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 Reviews

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017

On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.

OPERA RARA AUCTION: online auction for opera lovers worldwide

On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Patricia Bardon as Maurya [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
14 Dec 2008

Riders to the Sea — English National Opera, London Coliseum

Back in June, in my review of The Pilgrim’s Progress at Sadler’s Wells, I wrote about the valuable and unsurpassed work being done by Richard Hickox to champion the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams in the composer’s centenary year, a project of which this rare staging of Riders to the Sea for ENO was to be the culmination.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Riders to the Sea
Jean Sibelius: Luonnotar

Luonnotar: Susan Gritton (soprano)
Riders to the Sea: Maurya, an old woman (Patricia Bardon); Bartley, her son (Leigh Melrose); Cathleen, her daughter (Kate Valentine); Nora, her younger daughter (Claire Booth); A woman (Madeleine Shaw); Michael (non speaking role) (Oliver Kieran-Jones). Actors: Ray Alley, Darren Everest, Simon Johns, Paul Joseph, Stephen O'Toole, Sebastian Rose. English National Opera. Conductor: Edward Gardner. Director: Fiona Shaw. Designers: Dorothy Cross, Tom Pye. Lighting designer: Jean Kalman.

Above: Patricia Bardon as Maurya

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera

 

Nobody could have anticipated that the 60-year-old conductor would suffer a fatal heart attack only four days before ENO’s opening night.

The show went on in Hickox’s memory, led by ENO’s Music Director Edward Gardner, who had the difficult task of taking on the project in such sad circumstances. And Vaughan Williams’s opera, based on a play by J.M. Synge, is a grim work by anybody’s standards. A peasant woman, Maurya, lives in a coastal hut in the Aran Islands and has had two daughters and six sons; four of the sons, along with their father and grandfather, have already had their lives claimed by the sea. The fifth is missing, believed drowned, and fate dictates it is only a matter of time before the sixth is similarly lost. In the space of forty-five minutes, both are confirmed dead.

This was an impressive opera-directorial début by the actress and theatrical director Fiona Shaw, who created an emotionally-intense dynamic within what’s left of Maurya’s family. Their house is delineated by lighting only; there are no walls, so there is never any escape from the elements. Huge, shadowy upturned boat-hulls descend from above the stage, surreal and coffin-like. Tom Pye’s wonderfully bleak, craggy set is suggestive of a place which exists outside of the progress of time; a primaeval wasteland where nothing ever changes and all human life is in thrall to the will of nature.

In her final monologue, Maurya finds her anticipated devastation supplanted by a sense of relief and comfort that her life is no longer burdened by the certain knowledge of the destiny which awaits all of her menfolk; in one sense it is a small personal victory over nature, albeit in the context of an acknowledgement of human powerlessness. Mezzo Patricia Bardon was extraordinary in this scene, imbuing the music’s lyrical lines with an radiance that contrasts vividly with the terseness of her earlier anguished dialogue.

Sopranos Kate Valentine and Claire Booth, both making their ENO débuts, portrayed Maurya’s two daughters with emotional intelligence and excellent diction. Leigh Melrose — too long absent from the stage of the Coliseum — was ideal as the angry, burdened Bartley, the last surviving son.

The opera is well under an hour in length, and rather than staging it as a double bill with another short work, it was done with a curtain-raiser — Luonnotar, Sibelius’s 15-minute monologue for solo soprano, in a simple staging against the backdrop of Dorothy Cross’s unnervingly beautiful video projections. Singing in the original Finnish, and suspended in the centre of the stage in an eerie monolith which transpired to be one of the fateful boat-hulls, Susan Gritton was wonderful as the eponymous air-spirit who becomes trapped in the sea and inadvertently gives birth to the moon and stars. It was an inspired choice of opener, introducing the relationship between the sea and the eternal themes of birth, life, death and maternal grief which Riders goes on to explore further.

Raiders_to_the_Sea_009.png(left to right) Patricia Bardon as Maurya, Leigh Melrose as Bartley and Kate Valentine as Cathleen

The production integrates the two works fully, joining them into a single piece with a specially-commissioned interlude by John Woolrich, an organic-sounding progression of abstract chords. Not only does the pregnant Luonnotar open the performance — she closes it too, re-emerging onto the stage outside Maurya’s empty home, seemingly ready to give birth once more and perpetuate the cycle of motherhood.

Raiders_to_the_Sea_001.pngSusan Gritton as Luonnotar

The orchestral playing was powerful, lyrical and atmospheric in what is mostly very subtle and understated music; the standard was a fitting tribute to the late Hickox. It was a superb performance by a fine cast in an excellent production — but it was never going to be a cheerful experience.

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):