The ROYAL OPERA HOUSE production of LE NOZZE DI FIGARO – better known on this side of the ocean by its English title: The Marriage of Figaro has much in it that deserves unqualified praise, above all its cast of seasoned singing actors. There’s that and almost no draconian cuts, so that Don Basilio’s and Marcellina’s  Act IV arias are preserved and very nicely respectively delivered by Philip Langridge and Graciela Araya.

The eleven principals excel in first class vocalism all the while fleshing out strong characterizations injected with humor and down-to-earth humanity.

There’s Edwin Schrott as Figaro and Gerald Finley as Count Almaviva, two excellent bass-baritones who bring out the danger in their relationship and imbue their singing with menace while singing elegantly.

Likewise the mistress-maid dynamic is performed by Dorothea Roschmann and Miah Persson with cystal clear clarity and injected with genuine affection. In addition both sopranos sing gloriously, and their connection to Rinat Shahan’s endearing Cherubino fluctuates from maternal to carnal.

The supporting roles of Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina become in the capable hands of Jonathan Veira and Graciela Araya real human beings whose Act III discovery of their true relationship to each other and to Figaro wins our hearts.  Even the tiny roles of Don Curzio (Francis Egerton), Barbarina (Ana James) and Antonio (Jeremy White) are flawlessly rendered in David Mc Vicar’s production.

There’s no question that the vast interiors of the Castle of Aguas Frescas might be architecturally accurate and, further, that they are meant to convey by designer Tanya Mc Callin a certain feeling of isolation amongst its quarreling inhabitants, although I could not make head or tails of the puzzling change from Act III’s palatial hall to Act IV’s neither indoors nor outdoors environment.  Mc Callin’s choice of early 19th century costumes places the action in a post-Napoleonic sunless Seville where the loathsome “droit du seigneur” is up for discussion and the Goyesque, high-waist silhouette allows the women a modicum of corset-less freedom.

David McVicar’s staging fully succeeds in sparing the audience any clowning or posturing on the part of the singers. Other than the silent character of the old woman who aimlessly wanders around toward the end of the opera I found his directorial choices unimpeachable.

Antonio Pappano led the orchestra and cast with untiring energy and Mozartian elegance.  

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS                    


La Bohéme

Music – Giacomo Puccini

Libretto – Giacosa & Illica after Henry Murger’s Scénes de la vie de Bohme

Conductor: Andris Nelsons

The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House

Director: John Copley

Designer: Julia Trevelyan Oman

Cast: Mimi – Hibla Gerzmaya; Rodolfo: Teodor Ilincai; Marcello: Gabriele Viviani;

Musetta: Inna Dukach; Schaunard: Jacques Imbrailo; Colline: Kostas Smoriginas;

Benoit: Jeremy White; Alcindoro: Donald Maxwell

I can’t think of any opera as perfect as La Bohéme. Puccini premiered in 1896, twelve years after his first, youthful Le Villi and preceded it by Edgar and Manon Lescaut, after all of which he had plenty of know how about his work – no wonder he got La Bohéme one hundred percent right!

Act I runs under one hour – a time span during which impoverished boy Rodolfo, a writer (Teodor Ilincai) meets impoverished girl, Mimi, a seamstress (Hibla Gerzmaya).

They fall in love, they go out for dinner with friends, they have as much fun as they will be allowed to have for the rest of the opera. Time passes, they split up. Winter freezes everything except their love. They decide they will reunite until spring comes, at which time… who knows…

That is Act I, during which we have met Marcello, painter (Gabriele Viviani); Schaunard, musician (Jacques Imbrailo); Colline, philosopher(Kostas Smoriginas); and Musetta, part time singer, full time flirt (Inna Dukach).

A perfect opera calls for a perfect cast, and the Royal Opera House’s 2009 cast is just about that, starting with their vocal and dramatic youthfulness, that is except of course for Benoit, their landlord (Jeremy White), and Alcindoro, Musetta’s paramour du jour (Donald Maxwell) both excellent in their foolish-old-men roles.

Hibla Gerzmaya’s Mimi is a joy to look at and to listen to. She inhabits her role with a wonderful mix of charm, vulnerability, and courage. And she can sing the role flawlessly: her Mi chiamano Mimi would cause any full-blooded poet to fall head over heels in love with her. In Act II, her Donde lieta usci is a lesson in bringing Giacosa & Illica’s words to life in seamless union with Puccini’s music.

Teodor Ilincai’s Rodolfo is handsome, forthright, dramatically honest, and vocally unimpeachable. He is as good a Rodolfo as I have heard, and he can both sing full out and reign his ample voice back to a whisper when needed.

