Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park, London
The Rite of Spring, Peckham multi-storey car park, London
Albert Herring, Shadwell Opera, London
BBC Proms 14 & 15, Royal Albert Hall, London
The folly of young longing and the baiting of a father are perpetually alarming
Sunday 31 July 2011
Can Rigoletto still shock? Lindsay Posner's Opera Holland Park production transposes Verdi's opera to an industrial estate in contemporary Mantua.
Red is the dominant colour in Tom Scutt's set designs: in the rusting shipping containers that stand for sex-club, shanty-town and meat-freezer; in the platform heels of the pole-dancers; in the scrawled "Buffone!" on Rigoletto's T-shirt, the shock of hair on his daughter's head, the pools of blood. It's the colour of the City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford, the colour of a curse.
Posner adds some witty twists to previous updates: Pavarotti appears on the television screen as Jaewoo Kim's snake-hipped, sociopathic Duke woos Patricia Orr's sexy Maddalena with "La donna é mobile". But his focus is on the intensity of the relationship between Robert Poulton's Rigoletto and Julia Sporsen's Gilda, whose innocence is matched by the furious sexual energy of adolescence. Though the shivering flute obbligato is still wan with purity, her "Caro nome" is hot with desire. From Stratford and the orchestra, this is as compelling a performance as last year's Forza del destino. From the cast, a tragic unravelling of paternal and filial hopes with a boldly reimagined closing scene.
Last Saturday, Nonclassical and Bold Tendencies brought The Rite of Spring to a multi-storey car park in Peckham, south London. As drinkers queued six-deep at Frank's Café, one level below, 100 student instrumentalists traced the Fauvist curves of Stravinsky's 98-year-old score with the shriek of trains to their right and a Campari sunset to their left. Only in the second section did conductor Chris Stark dare to shape and shade the music, settling into the dark acoustics of the space and the violent beauty of the skyline. Seduced by Alex Leese's alto flute, menaced by Aisha Orazbayeva's violin, the audience was alert, relaxed and attentive. Orchestral managers in pursuit of younger listeners should take note.
Stark took up his baton again the next afternoon as Shadwell Opera gave the final performance in its tour of Albert Herring as part of Opera Holland Park Etcetera. Most of the orchestra had played in the Rite, yet sounded as fresh as daisies in the madrigalian fugues and glissando kisses of this very different virgin sacrifice. Stravinsky's heroine dances to her death, but Britten's "clean as hay" hero suffers the humiliation of being crowned Loxford's King of the May.
Albert Herring is Britten's Radio 4 opera: as smutty as I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, as cheeky about village archetypes as The Archers. Even the books awarded to poor, simple Albert (Sam Furness) are largely those of Desert Island Discs' castaways. Jack Furness's breezy al fresco production merrily played with the notion of an unchanging England, setting Act I in the Victorian era, Act II in 1940, and Act III in the present day. The relationships were wittily drawn, the ensemble singing delightful, the orchestral playing crisp, with Maud Millar's Miss Wordsworth and Stephen Craigen's horn particularly polished, and Albert's mournful envy of Sid and Nancy's (Gareth John and Amy Lyddon) easy intimacy touchingly clear.
With Norway in mourning, no announcement was made before Semyon Bychkov's performance of Verdi's Requiem (Prom 13) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the combined voices of the BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC National Chorus of Wales and London Philharmonic Choir, but none was necessary. From the first sotto voce entry to the extended silence at the close of the Libera me, Bychkov's reading conveyed inconsolable horror. Verdi offers little comfort in the Requiem, leaving his soprano soloist (Marina Poplavskaya) pleading for clemency. It was, rightly, very difficult: a tautly disciplined choral performance burnished by the tenor and bass solos of Joseph Calleja and Ferruccio Furlanetto.
Sir Roger Norrington's performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony (Prom 15) marked the end of his tenure with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. No other conductor has as divisive an effect in this repertoire. Mahlerians are an excitable bunch at the best of times, and mid-way through the second year of anniversary cycles, Norrington's sharp tempi and spectral timbres still provoke. Listening from home, I was spared the mischievous smiles from the podium and admired the Turneresque watercolours, without being at all moved.
'Rigoletto' (0300 999 1000), to 13 Aug
Claudia Pritchard finds La Wally at Opera Holland Park
Donald Runnicles, Gustavo Dudamel, Vladimir Jurowski and Gianandrea Noseda are conductors to watch in this week's BBC Proms, starting with tonight's all-Rachmaninov Choral Sunday, Royal Albert Hall, London. Tête à Tête at the Riverside Studios, London, has a revival of Streetwise Opera's Fables (from Thursday).
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