Posts Tagged ‘Annemarie Kremer’

An Inclement Clemenza

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on March 16, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Review – La Clemenza di Tito (Opera North at The Lowry, Thursday 14 March 2013)

Tito -
 Paul Nilon
Vitellia -
Annemarie Kremer
 – Fflur Wyn
Sesto – 
Helen Lepalaan
Annio – 
Kathryn Rudge
Publio – 
Henry Waddington

- John Fulljames
Movement Director – 
Tim Claydon
Set and Costume Designer 
- Conor Murphy
Lighting Designer 
- Bruno Poet
Projection Designer 
- Finn Ross

Orchestra & Chorus Opera North
 – Douglas Boyd

Almost but not quite.

Perhaps a motto that Opera North could adopt more often than not based on some of their most recent productions and sadly also true of their new production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.

This is often Mozart’s most misjudged opera when in fact it contains music of great depth and emotional intensity and a dramatic sweep that blows cobwebs off what was by then a dying art form. As well as the arias it contains some beautifully crafted duets as well as – in my view – one of Mozart’s most dramatically written trios and act closers.

While Opera North’s production came close so many times, it never seemed to quite get into its stride either musically or dramatically.

The main surprises of the evening were the magnificent Annio of Kathryn Rudge and the promising Servilia of Fflur Wyn. Ms Rudge displayed a full-bodied, warm soprano and some impeccable singing even if at times she didn’t quite seem to have the breath for some of Mozart’s longer phrases. However her arias – and in particular her arias Torna a Tito a lato and Tu Fosti tradito – were beautifully and stylishly sung and the duet with the bright voiced Fflur Wyn was beautifully and sympathetically blended. And the poignancy of Ms Wyn’s S’altro che lagrime was touching. I see that Kathryn Rudge is soon to perform a lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall and if there was any a reason to take a longer break – or to put a fictitious meeting in the diary – hearing her sing again is very tempting.

Henry Waddington’s Publio was also well executed. He sung with confidence and authority and was particularly fine in the ensembles.

Sadly the rest of the cast – the principles – fared less well. Paul Nilon was an incredible Tito in McVicar’s production for ENO but in this production the role always sounded slightly beyond his grasp. But what he lacked in terms of vocal flexibility and colour he made for in terms of dramatic delivery even if reaching for the higher notes seemed more of a physical effort than seemed comfortable.

However both the Vitellia of Annemarie Kremer and Helen Lepalaan’s Sesto were strangely underpowered both vocally and dramatically. Clearly they sung all the notes although Ms Kremer seemed to spend most of the evening either distractingly ahead of or behind the beat but having seen her as Norma and not being convinced I was not totally convinced by her Empress-in-Waiting. Vocally she seemed uncomfortable and stretched, her coloratura often laboured or messy and sometimes both. She also had a distracting dramatic tic of raising her hand to the side of her face almost as if she was attempting to block out the other singers. Non piu di fiori was the closest she came to realizing the dramatic nature of the role but this was marred by Fulljames suddenly decision to ratchet up – for no clear reason – the violence. Similarly Helen Lepalaan never really got into the meat of her character. Vocally bland throughout even the majesty of the closing scenes of the First act and the magnificence of Deh per queste istante solo failed to rouse her from her sleepy performance.

Douglas Boyd conducted the orchestra with confidence and spirit even if the somewhat hurried tempi at time made the players scramble and crash through the notes and the recitatives seemed incredibly leaden.

The production – John Fulljames’ first for Opera North – was focused around a rotating glass wall and computer-generated graphics that seemed to place the drama in and around a corporate boardroom or a future inspired by Kurt Wimmer’s film Equilibrium. Personally I found it an effective compromise between a more traditional approach and the war-zone-cum-bombed-out-building that more often than not seems to be standard fashion for modern productions. Granted it does need some tightening up and could do without the projection of Tito’s face on the back wall. The end of the First Act for example could perhaps do with less or no confetti and Vitellia’s sudden and bloody mental collapse seemed over dramatic. And it’s a shame – although perhaps this was simple a space issue with the Lowry stage – that the chorus were relegated to the pit.

So while the production was not the most disappointing I have seen from Opera North it could do with a rethink. With the right attention to casting and some – but not much – tightening of the narrative, this production could more justly do honour to Mozart’s opera seria swansong.

