Opera In England


Glyndebourne Opera, Sussex, England.

Summer 2006

By Polly Hope

Glyndebourne is always fun, a comic opera in itself without having to actually enter the opera house. The British upper classes, or what is left of them, at play in high summer. Evening frocks and tuxedos and panama hats, lounging around the flower bordered lawns drinking champagne at four o'clock in the afternoon. While beyond the Ha Ha sheep and cows watch mystified.

Some of the punters come by chauffeur driven Rolls, some come in beat up campers, some even come by helicopter, but come they do and tickets are as rare as hen's teeth. Glyndebourne has no state subsidy and relies entirely on corporative money, and this flows in. Everything is perfect and certainly performers adore working in this beautiful house nestling in a fold of the South Downs. Top-class international opera in the middle of nowhere. Quite lovely.

So to BETROTHAL IN A MONASTERY, Prokofiev's comic work and said to be Stalin's favourite opera. Ummmm… It isn't the maestro's greatest score, but who really cars? It was written during the horrors of WW2, like Richard Strauss' 'Capriccio'. Both composers feeling the necessity to rise out of the awfulness of what was going on around them. The music of BETROTHAL is delicious and I enjoyed every second of it. All those lush not-quiet sing-along tunes yet, which are lyrical and always just right. The young and brilliant music director, Vladimir Jurowski, made the score sound continuously fresh and joyful. It is good to hear how a Russian attacks his country's repertory. And so good to have a young man wielding that stick. Jurowski might be a young Simon Rattle, same lion's mane of hair, and same individual style of conductor's gear. The audience loved him.

As for the production itself, musical delights aside, it is pretty gruesome. Two British guys, Daniel Slater and Robert Innes Hopkins, are responsible. One calls himself Designer/Director and the other Director/Designer. Perhaps if they had taken one of these departments each something good might have appeared on stage.

The set is one of those now old fashioned ones where everything is somewhat wonky. They have built a proscenium arch inside the existing proscenium arc h, all hideous plasterwork and falling down to one side. The rest of the set follows the crooked style. It is ugly and doesn't work. The costumes are not nice either, the colours clash with the set and the singer's faces, which could be all right if the clothes, were terrific, but they aren't, just somewhat illiterate 18th century reproductions.

Which ever of those two guys was responsible for the direction, it amounts to nil. The singers seem uncomfortable on stage and the acting is dire, almost as though the whole production had been rehearsed overnight. This is strange for at Glyndebourne rehearsal time is long and production costs are lavish.

It may not be the greatest of operas but it is delightful and could be enjoyable, I mean more enjoyable for of course any opera anywhere is enjoyable, especially with an excellent dinner half way though the performance.

I hope the powers that be see their way to putting this baby in its box at the back of he cupboard. But if you are around and it is all you can get to at Glyndebourne, well you will have fun even f the best opera is played out on the lawns surrounding the theatre.

TURANDOT. Royal Opera House Covent Garden. London. July 2006

A troublesome opera is Turandot. She is such an impossibly nasty woman and all that True Love stuff at the end doesn't ring true. I don't really feel lets it her off the hook for all the slaying she has been party to. Mind you, it does tell us what China is really like, probably has always been like and always will be. Making such a heroine out of a murderess, well well well, even by the rules of opera I am not sure I really approve.

Still there are some excellent tunes, can't deny that, and Puccini's stories usually are good, though I really do have grave doubts about Turandot. Butterfly is so touching and always works, as well as telling us a bit about the world at the time it was written. As does Boheme, 19th century Paris hovers at every note.

This Turandot is a mighty old production that has been resurrected. A production of the Romanian director Andrei Serban from 1984 in Los Angeles! It still looks very fine and Sally Jacobs's set, all dark carved Chinoiserie, is splendid. Not dated at all. It is good when opera houses keep their fine work. Much gets thrown out and they are sorry afterwards. But I digress. To the singers.

Georgina Lukas is an okay Turandot. She hit the high notes and belts out he arias, but I am not convinced either of her cruelly or her final declaration that she has discovered LOVE. Better is Elena Kelessidi's slave girl. She is touching and brave and gets her point about love winning most poignantly. The audience loved her.

Ping Pang and pong are fine, but I can never make out who they are supposed to be. Are they clowns? If so they need more jokes. Are they mystical charters proclaiming the future? Then they are getting things wrong. Or are they simply the P.As of Turandot who make things work s she wants them to. For me they are never clear. It would be interesting to know what Puccini thought about them.

Ben Heppner's Calaf sings lovely and even looks quite sexy in Chinese gear. Those riddles are difficult and I often wonder who tipped off Calaf the answers, as I can't really see him guessing them. And hey, what is he doing chasing such a murderous lady, why risk the riddles if he didn't already know the answers? Does he need the dosh that badly?

These are the questions that I am not sure Puccini had resolved himself. He might even have changed the work quite a lot had he lived to finish it.

Setfan Soltesz conducts with distinction but doesn't break our hearts. The Royal Opera orchestra is always fine, but it can shine more than for this.

The only dated bit of the production are some of the costumes, today they look garish. In 1986, when this production arrived at he Royal Opera House they probably looked splendid.

However it is a good evening and the audience was happy, but somehow one wants perfection in a big international house. That is hard to come by. So just sit back and enjoy this Turandot, especially when Calaf belts out that football anthem!

Polly Hope July 2006