alfio, who resolves to revenger his honor.

I was first introduced to Cavalleria rusticana in The Godfather III back in 1990. It was the opera that Michael Corleone’s son Anthony starred in when the family visited Sicily. I fell in love with the score then and I had hoped that one day I would get to see this opera performed live and I finally did tonight courtesy of the ENO. I loved the way the music swelled and filled the cavernous London Coliseum and although it was surtitled in English it didnt take away the essence of the words and melody of this much loved opera.

Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci, ENO

Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci

Plot: Tony, a comic, tells us that what we are about to see is real. The comedians arrive to perform a show and are greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. Nelly, the leading comedienne, fears the jealousy of her husband Kenny, the leading comic. She is revolted by the harrassment of the second comic, Tony. She meets her lover Woody, the stage carpenter. Woody persuades her to leave the theatre, and escape with him after the show that night. Tony spies on Nelly and Woody, and alerts Kenny to their relationship. Kenny rounds upon Nelly furiously. He reflects on how he makes his public laugh while inwardly despairing. An excitd audience arrives for the show and the comedy begins. When Kenny arrives on stage he is unable to separate his life from the play in which he is performing…

How ironic that it’s through my favorite 90’s sitcom, Seinfeld, that I have learned more about Pagliacci. This inventive version offering is due to Lee Hall’s creative genius, who not only brought us Billy Elliot and the recent National Theatre smash hit The Pitmen Painters, he did not only changed the setting from rural Italy but to North England but he also changed the names of the characters where Canio becomes Kenny “Mr Paxo” Evans, Tonio is Tony O’Sullivan and Nedda is now Nelly Scrimshaw. I had so much fun watching this and found it quite engaging.

A real promising new season start for the ENO indeed.

Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci: 4/5

Opera Lover

20 May

Puccini’s Tosca and Turandot.

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

So far these are the only opera productions that I have seen and enjoyed in the last 2 years since I became an opera fan. As opera tickets doesnt come easy on the pocket unlike theatre, I usually wait till it’s a production that I really wanted to see that I will be tempted to book it.

So after having been introduced to Bernstein’s comic operetta Candide recently, via the National Theatre’s revival that I only listened to when I got the soundtrack, I found out after browsing the ENO’s website this week that they are staging Candide from 23 Jun 08 – 12 Jul 08! I am really tempted to book it even if Pangloss would not be played by Simon Russell Beale who incidentally won the 1999 Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. (Have you noticed that whenever I get the chance I would mention a snippet or two about SRB?) And then there is the staging of the much loved double bill of Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci from Sat 20 Sep 08 – Thu 23 Oct 08 also from the ENO.

Now tell me, what’s a girl got to do?

OST Review: Leonard Bernstein’s Candide

11 Apr

Music by Leonard Bernstein [1956], Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein

Book adapted from Voltaire [1758]
by Hugh Wheeler, in a new version by John Caird [1999]

Voltaire’s towering work of comic and philosophical genius is one of the glories of 18th-century satire and is as relevant today as when it was first written. Candide explores a world that is dominated by violence, greed, war, hatred and a series of catastrophic events seemingly unmitigated by goodness, truth, beauty or God. Voltaire’s great achievement is to temper his merciless analysis of human cruelty, and the apparent emptiness of heaven, with extraordinary wit and good humour. While disturbed by his story, we also find ourselves laughing uproariously at it. Add one of Leonard Bernstein’s most brilliant scores and Richard Wilbur’s witty lyrics to this heady mix, and you have a work of unalloyed pleasure. – National Theatre

This is what a new love does to me. I devour almost everything I can about them. And it’s just how I have always done things when I start loving someone, in this case with Simon Russell Beale, dubbed and not just hyped mind you, but is admittedly “the finest classical stage actor of his generation”. You just have to prove this by checking out any production he has starred in, in this case, I checked out his role as Voltaire/Pangloss in the National’s 1999 revival of Bernstein’s Candide which gave SRB the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 2000 (1999 season) for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance. Brilliant isn’t he?

So I decided to purchase the OST from Amazon UK and I just love, love, love it! It was great listening to SRB singing as Pangloss, his enunciation even whilst singing was perfect! My favorite tracks are, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Dear Boy, Oh Happy We, Candide’s Lament, Glitter and Be Gay, I Am Easily Assimilated, Make Our Garden Grow among others. I regret not having seen this production but Candide will be staged by the English National Opera (ENO) come June closing the ENO season with style. I am tempted mind you!

Candide OST: 5/5

NT’s 1999 Candide:

ENO’s 2008 Candide:

Opera Review: Anna Bolena

13 Mar

Plot: At the heart of Anna Bolena (Julie Unwin) is the cruelty of the Tudor King Henry VIII (Ricardo Simonetti) – having divorced his Catholic wife Catharine of Aragon, and set on the throne his great love Anne Boleyn, he is disappointed; now he desires her lady in waiting, Jane Seymour (Julia Riley). As her thousand days as queen draw to a close, Anne is still fighting – until she meets again the man she loved before Henry.

