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 Performances

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Renaud and Armide (Nicolas Poussin)
16 Feb 2007

Jean-Baptiste Lully, Armide (Opera Lafayette)

The Opera Lafayette of Washington DC has been engaged in a new project this season – the Armide Project, as the group dubbed its ambitious plan, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Opera Studio, to present two great operas set to the same celebrated Philippe Quinault libretto.

Above: Nicolas Poussin: Renaud and Armide (1626-1628)

 

On February 4th, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park MD hosted a concert performance of the original Armide – the 1686 masterpiece by Jean-Baptiste Lully; in April, the collaborators will offer a fully staged production of the 1777 Armide by Christoph Willibald Gluck, who resolved to conquer Paris by confronting the most famous creation of his illustrious predecessor.

Lully’s Armide, an enduring hit on the French operatic stage for a century after its premiere, is not often heard these days – particularly live. So, even unstaged, Opera Lafayette’s production of this brilliant, complex score was a rare treat to both the early music fans and the generally curious who packed the sold-out Dekelboum concert hall last Saturday afternoon. The 16-piece choir and a period instrument ensemble supported an international – and internationally acclaimed – group of soloists, some with most impressive baroque opera credentials. The casting evidently aimed at creating an ingenious mirror to Quinault’s well-known storyline, for it was dominated by Stephanie Houtzeel’s Armide. Tall, with regal posture, clad in blazing red jacket, the warrior princess ruled her universe with supreme confidence, commanding both respect and admiration of the troupes with her vocal power, range, and technique. Almost uncomfortable at times in its intense expressivity, Houtzeel’s performance was a reminder that the line between high drama and embarrassing melodrama on the 17th-century French stage would probably appear rather blurred to us.

In her interactions with other characters, Armide – in yet another hommage to Quinault – found herself conquered, on occasion, by the “implacable” Renaud of Robert Getchell. His ringing metallic tone, even in all registers, superb sound production, diction, and articulation were most appropriate for a hero crusader, while a certain lack of subtlety in phrasing and ornamentation still kept the audience’s sympathy securely with Armide. Among supporting roles, François Loup who pulled double duty as Hidraoth and Ubalde won praise for his rich, warm tone and elegant phrasing. William Sharp, Miriam Dubrow, and Tony Boutté did very well in their multiple roles (although Dubrow sounded a touch hesitant sometimes). Venerable Ann Monoyios appeared a little tense and had trouble with her projection in the prologue, but by the end of the evening one could see why this sought-after artist regularly works with the luminaries of period music.

The chorus did an excellent job throughout the performance, while the enthusiastic baton of Opera Lafayette’s artistic director Ryan Brown also coaxed some fine playing from the instrumentalists, including two lovely baroque flutes and a diverse continuo group of French viola da gamba, guitar, theorbo, cello, and harpsichord. The strings – divided according to French baroque tradition into five, rather than four parts – were less impressive in my opinion: their articulations (particularly in double-dotted passages) could have been sharper, and the ornaments more precise. There were also some issues with tempo changes between duple- and triple-time passages in the prologue. Yet overall, the ensemble’s rendition of the famously complex score was admirable, and the applause well deserved.

One of the most fascinating features of this concert performance was the part of it that was not, in fact, “concert”: close to forty minutes of period dancing performed by members of the New York Baroque Dance Company and choreographed especially for this production by Catherine Turocy. Unlike the singers, the dancers were costumed: ladies exhibited a contemporary take on high baroque fashion, complete with hair and shoes, while male helmets and tunics reminded one more of ancient Rome than the medieval crusades or Louis XIV’s France (no one – in the audience, at least – seemed to care). As the choreographer herself explained in a pre-concert Q & A, very few details of original choreography survive from Lully’s day; with the exception of a single gigue and two or three versions of the famous Act 5 passacaille, we can only guess what the dancing in Armide would have been like. So, Turocy made a guess – an educated one. The dancers offered examples of stylized baroque choreography: symmetrical, filled with traditional poses, movements, and gestures, and colored with appropriate symbolism as the main characters and ideas of the opera were reflected in its sister medium of ballet. The good spirits, for instance, were dressed in light-colored costumes and porcelain white masks, while the evil ones wore black, with brown masks, and carried long black veils that they would place over the head of their counterparts to symbolize their transformation into them. Along with the unexpectedly athletic set dances, there were episodes of pantomime, as the “stand-ins” for main characters played out the story in movement and gesture (for example, in Renaud’s famous Act 2 air de sommeil). Turocy clearly mined the score for ideas but treated the information creatively: for instance, in Act 3 divertissement, the followers of Hate are meant to capture Love and symbolically break its arrows to free Armide from her feelings for Renaud. In the current production, both captured Amour and (one) arrow were present, but the 17th-century cupid would hardly have behaved quite so insolently in front of the opera’s illustrious original audience.

The Opera Lafayette’s production of Armide was a long-awaited premiere of the new and what surely will be a definitive edition of this opera, prepared by Lois Rosow, a renowned Lully specialist and a professor of musicology at the Ohio State University. Dr Rosow, who was present at the performance, shared her expertise with the audience during the pre-concert Q&A that also included Ms. Turocy and Mr. Brown. Thankfully, this expertise will soon be available to baroque opera lovers worldwide: recorded for the Naxos label, Opera Lafayette’s performance of Lully’s masterpiece is due to be released in 2008.

Olga Haldey

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):