Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Lennox Berkeley: Ruth
18 Oct 2005

BERKELEY: Ruth

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.

Lennox Berkeley: Ruth

Jean Rigby (mezzo); City of London Sinfonia; Richard Hickox (cond.)

Chandos CHN 10301 [CD]

 

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

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):