Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Derek Lee Ragin
04 Dec 2007

Beyond The Media Avatar

Imagine a mild December night, with some three hundred people queueing for a concert ticket on Siena’s horseshoe-shaped Piazza del Campo.

Recital by Derek Lee Ragin, alto; Il Rossignolo (with original instruments)

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, December 1st, 2007

A Festival Contemporaneamente Barocco preview production

 

Past the stately gates of the medieval city hall, a breath-taking sight: the Sala del Mappamondo, a large hall studded with the old regalia of the proud Tuscan Republic that once competed with Florence over supremacy of Europe’s financial markets. Images of saints and sinners; angels, bankers, friars and warriors frescoed by Simone Martini, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Sano di Pietro — names echoing like clarions. And the clarions are actually there, arranged within crystal shelves: precious originals of the long trumpets whose copies still resound twice in a year for the Palio horse race. From Autumn 2008, this is planned to become one more regular series, a so-called “Festival Contemporaneamente Barocco” storming a variety of historic venues in the city — including two recently-restored opera houses, the cathedral, the university and more — with events connected to opera, music, drama and cultural heritage at large.

To Italian concertgoers who missed the seldom chance to hear him live, countertenor Derek Lee Ragin is a sort of media avatar, the lower half of Farinelli’s voice as heard in the gorgeous soundtrack of a (quite despicable) 1994 feature film on the legendary Neapolitan castrato. The upper one, as largely spread at that time, was provided by the Polish soprano Ewa Mallas Godlewska, with a French computer digitally processing both halves into the virtual reconstruction of a voice which, around 1725, could boast a range of two octaves and a fourth (from A to D’’’) — and later extended by a few more pitches downward, thus to around three octaves! (However, there is no surviving evidence in the scores that Farinelli ever used all of them in any single piece…).

Ragin_Siena.png

As to Ragin, his voice sounds most effectively in the range just around the middle C up to a tenth above. It might have grown darker in years, yet without losing the appeal of an other-wordly color, something of an alto of warm polish and purity, all of a sudden opening up towards high notes generally forbidden to the male falsetto. At those dizzying pitches, he doesn’t either squeak or resort to a metallic compression that betrays strain, like many among his peers tend to, but emerges with a lustrous full-pressure resonance, apparently with some major support from the chest. If only he could smooth the transition between both ranges, you would call him a monster; nevertheless, he remains a singer of superior class and versatility, equally at ease in Baroque arias, contemporary music and the Negro spiritual. Add to that a technical refinement matching the stipulations of early Bel Canto style. His opening messa di voce in “Alto Giove”, from Porpora’s Polifemo, pierced the gloomy instrumental atmosphere like a sunbeam from a cloudy sky — a terrific effect. One more piece from Farinelli’s suitcase repertoire — “Ombra fedele anch’io”, set by the castrato’s profligate brother Riccardo Broschi in his opera Idaspe — was lamentably shortened of its second section and subsequent da capo. A pity indeed, considered Ragin’s heart-rending delivery of the first plaintive section, featuring a good deal of appoggiaturas and inter-registral leaps in slow tempo. Before that, a pair of Handel cantatas (Mi palpita il cor, HWV 132d and Lungi da me, HWV125b) displayed bravery in fast syllabic passages, meaningful switching between staccato and legato, polished fast trills, evidence of dramatic sensitivity in the recitatives. By the way, Ragin’s Italian diction was more than acceptable throughout, reaching a peak in the favorite encore “Ombra mai fu” from Xerxes, whose notorious text clumsiness often fires jokes among native hearers.

Rossignolo%2BRagin.png

Besides providing a spirited accompaniment to Ragin’s vocal solos, the resident period band “Il Rossignolo” (a gentle archaism for nightingale) showed off with notable panache in the fillers: a four-parts sonata and a concerto for the same forces by Telemann, plus Vivaldi’s Concerto for recorder, RV 106. All of the players emerged in turns for their individual merits and deserve quotation: harpsichordist-cum-conductor Ottaviano Tenerani and flautist Marica Testi for their assured elegance of phrasing, the mercurial cellist Ludovico Minasi for his bold strokes, Luca Giardini, a young violinist in growing international demand, both for finery of sound and fanciful embellishments. Oboist Martino Noferi, a promising virtuoso on the baroque oboe, didn’t perform equally well on the recorder. He should probably choose for the better opportunity, sooner or later.

Carlo Vitali

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):