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

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Tempest, ROH
19 Mar 2007

The Tempest at Covent Garden

This year is Thomas Adés’ annus mirabilis. He’s the subject of a major, six-week retrospective at the Barbican, and, of course, will be a major presence at the Aldeburgh Festival.

Thomas Adés: The Tempest

Royal Opera House, London, 15th March 2007

 

There are also commemoratives in Paris and Oslo. This revival of the Tempest was almost completely sold out : in short, Adés most certainly has arrived in the mainstream.

Much of the appeal of this opera must lie in its sumptuous, spectacular staging. Bathed in jewel-coloured light, it evokes the sense of fantasy and unreality that is central to the plot. The eye is seduced by this fabulous magic, and the ear responds. The dischordant, difficult music doesn’t seem nearly as raw in the context of such beauty. This music may be modern but it’s based on a very traditional premise: that is should be dramatic. It most certainly is exciting — the overture that depicts the demonic storm teems with trumpet alarums, crashing cymbals and drum rolls. It’s so busy that it’s quite a shock to hear the words “Hell is empty”.

Cyndia Sieden’s Ariel is emblematic. Her image, swathed in luminescent neon green and black will be forever associated with the opera, however many future productions it receives. Her role is far more crucial to the action than the somewhat under-developed other characters. Ariel symbolises the elusive and quite unsettling magic on this bizarre island. Above all, she has the most unusual music. Its tessitura is cruelly high, and really does seem written for a non-human elemental. Few singers could manage this, and for hours at a time, and still act with complete charisma. This role will immortalise Sieden, for it won’t be easy to improve on.

Similar torture is inflicted on the other vocal parts, so much so that, despite their familiarity with this opera, even experienced singers like Philip Langridge and Simon Keenlyside were stretched by extremely high pitches, often reached by swoops upwards from the lower register. This is no criticism. The writing is completely counter-intuitive to “normal” vocal practice, for it imposes choppy, angular rhythms on syntax, breaking up what might be “normal” vocal lines. There may be duets and arias and set ensembles, here, but they serve as an extension of the orchestral writing, rather than being vocal star turns in themselves. Perhaps that’s the rationale behind the libretto, which is, frankly, ugly and facetious. Maybe we’re being asked to forget the words and listen instead to their musical effect. Alas, I’m not sure this is the case as there are supposedly clever jokes written in to lighten the atmosphere. In any case, the extreme demands on the singers meant that diction took second place to simply getting the notes right. This was less of a problem than might be expected, because musical logic here was antithetical to the text : meaning for the most part was conveyed through voice as used a supra-musical instrument, rather than through what was being sung. Adés himself conducted, so the reading was electric.

Luckily, Adés has given some of the best music to semi-abstract vocalise. Most people know the words to “Full Fathoms Five”, so Sieden’s incredibly long, high legato transcended text altogether, literally creating a “sea-change, into something rich and strange”. Particularly lustrous string writing gave way to simple, but poignant single triangle, evoking the distant bells. It really was a moment of wonder.

Keenlyside, as Prospero, and Langridge, as the King of Naples, characterised their parts well. Sadly, in this score, Miranda and Ferdinand are fairly wooden caricatures, without much depth. Spence spiced his singing with vivid nuance. Royal merely had to look beautiful. The genres, too, were well played, and the chorus was remarkably precise, in true Covent Garden tradition. Apart from Sieden, the revelation of the evening was Bostridge’s Caliban. In recital, Bostridge can be unpredictable, but in opera, when he’s consciously playing a “part”, his inhibitions evaporate. Here, he inhabited Caliban instinctively, creating him as a complex, sympathetic and deeply interesting figure. Now there’s a subject for an opera…? Vocal pyrotechnics and emotional range come naturally to Bostridge, inspiring great things from Hans-Werner Henze.

Should I have given the impression I didn’t like this opera, that isn’t the case. I learned it initially without having seen it in production, so my approach is accordingly influenced by it “as music”. This remarkable, atmospheric performance illuminated it for me immeasurably. This production has already been mounted in Strasbourg, and Copenhagen. Don’t miss it if you get a chance.

© Anne Ozorio 2007

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):