Archive for Opera

Jephtha

Posted in Opera with tags , , , , , on October 5, 2012 by telescoper

I took time out from a busy week yesterday evening for a performance by Welsh National Opera of Jephtha by George Frideric Handel. Based on a biblical story (from the Book of Judges), Jephtha was written late in Handel’s life (indeed it was the last major work Handel wrote) as an oratorio rather than an opera, and was first performed as such in 1752.

Last night’s production brought movement, scenery and costumes to Handel’s lovely music in an attempt to turn it into an opera. It was only partially successful in doing that. Owing to the nature of the piece, it appeared as a series of rather static tableaux rather than a compelling music drama. It did however, feature excellent music and singing, and very imaginative use of a rather simple set, an interior of faded and battered opulence, complete with broken plaster and bullet holes, and costumes that evoke the period leading up to World War II.

You can get a good idea of the look of the performance in the following WNO trailer:

The story revolves around the character Jephtha who is called upon to lead the people of Gilead in battle against Ammon. He takes up the challenge, and when he proves victorious he rashly (and cruelly) vows to make a sacrifice of the first human being to greet him when he returns home. That turns out to be his daughter, Iphis. Will he carry out his pledge and turn Iphis into a burnt offering? Will an Angel of the Lord intervene and spare her? I won’t spoil the plot, except that that the operatorio does not end in the same way as the bible story seems to…

As for the singers, I thought Fflur Wyn (Iphis) was the pick – her voice beautifully conveyed the innocence and fragility of the young daughter. Robin Blaze as Hamor (Iphis’ betrothed) was also excellent in the counter-tenor role. I wasn’t so keen on Robert Murray as Jephtha, whose voice was rather thin and undistinguished especially early on in the performance. But it was really Handel’s music that took centre stage. Although the performance contained much to savour, I’m not convinced that staging Jephtha as an opera was really worth it. I would probably have enjoyed it just as much if it had been performed as an oratorio, like Messiah.

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La Bohème

Posted in Opera with tags , , , , , , , on September 9, 2012 by telescoper

Time rolls on and the end of the summer brings the beginning of the new Opera season in Cardiff, with  La Bohème  by Giacomo Puccini at Welsh National Opera. It seems like a thousand years since I last went to the Wales Millennium Centre but it was only May. Still, a lot has happened between then and now. It felt good to see the Wales Millennium Centre again, looking resplendent in the sunshine of a September evening. Life’s getting back to normal.

I confess that I still get butterflies in my stomach as I take my seat before a night at the Opera. I guess if that thrill ever disappears I’ll just stop going, but last night reminded me why I love the Opera so much. The performance was absolutely wonderful, perhaps the best I’ve seen at Cardiff since I moved here five years ago.


I suppose the story of La Bohème will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in Opera, but I’ll give a quick synopsis anyway.  It’s a boy-meets-girl love story, of course. The boy in this case is the poet Rodolfo (Alex Vicens) and the girl, actually named Lucia but known  as Mimi (Giselle Allen).  The setting is Paris around 1830, and the poet and his painter friend Marcello (David Kempster) are starving and freezing, as it is winter and they have no money.  Act I is set on Christmas Eve, but the two friends have nothing to eat and nowhere to go. Fortunately, their musician friend Schaunard (Daniel Grice) turns up with money and provisions. After various comings and goings everyone but Rodolfo leaves to spend Christmas Eve out on the town; Rodolfo has to finish a piece for a journal, and promises to join them when he is done. However, he is interrupted by the arrival of Mimi, who lives nearby and whose candle has gone out. It’s love at first sight…

The later stages of Act I are built around Rodolfo’s aria Che Gelida Manina (“your tiny hand is frozen”) and Mimi’s Mi Chiamano Mimi. These beautiful songs follow one another in quick succession, and are then rounded off with a wonderful duet O Soave Fanciulla  in a manner guaranteed to melt the stoniest of hearts. And, before you ask, yes I did cry. Just a little bit. I don’t think anyone noticed.

But it’s not just the ravishing music that makes this passage so special, it’s also Puccini’s gift as a story-teller: after the two arias by Rodolfo and Mimi, the audience knows everything they need to know about these characters. It’s a great example of why I think Puccini is a far greater writer of Opera than, say, Wagner. Puccini understood much better than Wagner how to vary  pace and colour  without allowing the story to bogged down, and he knew exactly how to use his big tunes to maximum dramatic effect (i.e. without excessive repetition). In fact, La Bohème is in four acts, but its running time is just about 2 hours and 15 minutes, packed full of gorgeous music and compelling drama. It’s a supreme example of Puccini’s artistry as a composer of Opera.

