Recently in Reviews
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
18 Oct 2005
You may never have heard of Lennox Berkeley. But his music was admired by many of the most notable composers of the mid-20th century—Britten and Poulenc were close personal friends, and he has a dedicated band of admirers today (there is a Lennox Berkeley Society). Yet, for one reason or another, Berkeley has never become a household name.
The composer wrote music in a broad range of genres, including four operas, only one of which—his 1954 opera Nelson—is a full length work. Ruth, his third, was commissioned by Britten’s English Opera Group after their successful premiere of his second opera, the comedic A Dinner Engagement. The libretto was provided by Britten collaborator Eric Crozier, and the role of Boaz was sung by Peter Pears.
Ruth premiered in October 1956, paired with seventeenth-century composer John Blow’s Venus and Adonis. Like all works performed by the English Opera Group, Ruth was scored for very small forces—two flutes, horn, piano, timpani, and eleven string players.
Berkeley was a lifelong Christian, converting to Catholicism in 1929, and his opera Ruth is clearly a statement of faith. The story, for the most part, sticks to the biblical narrative which tells how the Israelite woman Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law return to Bethlehem after the deaths of Naomi’s Moabite husband, and her two sons. Crozier and Berkeley make a point of the fact that Moab was an enemy of Israel, and thus Ruth is treated as a feared outsider by the Israelites.
The 78-minute opera is divided into three scenes. In the first, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are nearing Bethlehem. Naomi is anxious about how she will be received, and urges her two daughters-in-law to return to the homes of their mothers. Orpah eventually obeys, but Ruth insists that she will stay with Naomi, singing an aria which enlarges on the famous biblical text:
Whither thou goest, I will go.
Where thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Where thou diest, I will die
and there I will be buried...
Thy people shall be my people,
and thy God my God!
Naomi and Ruth are destitute, and in the second scene Ruth tries to follow an Israelite custom which allows poor women to glean in the barley fields following the harvesters. But in Berkeley’s telling, the Israelites cruelly attempt to exclude Ruth as an enemy and a witch. The field’s owner, Boaz, intervenes, and scolds the harvesters for their inhospitality. Ruth is gracious, and urges Boaz not to judge his people harshly, as they merely “hate what they cannot understand”.
In the final scene, Naomi urges Ruth offer herself as a wife to Boaz, though the colorful biblical episode of Ruth lying down at the Boaz’s feet while he sleeps is absent. Boaz is surprised, but acquiesces. He presents his new wife to the people, and everyone rejoices, predicting that Ruth’s womb shall “bring forth kings” (Ruth was the foremother of both David and Jesus), and praising God.
Ruth is probably not an opera for those who define the form through their love of the warhorses that appear at their local opera house. This isn’t Tosca or Tristan. The music is not easy to describe. It is emotionally cool, reminiscent of Stravinsky and Britten, yet it is also rich in it’s sensuous orchestral timbres, reminding one perhaps of Ravel, a composer whom Berkeley had gone to for advice as a youth. For the most part it lacks any sense of naturalistic drama—seeming at times rather like a biblical pageant. Yet at others, it does gain a certain emotional momentum. The first scene seems especially dramatically detached—yet it’s mournful, astringent harmonies are affecting. The confrontation between Ruth and the reapers struck me as trying too hard for modern applicability (racial prejudice, etc.), yet the following exchange between Ruth and Boaz, though not exactly a love duet, is none-the-less poignant and touching. As the story develops, the chorus takes on a large role, and here the choral writing frequently reminded me of the much younger British choral composer John Rutter. Was Rutter an admirer of Berkeley, or did they both look to an earlier model? At times, recitative-like passages are accompanied only by the piano.
With Ruth, Chandos has released a characteristically fine product. The opera is attractively packaged, has excellent sound, and contains an informative booklet with full libretto translated into French and German. The soloists are fine, with mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby singing an affecting Ruth with her large, dark voice, and tenor Mark Tucker as Boaz—who I expect I would prefer in the role to Peter Pears—makes one curious to hear him in more familiar repertory. As Naomi, soprano Yvonne Kenny sings with a rather wide vibrato that gives her a more matronly sound, but considering the role, this is wholly appropriate. Richard Hickox leads the City of London Sinfonia in a performance of exquisite subtlety, which is exactly what this music requires.
All in all, for the adventurous opera lover who isn’t wholly repelled by the twentieth century musical language that developed after romanticism, Ruth offers many pleasures.
Eric D. Anderson