Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

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):