Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Penny Merriments: Street Songs of 17th Century England
22 Sep 2005

Penny Merriments: Street Songs of 17th Century England

In 1728 John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera was produced in London as a sardonic response to the ongoing craze for Italian opera seria.

Penny Merriments: Street Songs of 17th Century England

Lucie Skeaping, soprano; Douglas Wootton, tenor; Richard Wistreich, Bass-baritone; The City Waites

Naxos 8.557672 [CD]

 

The Beggar’s Opera consisted of an original book and lyrics, with music taken from a wide variety of sources, everything from the actual operas of Handel to the popular broadside ballads that were sung between the acts of serious plays at the theatre, or in coffee houses or on the streets. It is these broadside ballads that are presented on this recording, and if the increased popularity of opera seria during the past few decades has left some opera-lovers surfeited with its motifs and conventions, they might find a suitable tonic on this disc.

This is not to say that royalty, great battles, mad lovers, and even women dressed as men are not to be found here. Shall we just say that they are viewed from a different angle. The program begins with “The Courtiers Health, or The Merry Boys of the Times,” which celebrates the restoration of Charles II to the British throne as a grand justification for drinking. We see William and Mary through the eyes of a country bumpkin who stretches his resources to go to London for the coronation. And Queen Elizabeth makes an appearance in “An Old Song on the Spanish Armada,” which describes the defeat of the Spanish fleet in 1588. While this song describes a historic event, it was also quite customary for ballads to present news reports and commentary on current events, as is done in “London Mourning in Ashes”, which presents eyewitness accounts of the London fire of 1688 and warns the citizens to mend their sinful ways or face an even worse disaster in the future. Another ballad that is apparently based upon an actual event is “The Female Captain, or The Counterfeit Bridegroom”, in which a woman who needs money dresses as a man and successfully courts and marries an heiress. The song describes with relish how the Counterfeit Bridegroom manages to keep the bride satisfied for a month, until “his” true identity is revealed. Not all the songs are comical or topical; “Grim King of the Ghosts” sets a text in which a jilted lover tortures himself with thoughts of his lover in the arms of another and appeals to the dark forces to take him away from the world.

The haunting tune used in “Grim King of the Ghosts” was used in a number of ballad operas, including The Beggar’s Opera. Other familiar tunes appear on the program, including “Greensleeves”, to which is set a text bemoaning the “good old days” of England, and “Liliburlero”, to which is set “Good Advice to Batchelors, How to Court and Obtain a Young Lass”, advice that is decidedly insensitive to the feminist question “what part of no don’t you understand?” In fact, sensitivity could hardly have been what the ballads’ audiences were seeking, as other songs lampoon country bumpkins, Quakers, and all sorts of sexual follies, shortcomings, and misadventures.

In keeping with the variety of venues in which these songs might have been heard in the seventeenth century, the arrangements vary from a cappella, as might have been heard on the street, to accompaniments by one or more period instruments. One of the most imaginative of these arrangements combines a ballad about two members of a band who create trouble when they choose to “play the game of Uptails All” with an instrumental presentation of a tune entitled “Uptails All.” The instrumental palette on the disc includes such instruments as lute, recorder, fiddle, and bagpipes (mercifully not all at once). The voices of the singers, Lucie Skeaping, Douglas Wootton, and Richard Wistreich, are, of course, not operatic, but I personally find them quite pleasant to listen to, as they present the stories and characters with great energy and flair. To my American ears they handle the various dialects convincingly and humorously. It is the combination of the dialects and the sometimes outmoded language that will probably send all but the most specialized listeners to seek the texts. These, in order to keep the disc in the budget category, are not included in the notes distributed with the CD, but can be accessed online at www.naxos.com/libretti/pennymerriments.htm.

Barbara Miller

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):