Anyway, back to the plot. Act II finds Rodolfo and Mimi joining in the party started by Marcello and his buddies. There’s a huge contrast here between the dingy garret in which Act I is set, as this is set in the Latin Quarter of gay Paris (with a few drag queens in this production thrown in to make the point). Marcello gets off with the object of his desire, the coquettish Musetta (Kate Valentine), and all seems well with the world as we go into the interval.

In Act III we find things have changed. Rodolfo’s love for Mimi has soured and, overcome by jealousy and suspicion, he has left her. Clearly unwell, Mimi wanders around looking for Rodolfo and he hears her coughing. They clearly still love each other, but find it difficult to live with each other. If Opera were Facebook they would both have “It’s complicated” on their status.

The last act finds us back in the garret, Rodolfo and Mimi having separated. But Mimi has been wandering the streets in the freezing cold and turns up, clearly gravely ill. Rodolfo’s friends quickly pawn some meagre possessions and Marcello and Musetta rush out to buy medicine and summon a doctor. They return with the medicine but, before the doctor arrives, Mimi dies.

Well, what did you expect in an Opera, a happy ending?

People say that this is a romantic opera but it’s a pretty bleak story when you think about it. The lovers’ happiness is brief and it all ends in despair and death in surroundings of poverty and squalor. That’s what Opera Verismo is all about.

I don’t give star ratings when I review Opera performances, but if I did this would get the highest grade. All the principals were marvellous. It was refreshing to see Rodolfo played by a tenor who not only looked the part (i.e. youthful and dashing rather than middle-aged and portly) but could also cope with the demands of the role. I thought Alex Vicens’ voice sounded a little thin at the start and was worried that he might have to force it during the big arias, but he warmed up magnificently. Kate Valentine was a very sexy Musetta. The other person who deserves a particular mention is Welsh baritone  David Kempster, who was absolutely superb as Marcello. His compelling stage presence matched by an exceptionally  fine voice. World class, I’d say…

And a word for the production. Annabel Arden’s design managed to bring fresh elements to what is basically a straightforward interpretation of the Opera. The visual effects, such as the animated snow,  were clever but not intrusive. There was no attempt to translate the action into a different period or location nor was there an attempt to preach about disease as a metaphor for moral failings. In this respect it’s very faithful to what I think Puccini’s intentions were, i.e. to let the audience make their own mind up about what message they want to take away. The only slight departure I spotted was that in Act I Mimi actually blows her own candle out deliberately in order to get Rodolfo to light it again. Methinks she’s a bit more forward than usual in this production.

This was the first performance of this run of La Bohème. If you love Opera and can get to Cardiff, then do go and see it. It’s very special.

By way of a postscript I couldn’t resist posting this, which I found on Youtube this morning. It’s a vintage recording of O Soave Fanciulla dating back to 1956 and featuring the great Jussi Björling as Rodolfo. He may be a bit old for the part, but listen to that voice! The greatest tenor of his generation, without question. And Renata Tebaldi as Mimi too…

Don Giovanni

Posted in Art, Opera with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2011 by telescoper

Another sign that autumn is nigh is that the opera season has started again, which at least gives me the opportunity to resume my series of occasional opera reviews.

I was planning to go to see the new  Welsh National Opera production of Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart   last week but was stymied it clashed with the cricket, which turned out to be a day-night game finishing too late to allow me to go to both. Anyway, I was able to get tickets for last night’s performance as well as dispose of last week’s so it all worked out for me in the end.

First night reviews of this production weren’t particularly good – the reviews in the Telegraph and the Guardian are fairly typical – which probably accounted for the fact that the Wales Millennium Centre wasn’t particularly  full even for such an extremely popular opera. I don’t usually pay much attention to reviews myself and I thought the critics were excessively harsh, although some of the points they make are valid.

I won’t repeat the synopsis in detail here because it’s probably familiar to most people likely to read this, even those who aren’t opera buffs. In fact it’s all explained by the subtitle il dissolute punito. We meet the villainous “nobleman” Don Giovanni attempting to molest  Donna Anna after sneaking into the house of the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father. Don Giovanni is rumbled and confronted by the Commendatore; a duel  ensues which appears to be ending without bloodshed until the Don draws a dagger and murders the Commendatore.

