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

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden by John William Waterhouse
21 Jun 2007

Lully’s Psyché at Boston Early Music Festival

There’s not much point in presenting Lully’s Psyché (in its North American premiere no less) unless you’re going to give it something vaguely like the grandeur Louis XIV could command in 1678.

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Psyché
Boston Early Music Festival, 15 June 2007

Above: Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden by John William Waterhouse

 

In a down-home way, Boston’s biennial Early Music Festival achieved this to a remarkable extent: instrumentalists and singers from the front ranks of antique performing practice led by BEMF’s longtime opera conductors, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, the staging glamorous but basic, with elaborate dance interludes that were always a significant part of (often the principal excuse for) opera in France, costumes worthy of a costume ball at Versailles, and elaborate stage machinery — there’s a whole lot of flying going on, and entrances are made from above as often as from the wings.

Opera is not a word Lully or his collaborators used for such pieces, and indeed at that point no one in France was quite sure what “opera” meant. Tragédie lyrique, a sung and acted drama, was the thing. Lully’s dignified and magical creations soon circulated about Western Europe. Much of the singing is declamation of stately rather than lyrical melody, a grand manner passed on via Rameau to Gluck, Berlioz and Poulenc. (Wagner made effective use of it too.) This can be unsettling to the average operagoer, accustomed to the song-like manner of Italian opera; but the appreciative audience at the jewel-box Cutler Majestic Theater, accustomed to the stylistic vagaries of older music, ate it up. What gave more pause is another enduring eccentricity of French style: the equal rights accorded to ballet. There are dances throughout Psyché, and the piece concludes with a good half hour of it. This was very prettily achieved in the court manner, but the Boston audience wearied about halfway through the long finale. This is not to fault Lucy Graham, the choreographer, who found exceptional variety in the fixed gestures and poses of court dance, and introduced several whimsical interludes, including a ten-minute “commedia dell’ arte” mimed by the traditional Italian figures. (The enormous and obviously devoted production team included a “Vocal and Gesture Coach.”)

The story is the late classical myth of Psyche (“Soul”), the mortal so beautiful that a jealous Venus vows to destroy her. Venus’s son (L’Amour in the French version), charged with the girl’s destruction, falls for her himself and carries her off to a magical palace where, however, she is forbidden to see what he looks like. Of course, she cheats (cf. Lohengrin and Bluebeard) — in Psyché, it’s because Venus tricks her into doing so — and he leaves her. To get him back, Psyche must descend to the Underworld to fetch Venus a box of beauty from its queen, Proserpine. Of course, she peeks into the box and is lost — but this time the gods relent, Jupiter promotes her to goddess, and all ends happily with the Soul mated to Divine Love. (The subtext, as program essays made plan, concerned the love affair of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.)L'Amour et Psyché by François-Edouard Picot (1817)

Among the singers, as was only proper, the finest had the largest parts: Carolyn Sampson, the pretty Psyché, who sang and acted her long role with conviction and sweet, untiring tone, and Karina Gauvin, as Venus, the opera’s heavy, a role she acquitted with great verve. The episodic narrative included many charming episodes, wittily staged — for instance a marital spat between Gauvin and Colin Balzer, whose lyrical tenor seemed far too attractive for Vulcan, the hardworking smith-god: “You always side with lovers and against husbands,” he sang to her, and the joke was as good in 2007 as in 1678. Lully wrote the Furies — usually visualized as shrieking women — for three low male voices, and the production accordingly presented three men in black, seventeenth-century drag to berate the heroine for intruding upon the dead. L’Amour was acted and, for a line or two, sung, by a winged child actor in order to conform to Cupid’s traditional iconography, but for the wedding night the god magically adopted the form of a full-grown tenor the better to sing duets with. Of the mostly able singers in the many smaller roles, countertenor José Lemos as Silenus had a ravishing sound one would be eager to encounter again.

John Yohalem

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):