Tag Archives: opera review

Glitz and Clamour


Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 19th June, 2014


Verdi’s retelling of the story of Biblical king Nebuchadnezzar is given a pared-down treatment by WNO – in terms of staging; they don’t stint on the music. For the first act, the stage is bare and the company wear present-day clothes. It is as if we are watching the last run-through before the dress. This makes it difficult to differentiate between the Hebrews and the Babylonians but it does allow the score and the singing to hog the limelight. And such beautiful singing it is too, with a clutch of impressive soloists and a chorus that is nothing short of heavenly, Verdi’s music hits you like a wall of sound.

Kevin Short’s warm bass sets the ball rolling as high priest Zaccaria, and Robyn Lyn Evans’s plaintive tenor voice rounds out his Ismaele, despite him being dressed like a nerd, although at times he is a little drowned out in the ensemble singing. Baritone David Kempster’s Nabucco looks a bit like Bill Bailey as Gadaafi before his Lear-like descent into distraction and dishevelment while his evil daughter takes his throne. Kempster portrays Nabucco’s contrasting scenes excellently – there is top-drawer acting in this production to match the quality of the singing.

After the interval, Ben Baur’s set design really comes into play, with glitzy gold curtains and an illuminated dais that goes up and down as Nabucco proclaims his apotheosis. Director Rudolf Frey is more playful in this longer second half, but the evening belongs to soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams as the villainous Abigaille, who brings a good deal of humour to this melodramatic role.  One aria is delivered like a Las Vegas showgirl number, with men in balaclavas wielding ostrich feathers around Miss Williams in an unexpected moment of high camp.

Unsurprisingly the Hebrew slaves’ chorus, Va Pensiero, is the highlight – the number we’re all waiting for, and the superb WNO chorus do not disappoint.

It’s a Nabucco you warm to, as you grow accustomed to the staging and the outbreaks of hand-jive choreography (like directing traffic crossed with big-fish-little-fish push pineapple, shake the tree) – Personally I’d prefer a little more Cecil B DeMille and a little less TK Maxx.


Give ’em some unexpected razzle-dazzle. Mary Elizabeth Wiliams as Abigaille.


Poor but happy (and then sad and then dead)


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 11th November, 2013

Force of nature Ellen Kent brings her production of Puccini’s romantic love story to Wolverhampton (and around the country) in this lavish version that contains a cast of superb singers, hand-picked from all over Europe.

As poet Rodolfo, Sorin Lupu delights with his tenor as clear as a brass bell.  He is more than matched by a delicately beautiful Mimi – Elena Dee is remarkable.  Of course it’s a paradox of the role that the frail young thing dying of consumption is able to belt out with such power, but that’s opera for you.

Rodolfo’s buddies are a fine ensemble.  Their comic playing in the opening act (in which my Italian was stretched beyond its limit due to a glitch with the surtitles) is actually amusing.  This lot are poor but by God they are also happy.

The second act with its aimlessly milling crowd is a bit twee, as the chorus nod and smile to each other and do little else.  More could be made of Parpignol the toymaker’s brief appearance.  He is included to represent something beyond the picturesque.  Director Ellen Kent needs to decide what that is.  That said, the main players continue to be superb, with the addition of Ecaterina Danu’s Musetta, pretty in pink and having all the best tunes.  There is love, life, death, and even snow.  Although you might know what’s coming (you don’t need to be psychic to guess) it’s a moving finale, dramatically presented by a strong cast.

Above all, Puccini’s score is the star and here it is very well served by the singers and conductor Nicolae Dohotaru.   Delightful on the ear and pleasant on the eye, this Boheme reminds us there is humanity in even the lowliest, most impoverished people – something that certain sectors of our society need to realise.