Putting the “No” in Norma

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on March 1, 2012 at 12:18 am

Review – Norma, Opera North, The Lowry (February 29 2012)

Norma – Annemarie Kremer
Adalgisa – Keri Alkema
Pollione – Luis Chapa
Oroveso – James Creswell
Clothilde – Gweneth-Ann Jeffers
Flavio – Daniel Norman

Director – Christopher Alden
Set Designer – Charles Edwards
Costume Designer – Sue Willmington
Lighting Designer – Adam Silverman

Orchestra & Chorus, Opera North
Conductor – Oliver von Dohnányi

Opera North’s production of Bellini’s Norma is proof that you can’t always get it right and never enter the theatre with preconceptions. After their magnificent production of Das Rheingold last season as well as their previous Maria Stuarda, I had high expectations that an evening of bel canto awaited.

Sadly I was disappointed almost from the beginning. At this point it should be noted that Norma is – and not for reasons of previous performers and productions – a notoriously difficult opera to get right. It’s deceivingly simple and no company takes on the challenges it presents lightly.

And I have to say that there was no evidence that Opera North had done anything but take this venture seriously.

But it simply did not work. Admittedly there were some moments of beauty and drama but they were in bold relief in an evening that lacked that spark that makes you sit up in your seat and lean forward.

Annemarie Kremer as Norma had an ‘almost-but-not-quite’ quality to her performance with an unusual but not attractive timbre to her voice. However this was a role too far as it overstretched her capabilities leading to both problems with both intonation and accuracy. Having said that on more than a few occasions she produced a beautiful sound which quite dominated the unfold drama. It’s interesting to note that this is the only bel canto role listed in her biography and it has to be said that consistently she struggled with the Bellini’s vocal lines. I would like to see her in other roles but think that the art of great bel canto singing will always elude her.

Adalgisa was strongly performed by Keri Alkema. Her rich soprano contrasted strongly with Kremer’s and in some ways hers was a more successful performance. However again the role was slightly ambitious and there were problems with both accuracy and intonation. However to has to be said that the opening of Act II was remarkable and raised the bar significantly – Kremer and Alkema creating that remarkable stage chemistry that had been missing in the first half. Sadly it didn’t last.

Bellini and his bel canto counterparts created some of the greatest – and most difficult – roles for tenors. Indeed productions of their operas can rise and fall on the quality and skill of the tenors in the cast.

Sadly, the tenor in this production failed. From the very beginning Luis Chapa struggled – his intonation was consistently erratic and he had neither the tessitura nor the flexibility let alone the stamina for the role. Again looking at the repertoire listed in his biography there as no evidence that bel canto was an area of expertise or experience. In fact his presence on stage almost became a distraction.

But there was a silver lining. The Clothilde of Gweneth-Ann Jeffers was remarkable and show-stopping in spite of the small role. Hers was warm rich mezzo that dominated the scenes she was in. I missed her at Opera Holland Park last year and now regret it. I will definitely be watching out for her future performances.

And the Oroveso of James Creswell was similarly noteworthy. A resonant bass (or is baritone) which a controlled and beautifully fluid voice. Again someone to keep an eye out for.

So what of the production itself. I have long admired the Alden Brothers and in particular Christopher Alden’s The Makropulos Case and Partentope for English National Opera. He has never really gone for the traditional approach and this one was certainly one that got me thinking.

It was kind of Appalachian-Spring-Meets-Little-House-On-The-Prairie-Meets-Shaker-Loops. I wasn’t convinced that it worked in Norma (particularly with the very precise subtitles) but what Alden did – and does so well – was bring to life the sense of isolation between the main protagonists and the society that they live in through some very clear direction of the principals and the chorus. It’s just a shame that the Lowry audience thought some moments were funny rather than dramatic.

The only disappointment? The non-existent pyre at the end. For some reason, in the style of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, I expected Norma and Pollione to Be crushed by the rather phallic tree trunk that dominated the set.

And finally to Oliver von Dohnányi and the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North. Truth be told the chorus seemed rather ragged at times but compensated with the wonderful sound that they produced. The orchestra didn’t have the burnished tone that I remember from Das Rheingold and von Dohnányi didn’t seem to drive the music forward.

But contrary to what you might think, it was an interesting evening. It made me sit and listen almost with greater discipline. It makes me hopeful that Giulio Cesare tomorrow night will dispel any sense of disappointment.

But I am going to try very hard not to get excited in advance as tonight reminded me that even Opera North is mortal.


Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

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