There then follows a series of escapades: attempted seductions, disguises, mistaken identities, narrow escapes, and so on. Typical comic opera stuff in fact, except that it’s not really typical comic opera  because it’s comic opera with music by Mozart and libretto by da Ponte. In other words, it’s genius.

Finally,  Don Giovanni’s past catches up to him. He taunts a statue of the dead Commendatore while seeking refuge in a graveyard. Later, back at Don Giovanni’s  house the statue arrives  and sends Don Giovanni to Hell.

The first impression you get of this production on entering the theatre is the monumental set, which is based (not inappropriately) on the  Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin (shown left), a huge bronze sculpture that depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno. What you see on stage, however, is not a simple replica of the Rodin piece, but a series of variations on and extensions of the original artwork. Extra pieces are added to form a walled courtyard, it opens out to form a series of rooms and chambers, and in the end the gates themselves open to take the eponymous villain down to Hell (along with a smoke and fire effect which unfortunately didn’t work very well last night; there wasn’t enough smoke to engulf him as was clearly intended).

The idea of basing the set around this work of art was potentially brilliant but I didn’t think it really worked as well as it might. The reason is that the magic of Mozart’s operas emanates, at least in part, from the huge dramatic contrasts. Don Giovanni certainly has a very dark edge, but it also has a great many lighter comic episodes, some of them bordering on the slapstick. Having this heavy sombre backdrop to everything tended to dampen the swings between light and shade. It’s as if the  production was so obsessed with this one idea, that everything else became subservient to it. What could have been brilliant was just too clumsy. You don’t have to force things so much, especially not with Mozart, especially not with Don Giovanni.

Another criticism I would make concerns David Kempster as Don Giovanni. He certainly sang extremely well, his smoky baritone voice sounding very rakish. However I thought he acted the part too broadly, at times like a pantomime villain, to the extent that he seemed delighted by the theatrical boos he got on his curtain call. He was at times very funny indeed, but again I thought he was a bit forced.

However, if it sounds like I’m being very negative about the performance then I don’t mean to be. Apart from the unnecessarily imposing set, the look of the production is wonderful: the costumes and lighting were beautifully done, and the crypto-Gothic look was appropriately spooky when “spooky” was called for.

David Soar was a really oustanding Leporello; I think the audience agreed with me as he got a huge cheer at the end. Camilla Roberts was excellent as Donna Anna as was Nuccia Focile as Donna Elvira. On the other hand I found Carlo Malinverno a disappointment as the Commendatore. He looked scary enough but his undistinguished and occasionally  wobbly bass voice didn’t have the necessary menace for climactic scene with Don Giovanni near the end. For me it has to be a voice that really reverberates with doom. Few can really pull it off, and Carlo Malinverno isn’t one of them.

A special mention, however, must be made of Samantha Hay, who stepped in at short notice to sing the part of Zerlina owing to the indisposition of Claire Ormshaw. She was absolutely wonderful, with a beautifully crystal-clear voice and engaging stage presence. Well done to her for a performance that was very warmly received by the audience.

Watching the opera last night it struck me again, as it always does listening to Don Giovanni,  just how many great pieces of music there are in it. Whereas most operas can offer at most a few set-pieces, in Don Giovanni they keep coming one after the other for well over three hours. This is Mozart at the very peak of his powers, and  a few blemishes don’t even come close to taking the magic away.

Hab Mir’s Gelobt

Posted in Opera with tags , , , on September 6, 2011 by telescoper

Too busy for anything else today so I’ll make do with a piece of music. No apologies, however, for “making do” with one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. I don’t admitting that this reduces me to jelly every time I hear it. Richard Strauss possessed an amazing gift for writing for the female voice, but in this trio from Act III of Der Rosenkavalier, the whole exceeds even the sum of the exquisite parts. The title, roughly speaking, means “I made a vow” but with music like this the  words are almost irrelevant…

Cosi fan tutte

Posted in Opera with tags , , , , on May 21, 2011 by telescoper

It’s been a long time since I posted an opera review. That’s because neither of the operas offered by Welsh National Opera earlier this year appealed to me very much and since then I’ve been too busy doing other things to take in an opera anywhere else. However, the summer season of WNO has now started so now at last there’s something of an operatic nature to write about. In fact, I was lucky enough to get tickets for the first night of WNO’s new production of Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and duly went along yesterday evening. The Millennium Centre was pretty full – as you’d expect for a first night of an enduringly popular opera.

