Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

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):