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

Rhoslyn Jones as Susannah
03 Jun 2007

Arizona Opera's Susannah — A Naive Story Dilutes an Impressive Production

Arizona Opera ended its 2006/07 season with a tightly-knit, well-tuned presentation of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, his best known opera that has enjoyed numerous productions since its New York City Opera debut in 1956.

Above: Rhoslyn Jones as Susannah
All photos by Scott Humbert

 

The work is based on the Biblical account of Susannah and her Elders from the Book of Daniel, as it appears in certain Bibles. From that account we learn the Elders, who steadfastly lust after Susannah, spy on her while she is bathing and soon realize that the young beauty will never give in to their lascivious advances, so they accuse her of fornicating with a young man. This charge is eventually proven false, and Susannah is saved from death. Floyd, using a librettist's poetic license, simplified the storyline by relocating the bathing Susannah to an isolated community called New Hope Valley in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. There, she is observed by her own church Elders who are repelled by her audacity to bath in a small stream which is supposed to be used for baptism.

Obviously Floyd felt very comfortable with this regional setting which is reminiscent of his own upbringing as a minister's son and uses what he thought was a natural reaction by folks who live in such a stark rural setting to Susannah's spontaneous and frivolous behavior. Even in the 1950s, in the United States, with the McCarthy witchhunters combing the country looking for those with perhaps the slightest connection to the Communist Party, Floyd's characters might have appeared a tad too quick to condemn what was perceived as Susannah's immoral conduct and now, over 50 years later, with all the dramatic and diverse social changes that have occurred in American life, the pivotal situation of the plot does seem too pat.

Gustav Andreassen and Rhoslyn JonesAny opera company that wants to mount Floyd's opera has to get beyond this flaw so that it can present the work's many dramatic and musical moments in a coherent and forceful light. And Arizona Opera did just that.

Perhaps the outstanding contribution to the production was Paula Williams's direction. The director used Peter Dean Beck's spacious and accurate setting of rural life in Tennessee to great advantage. She moved the chorus about the stage with ease, whether they represented the townspeople at an evening gathering of song and square dancing or had them as church goers pleading to the Lord to save them from the wages of sin. She gave the audience the feeling that it was watching the entire New Hope Valley community acting as one against the sinner Susannah. The director also helped to transmit the same dramatic intent to the featured and principal players, allowing them to build their portrayals with vocal stamina and security.

Starting with the smaller roles, the mezzo, Korby Myrick gave her Mrs. McLean the appropriate disapproval of Susannah's public bathing. Glenn Alamilla's tenor rang out as Susannah's ambivalent suitor, never failing to express his fear of the unknown. Moving up to Robert Breault as Sam Polk, Susannah's brother, he filled his character with the right amounts of love and affection mixed with his anxiety for Susannah's future. He resolved his conflict by shooting the Reverend Olin Blitch, Susannah's seducer in the last scene. And most times, Gustav Andreassen as the Reverend Blitch forcefully conveyed his staunch alliance with the Lord. The bass was most impressive in his sorrowful and guilt-ridden monologue on having violated Susannah.

The role of Susannah was the only part that was double cast. Fortunately for Arizona Opera, it found two sopranos who could provide this difficult and challenging part with the right emotional impact when needed. Rhoslyn Jones, a physically stronger Susannah than Diane Alexander was a tad uneven vocally, but her forceful sound portrayed her commitment to the role. Alexander projected a softer emotional approach, but was more consistent in showing how Susannah's misery unfolded. It was a credit to both singers and to Williams how well the rest of the cast never missed a dramatic beat no matter what Susannah was on stage.

Conductor Joel Revzen kept his orchestra committed to Floyd's overriding musical idiom: that of using many parlando melodies underscored by Appalachian ballads, gospel tunes and square dance music. At times, he drove the orchestra too hard, allowing the musical climaxes that expressed Susannah's rage or Blitch's stabs at redemption-to take two examples- to eclipse the singers' vocal prowess that gave unerring testimony to their talents. This tendency, which made it difficult to catch all the nuances in the colloquial text the composer reveled in, kept the audience's eyes glued to the titles, causing it to graze by some of the opera's most intense dramatic moments. But overall, it didn't detract from the performance which was one of the company's most fruitful and fulfilling productions in recent memory.

Nick del Vecchio
[Reprinted from Living at the Opera with permission of the author.]

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):