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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):