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 Performances

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

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):