Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola

Original Review: Broadway World UK

WNO's La Cenerentola

The magic’s in the music

The original Italian premiere of Rossini’s rags-to-riches opera was more morally pragmatic than magical: with a ‘goodness triumphs’ moral in its title (‘La bontà in trionfo’), Roman Catholicism restricting an unclothed foot from appearing in the performance, and nineteenth-century theatrics making transformations impractical, the music was the magic. And the music is magical, with all its coloratura, patter, and character from the principals, male chorus, and orchestra magnificently managed by Tomáš Hanus, but there’s still some magic amiss in this staging from Welsh National Opera.

La Cenerentola falls away from the French fairy tale and into the Grimm’s grotesque without a fairy godmother or twelve o’clock curfew, and Joan Font’s staging fuels the fantasy with giant mice and the suggestion that it was all a sugarcoated fever-dream danced in Joan Guillén’s garish costumes.

The opera follows in the footsteps of the fairytale Continue reading “Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola”

Review: WNO’s Die Fledermaus

Original review: Underdog Reviews


A farcical, fun-filled frolic

As the saying – and singing, in this opera – goes, ‘chacun à son gout!’: ‘to each his own taste’, and the taste of Welsh National Opera’s Die Fledermaus is champagne – bubbly, celebratory, flamboyant, but with a little bit of bitterness in the aftertaste.

Die Fledermaus is an operetta caught somewhere between Restoration and Shakespearean comedy: a well-moneyed misdemeanant – a markedly strong Mark Stone – seems more interested in other women than his own wife, everyone from the mischievous chambermaid to her suspicious mistress set about scheming their way into a masquerade ball, an elaborate if improbable plot featuring false identities, lots of flirting and a few faux-Frenchmen, and, of course, a finale where all is forgiven and the ruse is revealed. This is operetta with frills-and-all, and with all the fun and frolics, it’s more than just the misbehaving husband who’s getting merrily mocked, it’s the opulence and improbability of opera, too. Continue reading “Review: WNO’s Die Fledermaus”

Review: WNO’s From the House of the Dead

Original review: The Reviews Hub

WNO's From the House of the Dead

Rough-and-ready and wistfully raw

The curtain rises on an intricate, ramshackle construction of bricks, boards, and broken men cascaded across a remarkable, multi-levelled recreation of a communal prison cell. We see in through a literal break in the fourth wall, as if one side of the set has been broken apart by an unseen force, and the literal and metaphorical walls keep coming down to reveal, in all their tough-and-tenderness, the men and the motives behind the criminals and their crimes.

David Pountney’s production of From the House of the Dead is a series of vignettes from the view of the deadened and slowly dying convicts as they survive the cruelty and uniformity of captivity and escape into a life once lived outside the four walls of their confinement. Their recollections and reflections are ragtag and fragmentary and resist many operatic conventions: the prisoners interrupt each other’s arias, there’s no concrete plot, and the cast has no principals but perform as a collective. For some, From the House of the Dead may feel more ragged than ragtag, but it works to reflect the rough-and-ready, unrefined reality of the prisoners’ experiences both within the prison and without. Continue reading “Review: WNO’s From the House of the Dead”

Review: Tosca at the Tobacco Factory Theatre

Original review: TheReviewsHub


An impressive and uniquely intimate musical experience

On its turn-of-the-century debut, Puccini’s opera about death, desire and deception was termed a ‘shabby little shocker’ by the press, but there’s nothing shabby in this co-production from Opera Project and Tobacco Factory Theatres. Staged in-the-round in this uniquely intimate space, the story of tempestuous soprano Floria Tosca, her liberal artist lover Cavaradossi and the cruel and corrupt chief Scarpia is told with an intimacy, emotional intensity, and expressive pathos only possible in such a space.