In case you weren’t aware, Così fan tutte is a masterpiece of comic opera (or, technically speaking, opera buffa) written in collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte who also wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. The title can be loosely translated as “That’s how all women behave”; the -e on “tutte” indicates a feminine plural. The plot -such as it is – revolves around two pays of lovers: Guglielmo, who is engaged to Fiordiligi, and Ferrando, who is engaged to Fiordiligi’s sister, Dorabella. Both Guglielmo and Ferrando are sailors. All four are friends with the scheming Don Alfonso, who orchestrates the unfolding events, presumably for his own amusement.

Don Alfonso suggests to Ferrando and Guglielmo that their beloved fiancées are not as faithful as they seem to imagine and the three agree a wager. Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend that they’ve been called up for active service. Don Alfonso joins Fiordiligi and Dorabella in the sumptuous trio Soave sia il vento as the men appear to sail off for battle. The ladies are heartbroken and pledge fidelity to their departed lovers. However, the two sailors soon return in disguise in order to attempt their seduction. After various goings-on the men succeed in seducing each others fiancees and a mock wedding is staged. The marriage is interrupted by the sound of the sailors’ return. After the quickest of quick changes the two men re-appear without their disguises and confront their unfaithful women. Don Alfonso has won his bet.

Like all opera buffa the plot sounds faintly ridiculous – which it is – but of course the key to its success as a piece is not just the comic action, but also the gorgeous music which carries it along. In this particular opera there’s almost no end to the musical loveliness as Mozart has each principal singing alone, and in combinations of twos and threes. Mozart’s writing for two, three or four voices is truly wonderful to listen to, and there are many fine examples of such in this opera.

In this production Guglielmo and Ferrando are sailors who are stationed in a British seaside resort, complete with promenade, pier, Punch & Judy show and Italian ice-cream parlour (named Botticelli‘s). This setting takes  it quite a long way downmarket  compared to the original location of Naples, especially when the Butlins-style redcoats appear, and this is carried through to the much coarser way the comedy is handled than you find in many productions of this piece. This approach does provide enjoyable moments of slapstick hilarity but also causes some difficulties.

For example, it is key to this opera that the character of Don Alfonso has to have some sort of power over the four main protagonists. In other words, it has to be credible that they believe what he says and go along with his suggestions. In this production, however, Don Alfonso is meant to be a “local pier entertainer” – in fact he actually looks more like Flash Harry. I found it hard to accept that anyone would believe anything that this particularly dodgy spiv had to say, and his interaction with the two ladies in particular lacked all credibility.

Another thing I didn’t like was the way the opening of the piece was handled. Like most of Mozart’s operas, Così fan tutte is blessed with a splendid overture, perhaps not as brilliant the other Da Ponte operas but full of playful exuberance and very much worth listening to. You can call me old-fashioned, but I do like to hear the overture, preferably with an empty stage or with the curtain down. In this production, however, as soon as the overture started, the stage began to fill with various extras doing various (admittedly comic) things. A particularly funny sequence of people walking dogs backwards and forwards got a huge laugh, but which drowned out the music entirely. What a waste.

I suppose the overall point I’m trying to make is that this production tried too hard to get cheap laughs. It’s just not necessary to milk it like that – it’s funny enough anyway!

However, these are relatively small objections. I’ll temper them by adding that some of the comedy in this production is inspired. Ferrando wore a false nose that made him look like Barry Manilow and Guglielmo’s false moustache gave him the appearance of Comrade Stalin. The latter looked particularly louche in white tennis shorts and ghastly red blazer.

Neal Davies (baritone) was Don Alfonso, amusingly played but lacking the deep sonority in his voice really needed to carry the role off. Ferrando was played by Robin Tritschler (tenor), whose light agile voice is ideal.  Gary Griffiths (baritone) as Guglielmo was outstanding, with an excellent voice and obvious flair for the comic touches. Fiordiligi (Camilla Roberts) and Dorabella (Helen Lepalaan) were also good. Despina – a waitress in Botticelli’s ice-cream parlour and Don Alfonso’s accomplice (often in disguise) – was pert and feisty but her voice lacked projection; at times she was barely audible.

Anyway, in view of the fact that the comedy dog-walking interfered with last night’s overture I thought I’d end  by posting a version here. I love the way that little phrase is thrown around among the wind instruments!

