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Posts Tagged ‘Fflur Wyn’

Principally Flawed

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Wagner on July 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

Review – Siegfried (Opera North, The Lowry, Saturday 6 July 2013)

Siegfried – Mati Turi
Mime – Richard Roberts
Wanderer – Michael Druiett
Alberich – Jo Pohlheim
Fafner – Mats Almgren
Woodbird – Fflur Wyn
Erda – Ceri Williams
Brünnhilde – Annalena Persson

Vocal Consultants – Dame Anne Evans & Sir John Tomlinson

Staging & Design Concept – Peter Mumford

Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor – Richard Farnes

While Opera North’s Siegfried was an improvement on last year’s Die Walküre, it still remained far from a totally convincing performance on the whole.

It seems that the main impediment remains casting and like last year the strongest performances came from the singers in the smaller roles.

Jo Pohlheim’s performance as Alberich towered above the other male singers in the cast. His wonderfully dark, resonant base rose effortlessly above the orchestra and with diction was clear and precise making his characterisation of Alberich sharply etched. His repertoire includes both Wotan himself and Wozzeck and I would image that these would both be performances worth booking tickets for. Personally though, I didn’t get the gloves.

Fflur Wyn – who I admired in Opera North’s production of La Clemenza di Tito – continued to impress. She has a warm yet bright soprano with a vocal agility that made the role seemingly effortless as she glided through the Woodbird’s music. It’s a tricky role and perhaps Farnes could have given her a little more ebb and flow but it didn’t faze her at all. Definitely Ms Wyn is someone to keep and a look out for. Similarly Ceri Williams’ dusky and rich voice was perfectly suited to Erda and proved more than a match vocally for Wotan in the Third Act.

Problems with both intonation and diction marred what was otherwise a strong performance of Fafner from Mats Algrem who was of suitably pitch-black tone. Admittedly Fafner in Siegfried is a rather thankless role in Siegfried and I would like to hear either his Hunding or Hagen.

After Michael Druiett’s fine performance in Das Rheingold his Wanderer was disappointing. At the time I wondered if he had the heft for ‘later’ Wotan and sadly it proved he did not. A rather two-dimensional characterisation was not helped by a lack of both colour and depth in his singing on this occasion and more than once he was out-gunned by the orchestra despite Farnes’ sensitivity to an extent not suffered by the rest of the ensemble. Indeed at times the lower end of his range seemed to disappear altogether. Most tellingly, his confrontation with his nemesis Alberich left me wanting not so much a role reversal but two Alberich’s and no Wotan. His subsequent confrontation with his ‘grandson’ in the Third Act was only slightly alleviated by a slightly weaker than expected performance by Siegfried at that precise moment. Perhaps for the full cycle Opera North might consider casting Jo Pohlheim for the full cycle?

Similarly the reason for casting Annalena Persson as Brünnhilde continues to elude me completely. Even in this somewhat limited appearance, Persson was uneven in tone and distractingly shrill – almost squally – in her upper range. It seemed that she had forsake vocal accuracy for individual top notes that were less gleaming that brittle. Fortunately she is not cast in Opera North’s Götterdämmerung and having now seen two of her three Brünnhildes a year apart doesn’t fill me with confidence that this is a she should continue to sing.

And so to the two main protagonists.

I admired Richard Roberts’ original Mime in Das Rheingold. At the time I said it was no cipher yet in Siegfried while there were moments when that Mime re-appeared – for example just before his demise – for the most part it seemed to be missing for large parts of his performance. Vocally there wasn’t quite enough characterisation or colour and while his diction was good, he didn’t seem to revel in the particular German than Wagner scribed for this character much in the way that he wrote for Alberich.

And clearly Mati Turi has it in him to be a great Siegfried. One day. He received good notices for his performance at Longborough and there is no doubt that on the whole his Siegfried for Opera North was strong. However for me there was a question about his pacing of the role. Giving his all in the First Act, where his singing was full and round with beautiful phrasing and dynamic control, three quarters through the Second Act it did seem that his voice was tiring. And while the longer interval between the second and third Acts would have helped, his first entry in the final Act – his confrontation with Wotan – sounded for the most part snatched, almost as if he was deliberately saving himself for the closing scenes. And perhaps he was, because there was clearly a greater shine to his voice for most of his scene with Brünnhilde. Overall while his voice is clear and pretty even throughout its range, I did wont for a bit more light and shade and a more finely tuned interpretation of the role. All this I am sure is not far off and it’s a shame that he will not be singing Siegfried in next year’s Götterdämmerung.

Stage-wise, Peter Mumford continued with his smart – if now somewhat predictable – design concept. Seen a year apart they remain effective without being distracting, but I do wonder how quickly they will go from effective and non-distracting to tedious end-to-end when the complete cycle is performed over a single week or so.

But finally plaudits must go to Farnes and the Orchestra of Opera North. Farnes – bar a small slip in momentum during the initial meeting of the young lovers – had got to grip with the sweep and overall architecture of Siegfried. Tempos were well judged throughout and he pulled out the orchestral detail and allowed the leitmotivs to shine through without too much over emphasis. And this attention to detail resulted in some luminous playing from the orchestra and bar a single moment already mentioned, he was sensitive accompanist to the singers. And special mention must go to the Robert Ashworth for his exemplary solo in the Second Act, but throughout the ensemble playing was of the highest standard from start to finish. For example, the way Farnes singled out the harp line in the first act, and thebeautifully placed wind and brass chords just before Brünnhilde’s awakening.

Ultimately however this Siegfried continued to demonstrate similar fault lines – although not as deep – as last year’s Die Walküre. While Farnes’ grip of the third opera in the cycle was impressive, casting the principle roles remains Opera North’s biggest challenge. With Alwyn Mellor as their final Brünnhilde and Daniel Brenna perhaps they might have cracked it.

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
Servilia
 – Fflur Wyn
Sesto – 
Helen Lepalaan
Annio – 
Kathryn Rudge
Publio – 
Henry Waddington

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

Orchestra & Chorus Opera North
Conductor
 – 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.

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