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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lisa Milne (Sian) and Peter Hoare (Mal) [Photo by Catherine Ashmore]
14 Nov 2007

“The Sacrifice” – Welsh National World Premiere Tour

Welsh National Opera’s new opera “The Sacrifice”, composed by James MacMillan with libretto by Michael Symmons Roberts, and directed by Katie Mitchell, is an emotionally raw and compelling study of the nature of conflict, and how humans are changed by it.

James MacMillan: The Sacrifice
Welsh National Opera

Above: Lisa Milne (Sian) and Peter Hoare (Mal)
Photo by Catherine Ashmore

 

Based on the Branwen story from the ancient Welsh collection of folktales known as the The Mabinogion, it is nevertheless uncompromising in its attempt to bring the opera into a 21st century context. Whether this works is open to question and, on first acquaintance, the answer would seem to be a regretful “no”. Not for the fact of its contemporary-looking setting, (supposedly a few decades in the future but actually reminding one more of an East German hotel circa 1985) but because it confuses an audience as to what and when that world is meant to be. Here, the the storyline follows a politically arranged wedding of two significant members of opposing armed political camps which is intended to bring together the two warring factions and, seven years later, the investiture of their son which is meant to cement the union. This is a timeless story, and as such it needs no making “relevant” to our recent experiences of Northern Ireland, Bosnia or Palestine. Indeed, in so doing, the authors have weakened the strongest points it is trying to make. Some ten years in the making, perhaps The Sacrifice has suffered the perennial problem that besets all long-winded projects, be they artistic or commercial: what seemed vital and relevant a decade ago now projects to today’s audience as predictable and, worse, disappointing.

However, what does work in a devastatingly effective way is MacMillan’s visceral and multi-textured score where every aspect of the modern orchestra is used in imaginative and compelling ways: the strange opening triad chords of the overture immediately evoke an atmosphere that captures the essence of the piece and this magic continues throughout. Robert’s ingenious libretto of semi-rhyming couplets gives the music plenty of space and expertly conveys the tensions and uncertainties of the protagonists. Over 70 musicians and percussionists of the WNO Orchestra are conducted by the composer in this inaugural run, and they play with intense musicality and commitment, obviously relishing the detailed chromatic sound world he has created. Equally successful is his writing for the WNO Chorus and the solo singers and it was on hearing some of the most potent arias and ensembles for the first time that one was struck by how very traditional, in some ways, this opera is: full orchestra, a substantial acting Chorus, a soprano heroine, a second soprano sub-plot character, tenor and baritone opposing male leads and a “father figure” bass-baritone. The only slight difference, on paper, between this and any 19th century mainstream opera is that our heroine loves the baritone, not the tenor, who turns out to be the nearest thing to the traditional “baddie” – although no-one in the story is morally clear cut.

Act One sets the scene of the two warring “tribes” or factions, holed up in the same depressing, shoddy hotel, scarred by the occasional bullet hole, and awaiting the fateful wedding of Sian, the first faction’s General’s daughter to Mal, the opposing faction’s famed “freedom” fighter. Sian’s real love, Evan, a soldier in the General’s army, watches with increasing bitterness and jealousy as the woman he loves appears ready to betray both him and their faction in the cause of a peace brokered by her father, in what will be an attempt to end the decades, or maybe centuries, of conflict. The final scene ends in violence with Evan attempting to kill Mal, but only succeeding in wounding him.

In Act Two, seven years having passed and Sian and Mal now have two small boys, but with Evan newly released from captivity the semi-crippled Mal is convinced his wife is still seeing her old love. He is right – they do meet, and sing the marvellously emotive and soaring duet “Your heart is my homeland” before Evan is again forced to flee. Meanwhile, the first born son of the unhappy couple is due to be crowned “regent” – a new king in waiting who will, the General hopes, finally confirm the transition from uneasy truce to unified nation. Again violence and horror dash all such hope in a way all too familiar in the history of human conflict.

The final Act begins with a funeral, and some sumptuous choral writing that is communicative of all the longing and distress of any war-torn nation. In a final act of sacrifice to his dream of a unified country and an end to the eternal conflict, the General opens up the possibility of hope, although the auguries are not good.

Many people have commented on MacMillan’s use of musical “signposts” in his writing, his quotations and borrowings of musical forms and ideas. Nothing new in that of course, and in The Sacrifice, many of these quotes work extremely well and indeed suggest aural landmarks in the wider landscape of the score. Echoes of a Bach passacaglia, Purcell word-setting (especially noticeable in Sian’s funeral lament) and even some Wagnerian-style leitmotifs on the percussion and strings all float in and out of our conscious perception without ever compromising the essence of the original music which is in turns richly melodic and tangentially percussive. Boring or repetitive it is not.

The score is lit from within by the solo work of the excellent singers who without exception give fine readings of both their music and their characterisations. There was no weak link, although probably one must single out the opulent-voiced Lisa Milne as Sian who rose magnificently to the challenge of some difficult yet rewarding writing. Her duet with Leigh Melrose as Evan was eloquent and fine-spun, working well with Melrose’s warm yet appropriately edged baritone. He was able to suggest the knife-edge character of Evan – a Celtic split personality capable of great love and great hatred at one and the same time. Christopher Purves was deeply convincing as the General, his voice easy in the lowest registers, and able to communicate the desperate hope, and final realisation, of what he has to do. As her possibly-autistic, certainly not “normal” sister Megan, Ailish Tynan had the most pure physical acting to do, but she also was able to subtly shade her bright soprano to suggest an underlying fear and fore-knowledge of events as she chanted lines of runic verse and obscure forecasts. The most complex role is that of Mal – freedom fighter/guerrilla, killer turned political leader, jealous husband and loving father, desperately trying to understand a changing world, and changing moralities. Peter Hoare’s highly-charged and robust tenor was a perfect instrument for Mal, flying high with rage but also able to colour and darken with emotional intensity. Rosie Hay, Samantha Hay, Amanda Baldwin sang the supporting roles of the Three Birds with conviction, even if one might question their necessity in the drama. All the soloists were superbly supported and enhanced by the WNO Chorus, who seemed completely at home with their music with some nuanced singing, producing an admirable amalgam of light and shade.

The caveats regarding setting aside, it was a tremendous evening of music theatre, and Welsh National, MacMillan and Roberts are to be congratulated on a work that is, without doubt, an important one, and one that will take its rightful place in the repertory.

© Sue Loder 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):