The other four bohemians: Gabriele Viviani, Jacques Imbrailo, Kostas Smoriginas and Inna Dukach are top of the line each in his or her own right, with the spunky Inna Dukach vocally impressive and picture pretty.

Director John Copley and Designer Julia Trevelyan Oman deliver a dramatically and visually superb production utterly faithful to Puccini’s original intentions as to time and place, and one in which not one single human or physical element is out of place.

Andris Nelsons leads the Royal Opera House orchestra and chorus and his cast of principals with a balanced mix of flexibility and spontaneity, obtaining as a result a performance infused with joy and sensitivity.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Indeed, a perfect La Bohéme! Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS






IL TABARRO – LIBRETTO BY GIUSEPPE ADAMI, after Didier Gold’s play La Houppelande

Director: Richard Jones

Set Designer: Ultz

Costume Designer: Nicki Gillebrand

The Orchestra  and Chorus of the Royal Opera House led by Antonio Pappano


Michele – Lucio Gallo

Giorgietta – Eva Maria Westbroek

Luigi – Aleksandrs Antonenko

Tinca – Alan Oke Talpa – Jeremy White Frugola – Irina Mishura Song Seller – Ji-Min Park

Lovers – Anna Devin & Robert Anthony Gardiner


Director: Richard Jones

Set Designer: Miriam Buether

Costume Designer: Nicki Gillebrand

The Orchestra  and Chorus of the Royal Opera House led by Antonio Pappano


Sister Angelica: Ermonela Jaho  The Princess – Anna Larsson

With: Elena Zilio, Melissa Alder, Kate MacCarney, Elizabeth Sikora, Eryl Royle, Anna Devin, Kathy Batho, Elizabeth Key, Elizabeth Woollett, Gillian Webster, Kathleen Wilder and Irina Mishura

Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s IL TRITTICO for the Royal Opera is very effective. With scenic design by Ultz and costuming by Nicki Gillebrand Jones’ slightly updated concept works well for IL TABARRO which in its original, world premiere 1918 production was set on a barge in the River Seine around the turn of the century.

In the case of Jones’ SUOR ANGELICA the updating works less well, with the nuns got up in outfits that do no favors to any of them and the action set in a drab convent hospital designed by Miriam Buether lacking the florally enchanting garden Puccini evokes in his music and Giovacchino Forzano would have wanted as a setting for his libretto, all of it once more going to prove that the updating and arbitrary relocating of operas is a touch and go thing, especially as in this case, with the miracle written in by Puccini into this score all but absent.

The cast for IL TABARRO is uniformly strong, with the superb Lucio Gallo a vocal and dramatic tower of strength as Michele, Eva Maria Westbroek making a strong impression as a vulnerable Giorgietta, and Aleksandrs Antonenko in fine voice as a muscular Luigi. The supporting roles are excellently handled by Alan Oke, Jeremy White, the superb Irina Mishura as Fruggola,  Ji-Min Park, Anna Devin, and Robert Anthony Gardiner.

The cast of SUOR ANGELICA is sheer perfection, with Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho sublime as the guilt-ridden but still defiantly strong nun, and Swedish contralto Anna Larsson note perfect as the unbending Princess.

Keeping the two principals excellent company the ever-impressive Elena Zilio excels in her supporting role along with Melissa Alder, Kate MacCarney, Elizabeth Sikora, Eryl Royle, Anna Devin, Kathy Batho, Elizabeth Key, Elizabeth Woollett, Gillian Webster, Kathleen Wilder and Irina Mishura sing and act angelically.

In both scores, Antonio Pappano is exemplary, bringing out the blood and guts elements of IL TABARRO and the poignancy and lyricism of SUOR ANGELICA.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS



Music: Pietro Mascagni/Ruggero Leoncavallo (libretto and music)

Libretto: Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti and Guido Menasci after the play by Giovanni Verga

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House in 2015

Director: Damiano Michieletto

Designers: Paolo Fantin and Carla Teti

Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus led by Antonio Pappano

Turiddu, Canio: Aleksandrs Antonenko 

Santuzza: Eva-Maria Westbroek 

Nedda: Carmen Giannattasio

Alfio/Tonio: Dimitri Platanias                      

Mamma Lucia: Elena Zilio 

Lola: Martina Belli

Silvio: Dyonisios Sourbis

The Royal Opera production of a double bill of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND PAGLIACCI is a mix of the excellent, the adequate and the under par. There is, to begin with, the presence of the Greek baritone Dmitri Platanias in the dual assignment of Alfio and Tonio. In both of which he excels vocally and dramatically, nailing the Pagliacci prologue and the duet with Santuzza in Cavalleria. Then there is the excellent Nedda of Carmen Giannattasio, pleasing to the eye, vocally top notch in the scenes with Tonio and Silvio (the very good baritone Dyonisios Sourbis) and superb in her aria.

