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 Reviews

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

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):