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

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Pilgrim's Progress first edition 1678
30 Jul 2008

The Pilgrim's Progress at Sader's Wells

The Philharmonia Orchestra has made a far more comprehensive effort than any other British ensemble to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams, with concerts taking place over the course of seven months in London, Leicester and Bedford including a complete symphony cycle.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Pilgrim's Progess

Roderick Williams (The Pilgrim), Neal Davies (John Bunyan), Matthew Rose, Richard Coxon, Matthew Brook, Timothy Robinson, Sarah Fox, Sarah Tynan, Pamela Helen Stephen, James Gilchrist, Robert Hayward, Graeme Danby and Philharmonia Voices. Richard Hickox (cond.)

 

The centrepiece of this season, entitled 'Vaughan Williams: The Pioneering Pilgrim' were two semi-staged performances of the composer's Bunyan opera 'The Pilgrim's Progress' at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre, dedicated to the memory of the composer's wife Ursula who died last year. Conductor Richard Hickox has a real passion for English music, particularly opera, and it was heartening to see him championing such a rarely-performed stage work.

Devised as a depiction of a generic spiritual journey towards enlightenment rather than a specifically Christian one (the composer was an agnostic), the opera (or rather, as it's labelled, the 'morality') is nonetheless rooted in Biblical texts and Christian hymn-tunes. In fact it is reminiscent of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius' in its tableaux of the progression of a soul through trials and tests to its ultimate goal, and thus seems closer to oratorio or cantata than opera, with elements of the pageant and the mystery-play thrown in. In David Edwards' simple semi-staging, movement was kept to a minimum, with most of the more abstract characters moving in a slow, flowing manner as if the motion could be stopped at any moment to create a freeze-frame of an 'event' in the Pilgrim's travels. On the one hand, it is a shame that a full staging was not on offer; on the other, it is a naturally static piece and thus well-suited to this kind of half-and-half incarnation.

The ostensible narrator is John Bunyan, sung here by baritone Neal Davies: though he only in fact appears to frame the piece with a Prologue and Epilogue, it gives the impression that we are seeing everything through his own eyes and imagination. The staging had him discovered onstage as if asleep, ready for his opening line, 'So I awoke, and behold it was a dream'.

The cast was made up of a distinguished inventory of mainly British vocal talent, including most of Hickox's regular collaborators, led by Roderick Williams as the eponymous Pilgrim, and even extending to Hickox's son Adam as the (poorly amplified) Woodcutter's Boy. There were some welcome additions from guest artists in multiple roles, especially the menacing Gidon Saks as Lord Hate-Good (a disembodied voice over a speaker system from offstage). The single scene of sardonic comic relief was delivered with aplomb by Richard Coxon and Andrea Baker as Mr and Madam By-Ends.

Williams's central performance was remarkable; something about his stage persona is both innocent and timeless, and his singing was always assured – despite all the obstacles in his path, the Pilgrim never outwardly falters. His unfailingly beautiful singing was especially impressive in the role's emotional heart – the monologue based around a passage from Psalm 22, when the Pilgrim is in prison expecting death. Part-soliloquy, part-prayer, it is the only time we ever see the turmoil within the Pilgrim's soul before he realises that his means of escape has been within reach all along.

Hickox's conducting had a majesty and beauty which made as persuasive a case for the score as it is ever likely to get, while Philharmonia Voices – the orchestra's ad-hoc professional choral outfit – managed to go from being properly lively and vociferous (in the Vanity Fair scene) to radiantly angelic (in the heavenly passages).

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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):