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Tosca

Posted in Opera with tags , , , on March 6, 2010 by telescoper

I’ve been so busy over the last couple of weeks that I almost forgot that the current run of Tosca at Welsh National Opera was about to come to an end without me having seen it. Nightmare. I suddenly remembered on Thursday that yesterday’s performance was the last one in Cardiff, but I managed to get tickets just in the nick of time. Unsurprisingly, there was a packed house in the Wales Millennium Centre last night; we were treated to an evening of jealousy and murder set to gorgeous music by Giacomo Puccini.

Tosca is an opera in three acts (which means two intervals, glug glug..). It’s basically a melodrama, and is set in Rome in 1800. Each act takes place in a very specific location within the eternal city. Act I is in the Church of  Sant’Andrea della Valle, Act II in the Palazzo Farnese, and the final denouement of Act III takes place among the battlements at the top of the Castel Sant’ Angelo overlooking the Tiber. The setting is so specific to time and place that it resists being monkeyed about with, done in modern dress, staged in a chip shop or whatever. Thankfully, Michael Blakemore’s production (of which this is a revival) is very firmly of the period and location required. As a longstanding opera bore, I have to admit that I have been on a Tosca pilgrimage and have visited all three locations in Rome. The scenery used in last night’s performance isn’t exactly as the real locations but it definitely evokes them very well.

(Incidentally, there was a famous reconstruction of Tosca made in 1992 in which all the action was staged at the true location. You can find an example from Act III here.)

Floria Tosca (Elisabete Matos) is a celebrated opera singer who is in love with an artist (and political radical) by the name of Mario Cavaradossi (Geraint Dodd), who helps to hide an escaped political prisoner while working on a painting in Act I. The odious Baron Scarpia (Robert Hayward), chief of police, comes looking for the convict and decides to catch Tosca and Cavaradossi too. He lusts after Tosca and hates Cavaradossi. In Act II, we find Scarpia at home eating dinner for one while Cavaradossi is being tortured in order to find out the location of the escapee. Tosca turns up to plead for his life, but she hasn’t bargained with the true depths of Scarpia’s depravity. He wants to have his way with her, and to put pressure on he lets her listen to the sound of her lover being tortured. She finally consents, in return for Scarpia’s promise to let Cavaradossi go and grant free passage to the two of them. This he seems to do, but while she is waiting for him to write the letter of conduct she sees a knife. Instead of letting Scarpia defile her, she grabs it and stabs him to death. Act III begins with Cavaradossi facing execution, sure he is about to die. Tosca is convinced that this is just a charade and that Scarpia ordered them to pretend to shoot Cavaradossi so he wouldn’t look like he was being merciful, which would be out of character. The firing squad fire and Cavaradossi falls. But it was no fake. He is dead. Tosca is distraught and bewildered. Shouts offstage reveal that the police have found Scarpia’s body and that Tosca must have murdered him. To avoid capture she hurls herself from the battlements. Her last words are “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” – I’ll meet you before God, Scarpia.

The opera wasn’t particularly well received when it was first performed in 1900, being famously described by one critic as “a shabby little shocker”. I think the secret of its success is twofold. First and foremost the music is wonderful throughout. Of course there are the great arias: Vissi d’arte, Vissi d’amore sung by Tosca in Act II and E Lucevan le Stelle from Act III, sung by Cavaradossi; but even apart from those tremendous set-pieces, Puccini uses the music to draw out the psychology of the characters. And that leads to the second point. Each of the three principals could have been very two-dimensional. Cavaradossi the good guy. Scarpia the bad guy. Tosca the love interest. But all the characters have real credibility and depth. Cavaradossi is brave and generous, but he succumbs to despair before his death. No superhero this, just a man. Scarpia is a nasty piece of work all right, but at times he is pathetic and vulnerable. He is monstrous, but one is left with the impression that something made him monstrous. And then there’s Tosca, proud and jealous, loving but at the same time capable of violence and spite. They’re all so real. I guess that’s why this type of opera is called Verismo!

The orchestra and cast were excellent. Elisabete Matos has a fine voice for the role, and also managed to spit venom at Scarpia in authentic fashion. Geraint Dodd sang wonderfully, I thought. E Lucevan le Stelle is done so often that it’s difficult to make it fresh but his rendition was overwhelmingly emotional. Best of all, Robert Hayward has a dark baritone voice that gave Scarpia a tremendous sense of power and danger.

The only problem with the performance was right at the end. Elisabete Matos didn’t appear on cue for her curtain call. I was baffled. Eventually she appeared on stage, helped by a member of the backstage team. She looked very unwell and was clutching her ribs. I think she must have landed badly after her fall from the battlements. I hope she’s not badly hurt.