In a New York Times review of Victorien Sardou’s original play, Tosca was deemed ‘not much of a play, a mere outline at best, made to fit like a glove’ to the talent of the infamous leading lady of the time, and although the former is perhaps still true, Puccini’s opulent score, played by Opera Project’s twelve-piece orchestra and conducted with passionate flair by Jonathan Lyness, not only fits but fills the space to create a singular musical experience. There’s a striking simplicity to the staging, with its flickering candles, focused lighting, and black bars that shift from confession to confinement allowing the score and the singing to take centre-stage. Operatic asides – ‘he’s dead!’ – that often feel impractical work well in-the-round, and are particularly pointed in Act I when Scarpia’s plot is put into action: Cavaradossi’s supposed deception is ‘as I suspected’ sings Tosca; ‘the plan is affected’ Scarpia counters. Continue reading “Review: Tosca at the Tobacco Factory Theatre”

Review: The Royal Opera in Puccini’s Turandot


An outstanding spectacle in dance, design and drama, but with one riddle left unsolved

A fairytale from a far-off land, Turandot features the titular ice-cold Princess of China, a Prince hoping to thaw her frozen heart, and a challenge – and a change – for both to face before first light. Puccini’s final opera, left unfinished at the time of his death, is most famous for the Prince’s aria ‘Nessun Dorma‘, sung after he offers the Princess a Rumplestiltskin-esque riddle of his own – to deduce his name if, like her other failed suitors, she wants him dead at dawn – in response to the Princess’s three riddles. Andrei Serban’s 1984 staging for the Royal Opera uses the opulence of Puccini’s score – with its strong percussive components, including Chinese gongs and a glockenspiel – and the passion, power, and paradox of the libretto’s language to stage a particularly spectacular production.

As a spectacle, the Royal Opera’s production of Turandot is outstanding. Sally Jacobs’ amphitheatre set, with its three tiers and intricate lace-like cut-outs, slowly fills with the exceptional-throughout Royal Opera Chorus at the same time as the in-theatre audience files into the auditorium, and the curtain remains up. When the house lights go down, designer F. Mitchell Dana’s simple but striking on-stage lighting haunts in stark white streams through the lace cut-outs, hangs in an immense, illuminated, orb-like moon, and hovers in hand-held lanterns. The occasional colour-wash of moody hues like blood red and eerie green at moments of high drama complement the colour palettes in Jacobs’ costume designs, with Prince Calaf (Roberto Alagna) in moral and masculine royal blue, loving slave Liù (Aleksandra Kurzak) in hopeful yellow, and Turandot (Lise Lindstrom) in white as icy as her silent stare and red as dangerous as her riddles. Choreographer Kate Flatt captures the poise, precision, and passion of traditional Chinese dance, and the dancers wear impressive, emotionless masks, which keeps the production erring on the side of appreciation rather than appropriation.

Through all the theatrics, a lot of the action is curiously unmasked: as Turandot removes her mask for the riddles, most of the set manoeuvring is done manually by actors onstage. Exposing the metatheatrics of a piece as theatrical as Turandot is a risk, but the presence of her ministers, Ping, Pong and Pang, turn it into an astute means to explore the mythic roots of the tale. At the opening of Act II, the three clowning counsellors – with Leon Košavić’s Ping especially excellent – retreat from the masquerade and take off their masks to tell their own tales. With a stripped-back set, beautifully decorated fabric backdrops brought on by hand, and a surprisingly heartfelt backstory for each delivered more to the audience than each other, Ping, Pong (David Junghoon Kim), and Pang (Samuel Sakker) reveal themselves as storytellers, separating the fairytale from the verismo and introducing another dynamic.

Yet, the verismo may overshadow the fairytale: the Éponine-esque Liù, in love with the Prince but left out in the cold, has the most affecting character arc, and Aleksandra Kurzak’s performance of the ‘Lord, hear!’ aria in Act I as she pleads with Calaf not to undertake Turandot’s task is truly touching. Lindstrom’s Turandot, even with Kate Flatt’s crossed armography to emphasise her cold and closed spirit, is an ice princess who melts all too easily. Whilst likely a victim of the incompleteness of the opera itself, the last duet with Alagna’s competent Calaf is unconvincing, driven by lust and influence rather than love, opposing Turandot’s desire not to be possessed and damaging her most valued possession: her pride.

The Royal Opera’s Turandot is a spectacle of epic proportions: the dance, design and drama of Puccini’s music, played with aplomb by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and echoed by the class of the Royal Opera Chorus, are exceptional, but the depth of the mythic relationship is missing, and Turandot‘s trickiest riddle – what to do with the last duet – remains unsolved.

Live streaming via YouTube from the Royal Opera House, 14th July 2017, conducted by Dan Ettinger, cast includes Lise Lindstrom, Roberto Alagna, & Aleksandra Kurzak, picture by Tristram Kenton, click for link to page on Turandot at, click here to view the live stream