The revival of this Donizetti masterpiece comes at the same time as the film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl which received mixed reviews, or if you had the chance to see it, the much more interesting The Tudors produced by the BBC last year. But this is the English Touring Opera who also brought us Donizetti’s Mary Queen of Scots in 2005. My first opera experience was also at the Hackney Empire so I had quite a deja vu feeling this evening, and unlike the first time I went to see Tosca, I brought a friend with me this time.

The tragedy of Anne Boleyn is perfect for the opera, so I expected really powerful crescendoes and wonderful, soaring singing. Riccardo Simonetti’s strong baritone really made me hate Henry VIII who was just as wicked and devious trying to find ways to get rid of Anna, whilst tenor Luciano Botelho’s Percy who played Anna’s old flame was dramatic and soul lilting. Act One had great ensemble singing from the main characters but let’s leave the rivalry between Anna and Jane for last as theirs lies the heart and soul of this tragic opera.

Anna was played by Julie Unwin and is the ETO’s main star and in this performance, she sings magnificently as I remembered her in Tosca. Her Anna is hopeful and defiant, and her moment of brief madness was heartrending. But Julia Riley nearly gave her a run for her money as she gave an equally powerful, intelligent and poignant performance of Jane. Their duet in Act Two is one of the shows highlights, and I just had goosebumps remembering it now. The minimalist and adaptable set worked well with the beautiful period costumes, the music was soothing with Michael Lloyd conducting.

Anna Bolena: 4/5

Anna Bolena will be performed in repertoire with Susannah and Don Giovanni as the ETO tours around the UK. For the ETO’s tour diary, please visit the ETO website here:

Opera Review: Turandot

14 Jul

PLOT: Andrei Serban’s now-classic Covent Garden production of Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, is a glorious pageant of colour and action, combining elements of ritual theatre and symbolism to portray a world of Oriental fantasy. At its centre is the neurotic Chinese princess of the title, who imposes cryptic riddles on her potential suitors, only to slaughter them when they fail to answer. Calaf, the foreign prince, is determined to thaw and conquer her heart, famously declaiming that he will win.

The first of two alternating casts begins with the strong combination of Georgina Lukács (Turandot), Elena Kelessidi (Liù), Ben Heppner (Calaf) and Robert Lloyd (Timur), while Sally Jacobs’ designs provide the large chorus, actors, dancers and acrobats with a suitable ceremonial setting.

The sound world Puccini created to evoke this Chinese fairytale includes such well-known arias as ‘Signore, ascolta’, ‘In questa reggia’ and ‘Nessun dorma’, and is filled throughout with a sense of the erotic and sinister. -Courtesy of the Royal Opera House

July 14, 2006. The day has finally come for my most-awaited opera experience at the Royal Opera House nonetheless. Sure, this is not my first time at the opera as I have previously seen another Puccini in “Tosca”, but this IS the ROH, where opera breathes and lives this side of the globe. And it lived within me that night. We were seated at the balcony which gave us a great view of the stage and within view of the subtitles which we will need to put it all together. I did my homework by listening to the score the previous days and I am glad I did as listening to it live made it even more mesmerisingly beautiful.

I will always remember this night. The sights and sounds of Covent Garden on a Friday. The cool breeze in a summer evening. The promise of a new love. As the Prince in the opera tries to convince Turandot to love him, at first she is disgusted, but after he kisses her, she feels herself turning towards passion. When Calaf kissed Turandot, and whatever it was that she felt, to give in to that love, lived and stayed with me that night.

One more time with feelings…

Nessun Dorma

Il Principe:
Nessun dorma!… Nessun dorma!…
Tu pure, o Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza
guardi le stelle che tremano
d’amore e di speranza!
Ma il mio mistero
è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!
No, no, sulla tua bocca lo dirò,
quando la luce splenderà!
Ed il mio bacio scoglierà
il silenzio che ti fa mia!
Dilegua, o notte! tramontate, stelle!
Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò!
Vincerò! Vincerò!

Turandot: 5/5

Tenorissimo Domingo

25 May

I am obsessed with Placido Domingo. There, I’ve said it out loud.

I revisited my passion for the opera early this year and decided to watch my first opera, that of Puccini’s “Tosca”. I ordered all The Three Tenors DVDs and CDs and after watching them a million times, that’s it, I love Placido Domingo, that he is now officially my favorite tenor. He puts so much emotion in his performances you cant help but feel his pain, his triumph, his loss. “No Puede Ser” and “Amor, Vida De Mi Vida” are such powerful arias that make you go weak, and breathless. His rendition of “Granada”, “Cielito Lindo”, “Amapola” is just amazing. He must have been a brilliant Cavaradossi singing “Recondita Armonia” and the heart-rending “E Lucevan Le Stelle”. Have you heard him sing Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci? I’ll stop right now. I listen to just one album on my iPod, and that’s The Three Tenors in Concert, and forward it to the arias he will be singing. Mr Domingo is currently performing at the Royal Opera House playing the lead role in Alfano’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” which has gotten raving reviews and because tickets have been sold out, it’s a shame I couldnt watch him perform.

Here’s looking forward to watching him perform before he thinks of retirement.

Te amo, Senor Domingo.