Whoever was responsible for health and safety might be for the firing squad themselves.

The Abduction from the Seraglio

Posted in Opera with tags , , , on February 14, 2010 by telescoper

It’s been an unusually long time since I last went to the Opera, but now the spring season of Welsh National Opera has finally arrived I couldn’t resist the chance last night to see their brand new and wonderfully entertaining production of The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart. It was also nice to be accompanied on this occasion by fellow astrologists Ed and Haley, who I hope enjoyed the show as much as I did.

I was particularly glad to see this on the schedule for this season because it’s an Opera I haven’t seen staged before and didn’t know very much about. Mozart composed the music for  it in 1781, when he was at the ripe old age of 25 , to a libretto in German and with the title Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The WNO production is sung in the original language, which is the way I like it.

Like  The Magic Flute, which Mozart wrote about a decade later, The Abduction is a singspiel rather than an opera, in that the recitative is spoken rather than sung. The music is not through-composed as you find in a true opera, but a series of set-piece arias, duets, trios and quartets. Still, Mozart was pretty good at those. It’s also, in case you hadn’t realised, like the Magic Flute, a comedy which Mozart was also pretty good at!

The plot, such as it is, concerns the hero Belmonte’s search for his beloved Konstanze, her servant Blonde and his own servant Pedrillo, who have been captured by the Turk Pasha Selim who hopes to persuade Konstanze to join the harem inside his Seraglio. The Pasha’s heavy, Osmin, acts as bouncer, keeping Belmonte from getting into the place and releasing the captives but eventually, Pedrillo tricks Osmin into drinking some drugged wine; while he’s asleep the lovers are re-united. However, the attempt by Belmonte and Pedrillo to help  Konstanze and Blonde escape is botched and they are captured by Pasha Selim and his guards. Contrary to all expectations, however, the Pasha doesn’t take his revenge, but allows them to leave. Osmin flies into a rage and suffers some sort of splenetic seizure. The Opera ends with the others celebrating their freedom, while Pasha Selim consoles himself with his other wives and a hookah.

It’s admittedly a bit thin, even by the standards of comic opera but, right from the fabulous overture, the music is lovely and there’s a great deal of good-humoured fun, especially during the Pasha’s attempt to shower Konstanze with gifts of jewelry, frocks and shoes, in Act 2, and the abduction itself, in Act 3, which is bungled in appropriately hilarious fashion.

Belmonte was played by Robin Tritschler, who has a tenor voice of exceptional clarity and beauty and who invested his role with an engaging wide-eyed innocence. Petros Magoulas played the psychopathic Osmin for laughs and provided the performance with some of its funniest moments. Pedrillo was played by local boy Wynne Evans and Blonde was Claire Ormshaw; both were excellent, musically and comedically. Pasha Selim was also very well played by Simon Thorpe. The Pasha has to appear a bit frightening early on, so that his later magnanimity comes as a surprise; this he did very well. The only weak point I felt was Lisette Oropesa as the heroine Konstanze. She didn’t sing at all well in Act I, perhaps owing to first-night nerves,  but seemed to settle down by Act 2 where she coped with the coloratura a lot better. Her acting, however, was extremely disappointing and, at times, downright embarassing. It wasn’t enough to spoil the production – at least not for me – but it was a shame, as a really good night could have been a truly superb one.

Finally I should mention that all the action is set on the Orient Express, circa 1920, with costumes and props of that period too. The scenery is cleverly designed so that it can be slid to and fro along the stage to reveal cabins either side of the main saloon at its centre. The whole thing looks wonderful and the mobile set also provided comic moments of its own, especially during the abduction scene when Pedrillo is accidentally left clinging to the outside of the train.

I was left wondering to some extent why this Opera isn’t better known. It’s probably because it  doesn’t have the subtlety of the famous da Ponte comedies, but the music is gorgeous especially in the passages for multiple voices, such as the quartet in Act II. In other passages the music  sounds a bit like a parts of the Magic Flute. In many ways I think you can see this piece as Mozart on his way to perfecting the style he would achieve in these works. It’s pretty good, but perhaps doomed to lie in the shadow of his later masterpieces.

All in all, a great night out. There’s only one other performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Cardiff (next Saturday, 20th February) and then it goes on the road. I’m not sure there are any tickets remaining for next week:  if there are, it’s well worth seeing but if not then all is not lost – it’s likely this will be in the WNO repertoire for some time to come.