The Turiddu and Canio of Aleksandrs Antonenko are adequate at best. A big voiced, big fellow he tends to manhandle his sopranos and bully any and all men who oppose him. But that is only part of the characters he is playing. Turiddu is supposedly popular with his fellow Sicilians, presumably a good son. As for Canio, all we get from Antonenko is a brute who pushes everybody around, along with pushing his voice to its limits.

In the supporting roles of Lola and Mamma Lucia, Martina Belli and the always solid Elena Zilio deliver one hundred percent.

Eva-Maria Westbroek is not the ideal Santuzza. A reliable singer who excels in a specialized repertory of Wagner, Poulenc and Janáček, she looks and sounds ill at ease in the quintessentially Italian role of the jilted Sicilian woman.

Designers: Paolo Fantin and Carla Teti and stage director Damiano Michieletto opted for a bleak, sunless, at times claustrophobic look, relentlessly colorless in both the modern dress and in a set that often felt crowded in the choral scenes and unserviceable throughout, with a bakery in Cavalleria remaining the one and only location throughout the opera and a double-take sequence in Pagliacci with the play within the play taking place simultaneously with a backstage drama, both in a church hall, not in an outdoor stage wagon – all of it making absolutely no sense.

On the plus side there is the wonderful conducting of Antonio Pappano, who time and again throughout this Royal Opera series proves to be one of today’s finest opera conductors.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Opera Vision features Der Rosenkavalier from  the Garsington Opera

For those of us not familiar with Opera Vision or with the Garsington Opera or with both, here’s a bief bit of background.

Supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe program, OperaVision builds on the success of more opera companies from more countries, under the editorial supervision of Opera Europa, the European association of opera companies and festivals. OperaVision brings together 29 partners from 17 countries and invites you to travel and discover the diversity of opera from wherever you want, whenever you want.

Garsington Opera gives performances of great artistic quality in a setting of extraordinary natural beauty. Performances take place in the spectacular Opera Pavilion, which sits within the rolling landscape of the Chiltern Hills, less than an hour from London.

Garsington Opera was founded in 1989 by the late Leonard Ingrams and his wife Rosalind at Garsington Manor, near Oxford. Following Leonard’s untimely death, Garsington Opera moved to the Wormsley Estate, home of the Getty family, in 2011.

The festival presents a program of four operas each year during a seven-week summer period, often including a Mozart opera, and also champions less-known works which have included a number of notable British premieres to include Haydn’s Orlando Paladino, Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade, and Rossini’s ArmidaL’equivoco stravagante and Maometto secondo.

Productions have also been taken to a number of European festivals and the company’s 2007 production of Richard Strauss’s Die ägyptische Helena was presented at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

The current production of the Garsington Opera is Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. I am personally averse to updates of operas in which a director chooses to set a work in a time and place different from that intended by its original creators. This sort of practice often leads to productions where costuming and stage sets try to replace good work with singing actors and where characterization and behavior remains unattended resulting in mediocre acting trying to pass for good. The Garsington Opera Der Rosenkavalier production is set in a mid-century Vienna that could as easily be Paris or Milan or New York or any major city where Christian Dior’s fashion design ruled. The concept works and is enthusiastically embraced by director Bruno Ravella, who works wonders with his four principals and with a large cast of your artists and seasoned comprimarios. Jordan de Souza’s mastery of the score is remarkable.

In the current Der Rosenkavalier from Garsington Opera the Swedish soprano Miah Persson stands out as a superb Marschallin. Recognized for years as a gorgeous Sophie in the same opera, Ms. Persson, now in her early fifties brings tremendous dramatic poignancy to the role of a beautiful woman cognizant of the fact that her physical charms are disappearing, and along with them the hold she has over the young Count Octavian, easily three decades younger than her. In addition to her detailed and charming characterization, Ms. Persson sings as gloriously as any Marshallin in memory, and goodness knows that is some  very illustrious company, one in which she can now hold her own.

In the Garsington cast Miah Persson is in excellent company, with Polish mezzo-soprano Hannah Hipp an excellent, boyish Octavian, American soprano Madison Leonard an enchanting Sophie, and Derrick Ballard a bass-baritone who, for a refreshing change of pace, actually sings rather than barks Baron Ochs’ notes and is very funny to boot.

I found this production fresh, inventive, and invigorating and trust you will too.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOU THE ARTS