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

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.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Michael Slattery (© George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera)
16 Aug 2007

Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo”, Glimmerglass 2007 — Slattery rises to Alden’s challenging concept

The first masterpiece in the history of opera. That’s a tall order to live up to for any company and for any band of singers, especially those at the beginning of their careers.

Above: Michael Slattery in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo
Photo: © George Mott/Glimmerglass Opera

 

But that’s what Glimmerglass Opera is all about — pushing young singers on the cusp of international careers into the limelight with challenges of this sort of calibre. Luckily for them, this is an opera that has enjoyed a wealth of thought-provoking productions all around the world in the past two decades, and an audience now much more at ease with early 17th century musical forms than at any time since L’Orfeo’s first performance 400 years ago.

To quote Gustav Leonhardt, Monteverdi “turned a page of musical history and started to write a new chapter full of daring harmonies and (previously) unheard human passions.” Unfortunately there is a dearth of instructions from the composer and so nothing is writ in stone — yet, down through the years and certainly in the many 20th and 21st century recordings of L’Orfeo, all sorts of ideas as to how this juxtaposition of instrument and voice might be realised have been attempted. However, one thing is certain: he demanded the supremacy of the individual human voice in its eternal quest for psychological and dramatic truth. So that too has to be a priority of any staging: the voices and the story they tell must shine clear and unobstructed by any misguided directorial conceits.

On that subject, this production directed by one of opera’s current enfant terribles, Chris Alden, certainly tried the patience of many in the audience. Having attended its premier at Opera North in England last year, I was intrigued to see how Alden’s conceits had travelled to this very different house, and different singers. I wrote then: “You don’t get very much more classic than the opera that virtually invented the art-form, and Christopher Alden has most decidedly set out to challenge a few well-worn notions of this favola in musica.” Indeed he does, and on second acquaintance, I can’t say that I’m any more enamoured than I was first time around. It’s patchy; and although the idea of Orfeo as a troubled artist/singer in some sort of faux ducal palace works very well, the eliding of certain essential parts of the story — such as Eurydice’s rescue and second death — just jar the sensibilities too much, as do many of the bits of rather tired post-modernistic little “business” that the singers have to carry. Endless yards of sticky tape (to confine Eurydice to Hades and also to represent the Styx and now played more for laughs) and dozens of un-lit cigarettes get boring so quickly. Having said that, as this is the Glimmerglass Orpheus festival, in celebration of the great story’s many transmogrifications, perhaps the challenging Alden approach is what’s needed to keep the adrenaline running?

The pivotal and dominating role is of course that of Orfeo himself, where muse and myth fuse into the legendary singer who descended into the underworld to bring back his dead wife Eurydice, yet failed in the final moments. The essential difference between first run in Leeds, and here was the Orfeo. Paul Nilon in England concentrated on projecting a quite limpid, gentle, musical soul whose journey and eventual failure seemed oh-so-human and sympathetic. Here, Michael Slattery, a young American tenor and Juilliard graduate, was a very different kettle of fish. Resembling more a wild, wilful and wasted rock star of the 80's or 90's, his lithe body often seeming to project emotion and nervous energy as clearly as his admirably coloured tenor. His second act vocal climax, the virtuosic "Possente spirto", where the singer has to “audition” his way past Caronte at the gates of Hell, is 10 minutes of some of the most difficult vocal writing that Monteverdi (or his contemporaries) ever committed to paper. Slattery’s performance was a lesson in dramatic singing - the young poet/singer grew more desperate, more anxious, as his words seemed to fail him in his quest. If some tonal beauty was lost in the service of the drama, then it was a risk worth taking.

He was well supported by some spirited and effective singing from the rest of the cast, who doubled as the Chorus, although some were more committed to (and comfortable with) early music performance practice than others. Of note were Megan Monaghan as Eurydice/Speranza and bass Christopher Temporelli as Pastore 4/Pluto.

Matching them and Slattery in musical commitment was the orchestra under Antony Walker whose strong musical sense and understanding of idiom enabled the period instrument-augmented Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra to sound remarkably “authentic”. At this sort of festival with five widely varying works in repertory through the summer, one cannot expect scholarly exactitude from the players or the instruments they use — but with some clever adjustments (such as substituting the original cornetti with muted piccolo trumpets) and additions (three theorbos to augment the continuo accompaniment) Walker and his players gave a most satisfactory approximation to the real thing.

© Sue Loder 2007

Performances continue August 14th, 17th, 20th, 23rd, and 25th.

For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office (607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org

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):