Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

28 Jun 2005

HENZE: L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe

Henze’s magical opera L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (L’Upupa or the Triumph of Filial Love) bears the subtitle, “a German comedy in eleven tableaux based on the Arabic.” The “Arabic” here refers to a traditional dream-tale from Syria, around which Henze crafted his libretto (his first such effort as a librettist). Like dreams, which condense from memory several images (of people, objects, actions) that share underlying characteristics into single composite dream figures, L’Upupa condenses many stories and characters into its over determined images. Far from pastiche, however, Henze’s condensations cohere in a compelling tale.

Hans Werner Henze: L'Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe
Alfred Muff, Matthias Goerne, Laura Aikin, John Mark Ainsley
Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Staatsopern Chor, Markus Stenz (cond.)
EuroArts 2053929 [DVD]

Henze's magical opera L'Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (L'Upupa or the Triumph of Filial Love) bears the subtitle, "a German comedy in eleven tableaux based on the Arabic." The "Arabic" here refers to a traditional dream-tale from Syria, around which Henze crafted his libretto (his first such effort as a librettist). Like dreams, which condense from memory several images (of people, objects, actions) that share underlying characteristics into single composite dream figures, L'Upupa condenses many stories and characters into its over determined images. Far from pastiche, however, Henze's condensations cohere in a compelling tale.

The most overt remembered images hearken back to Mozart. With an Arabian setting, a combination of sung and spoken text, and a story of young lovers overcoming trials to be worthy of their union, L'Upupa reads like Die Zauberflöte alla Turca, a fitting tribute for a work commissioned by the Salzburg Festival. In short, Kasim (Tamino), traveling with a friendly Demon (a winged Papageno-like companion), encounters the lecherous ruler Malik (Monostatos?), and then rescues Badi'at (Pamina) from Dijab (a thinly disguised Sarastro).

A series of world premier performances of L'Upupa, given at the Salzburg Kleines Festpielhaus in August of 2003, have been expertly compiled and recorded on a DVD, directed by Brian Large. In this recording, an Old Man (sung by Alfred Muff) introduces the tale in a monologue that is perhaps a bit too lengthy. He recounts how the beautiful hoopoe bird (L'Upupa) had visited his window every day until he attempted to catch it, where upon it attacked him and flew away. He outlines a plan to send his three sons after the bird, but knowing his oldest to be a liar and his second son to be untrustworthy, the old man places his faith in the youngest who will no doubt persevere through the trials and bring back the golden hoopoe. Commissioning the trio of sons in this way brings to mind the parable of the talents, one of a number of biblical resonances in the opera; and the trio itself, with the youngest being the dearest, evokes other Ur-stories from Cinderella to King Lear.

The two older brothers (sung by Axel Köler and Anton Scharinger) comically mark out polarized registers, often articulating in the same rhythms their nefarious schemes: firstly, to escape the trials by leaving the dirty work to their younger brother, and later to do him harm and take credit for finding the treasured bird. Kasim, the youngest (skillfully sung by Matthias Goerne) leaves his older brothers behind in his search for the bird. Along his journey he encounters the Demon, a fallen angel (sung tenderly and sensitively by John Mark Ainsley), who becomes his traveling companion. The Demon, the least stereotyped character, develops a complex relationship with Kasim that proves to be the most interesting one in the opera.

Part II introduces Badi'at, (sprightly sung by Laura Aikin) the beautiful imprisoned Jewish girl, a welcome female presence in a cast dominated by men (with the exception of Malik, a trouser role expertly sung by Hanna Schwarz). Aside from her conspicuous identity as a Jewish girl in an Arabic tale, Badi'at is an uncomplicatedly one-dimensional character. With sweet naiveté, she immediately falls in love with Kasim, and their duet, "How beautiful she is ... how beautiful you are," intones the most lovely and lyrical music of the opera. An awkwardly adolescent coupling ensues and Dijab (sung authoritatively by Günter Missenhardt) has them captured and bound together back to back (with masking tape!). Badi'at skillfully pleads their case, managing to sing with grace while struggling in her unwieldy position. Eventually Dijab sympathizes with the couple and frees them, and they make their way back to where the older brothers wait, still idly playing poker. The brothers, in a move that resonates with another biblical story, (this one involving Joseph, a pit, and a stained cloak) trick Kasim into climbing down a well for water and then they throw the rope in after him. The ever-self-sacrificing Badi'at jumps in after her love. Again, director Dieter Dorn creates a visual spectacle in which the couple expertly executes the difficult task of singing while hanging awkwardly from the well wall. Luckily the Demon returns and rescues them and accompanies them back to the Great Gate. Another moment of exquisite lyricism marks the Demon's sentimental departure. His "Dear Kasim, my old friend ..." packs the kind of epic, deeply felt emotion that one listens for in opera. Kasim promises to bring the Demon a red apple (again ripe with symbolism) from the tree of life in his homeland in return for his kindness. Once reunited with his father, Kasim postpones his marriage and leaves to fulfill this obligation to his friend. The opera ends with the Old Man and Badi'at watching Kasim depart to the strains of an instrumental epilogue.

With all of these dream-like condensations, one might expect more overt references to other music, but Henze's atonal process resists quotation. There are, however, notable allusions, two of which I include here. When Kasim visits the Kingdom of Pate, the garden flower chorus sings a song of "bitter sorrow" with madrigalism worthy of Monteverdi. Later, when the couple is trapped in the well (an overtly biblical reference) an unexpected pipe organ solo pierces the instrumental color, underscoring the religious milieu. In general, Henze's music expresses the restrained economy of a chamber opera, and yet he makes use of a wide range of colors from piano to pipe organ, percussion to prerecorded bird sounds. At any given moment, though, the texture is characterized by sparkling clarity and filled with active gestures. The only musical disappointment comes at the end of Part I, when a well-earned surging climax is cut off too soon and left to fade away.

Interludes between the eleven tableaux articulate short bursts of scene-change music, while the camera focuses on identically placed side shots of the conductor, Markus Stenz, and a portion of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Although a typical visual solution for scene-change music, the sight of tuxedoed musicians interrupts the fable's diegesis. Still, these disruptions frame the scenes in a way that highlights the tableau structure.

Other oddities of the tale act as dream-like non-sequiturs. Improbable words like "napalm," "pneumatic drills" and "nudists," along with unusual props like Polaroid photos in a setting otherwise free of modern technology, stick out of the fairy tale drama. Even with these disruptions, this production is truly as enjoyable to watch as it is to hear. Colorful and delightful staging is one of this production's strengths. The repeated curves of the bell tower, raked stage, well, and flower prison lend a welcome continuity. When flying with Kasim on his back, the Demon unfolds massive wings that fill the stage in a truly dramatic fashion. The pair of winged images — hoopoe bird and fallen angel — helps us compare the two, and we realize that it is Kasim, not the father, who has won the better prize.

This opera production is pleasurable on all levels. Vivid images of imaginative scenes fill the stage, complemented by clever action, lighting, and costuming. Skillful singing and acting, supported by colorful music, advance the story with beauty and grace. Neither deep nor grand, the tale has a resonant quality that enhances its economy. The condensations from literature, scripture, and other music lend a thoughtful nature to the fable, encouraging us to revalue the three kinds of true love presented: filial, friendly, and passionate. I found this opera both enchanting and sensitively executed.

Shersten Johnson, Ph.D.
University of St. Thomas

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):