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Posts Tagged ‘Kathryn Rudge’

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.

Cleopatra Comin’ At Ya

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on March 2, 2012 at 12:09 am

Review – Giulio Cesare, Opera North, The Lowry (March 1 2012)

Giulio Cesare – Pamela Helen Stephen
Cleopatra -
Sarah Tynan
Cornelia
- Ann Taylor
Sesto
- Kathryn Rudge
Tolomeo
- James Laing
Nireno
- Andrew Radley
Achilla
- Jonathan Best
Curio
 – Dean – Robinson

Director
 – Tim Albery
Set & Costume Designer
 – Leslie Travers
Lighting Designer
- Thomas Hase

Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor – Robert Howarth

Opera North’s flat-pack Egypt and abridged version of Handel’s Giulio Cesare once again demonstrated the Company’s sense of ambition yet failure to follow through.

The one exception was Sarah Tynan. I first heard her as Iphis in English National Opera’s moving production of Jephtha where she was coincidentally a Young Singer alongside the wonderful Elizabeth Watts and Lee Bissett. Since then I have seen her at the London Coliseum in Don Giovanni, Xerxes, The Mikado, Ariodante and Der Rosenkavalier but more recently in a disappointing performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony under Lorin Maazel.

As Opera North’s Cleopatra she dominated the stage with her both her top-notch singing and credible acting. Granted by the end of the evening she was exhibiting signs of tiredness and more than once she was out of time with the players in the pit, but overall it was a strong and well-rounded performance. Occasionally there was a shrillness in her upper register and some of her coloratura was less than secure but her technique and musicianship continues to develop with every production. I believe that given a few more years she will become a soprano of some note, particularly in Handel.

But if she was an almost ideal Egyptian Queen, Pamela Helen Stephen’s Cesare was more cipher than hero. Of course it’s difficult not to make the comparison with Sarah Connolly but even when that is put to one side, Stephen’s performance was lacklustre. She didn’t have the vocal projection or strength of technique needed for what is some of Handel’s greatest music. For example she was simply deluged in Va tacito e nascosto and despite some beautiful moments in Aure, Deh Per Pietà hers was not a robust generalissimo.

Kathryn Rudge’s Sesto was a pleasant discovery. Her warm and flexible timbre successfully negotiated most of the character’s music and indeed Cara speme, questo core was one of the highlights of the evening. It’s interesting to see that she has just joined ENO’s Young Singers programme. Clearly John Berry et al are good at identifying and developing promising singers.

Countertenor James Laing was a convincing Tolomeo with a promising voice. He skillfully handled most of the tricky coloratura and what he lacked in experience and overall technique he made up for with some skillful acting. However he did show a frustrating inability to articulate all his words. Hopefully something that greater experience will eradicarte.

Of the rest of the cast Ann Taylor’s rich mezzo was far from ideal for the role of Cornelia. I can imagine her soaring to great heights in the role of Opera North’s Cio-Cio San but the delicacy and pin-point accuracy so necessary for Handel eluded her.

And the only reason I can fathom for giving prominence to Jonathan Best Achilla was to provide a vocal counterpoint to the sopranos – female and male – and mezzos voices. However his strong bass made up for the lack of musical interest in his arias.

The set and lighting were simple and considering it had been designed for touring, pretty effective with just the right hint of ancient Egypt, although I am not so sure about the golden extended fingers. To me those were more chinoiserie than symbolic of the Nile civilization. But I could be wrong.

The biggest disappointment however was in the pit. The orchestra – sounding dull and muted and not because of the smaller string section – struggled at times with intonation and by the end of the evening the strings were noticeably awry. But it was Robert Howarth’s lacklustre conducting that was most frustrating. Not only was there a lack of true style or inteprettion, but with no real sense of momentum or bite I had to wonder if the below par performances on stage were not a little due to the direction from the pit.

So after two evenings spent in the company of Opera North I have to admit that while I was impressed with their sense of ambition I was left with a real sense that they had missed the creative mark.

But that isn’t putting me off. Their Das Rheingold demonstrates that this is a company with high standards in terms of music and performance. While they might not have quite reach the standard of their Wagner under the brilliant Richard Farnes, with Die Walküre later this year I am confident that the last two nights can simply be put down to over-ambition.

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