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

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

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’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

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.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

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.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

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.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Lauren Flanigan (Cleopatra) [Photo by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera]
19 Jan 2009

Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra by NYCO

The two performances of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra given at Carnegie Hall — the New York City Opera’s only performances this year while the State Theater is in rehab and the company is in flux — may or may not prove to be swan song of New York’s gallant number two company, whose succession of identity crises have been so fascinating to observe — and hear — over the decades.

Samuel Barber: Antony and Cleopatra (Op. 40, revised version)

Cleopatra: Lauren Flanigan; Iras: Laura Vlasak Nolen; Charmian: Sandra Piques Eddy; Antony: Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Octavius Caesar: Simon O’Neill; Enobarbus: David Pittsinger; Eros: Kevin Massey. New York City Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by George Manahan. Peformance of January 16.

Above: Lauren Flanigan (Cleopatra) [Photo by Carol Rosegg courtesy of New York City Opera]

 

Is this a company for American singers or American composers? Or bel canto and Handel rarities? Or neglected twentieth century masterpieces? Or the urban extension of Glimmerglass? Or outrageous modern staging experiments?

If this was the end (and we all hope it’s not), they went out with a major league bang: spectacular singing of an unfamiliar and worthy American work by an enormous cast, spectacular playing of an intricate and rewarding score, a joy in performing on all sides, and in hearing it on our part. This was grand opera excitement at a feverish pitch.

It was certainly an Antony to rank with any — not that there has been much in the way of competition. (I believe you can count the number of stagings the work has had on two hands.) Commissioned to open the new Met in 1966 in the full unflattering light of worldwide publicity, designed to display the acoustic and scenic glories of the new house, Antony fell victim to confusion and overweening ambition on nearly all sides. Zeffirelli’s excessively grandiose production called for full operational capability of brand new machinery that, predictably, malfunctioned in every possible way. Rudolf Bing had resolved to present four new productions in that very first week. Barber’s idiom was troubling to the conservative Met audience (which had heard Wozzeck and Peter Grimes and Jenufa, but had not yet taken them to its heart). The complex orchestration and the choral parts demanded more rehearsal time than they could possibly get in the confusion of that autumn. And Barber’s setting of Zeffirelli’s libretto, derived from one of Shakespeare’s longest and most elaborate tragedies, was anything but taut. It was a world-famous fiasco, and nearly everyone blamed the least offending party: the opera itself.

But even shorn of an hour of music in the revision superintended by Barber himself with Giancarlo Menotti, Antony and Cleopatra is still very much what it was designed to be at its 1966 premiere: the grandest grand opera ever composed by an American. Good as it often is, remarkable as it always is, it cannot become a repertory item because it would fail to make its point at less than gala pitch. (It would be ideal for summer festival performance, such as are given by the opera companies of Seattle or San Francisco.) Lovable and memorable tunes might give us something to hang on to if the cast is less than top notch (as with, say, Verdi’s Don Carlos), but this dramatic, declamatory score has few lovable tunes: even at its grandest, the opera demands concentration of us. Still, with familiarity, an audience cannot fail to grow for this work, and in fifty years or so (following the Don Carlos precedent), I foresee Antony will be so popular there will arise a demand for a return to the original full-length work. (I want to hear it now.)

Our concentration was amply rewarded at the NYCO/Carnegie Hall performances thrillingly led by NYCO’s music director, George Manahan. Subtitles helped us when the chorus was obliged to sing “O Antony, leave thy lascivious wassails” — as they do, repeatedly, but solo lines were comprehensible by themselves. The orchestration, which might have been muddled in a pit, was crystalline and full of intriguing effects. There was first of all a distinction between scenes, primarily martial in character, set in Rome or in Roman camps: Trumpets and other brasses sounded a bit like a Hollywood toga epic. These were contrasted with wonderful sinuous figures and tinkling percussion for scenes of Egypt and Cleopatra’s corrupt, intrigue-ridden court. Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra incarnate these two male and female manners of orchestration and vocal melody, and their encounter leads inexorably to his destruction. (Caesar, in contrast, encounters Cleopatra but never ceases to “orate” with brass support: Love conquers almost all, but Rome conquers love.)

Especially imaginative was Antony's death scene, when, deceived by a false report of Cleopatra’s suicide, he orders his valet to kill him, and the valet kills himself instead: Antony’s fatal resolve emerges over a drum solo, then a keening melody for s solo flute enters for the interchange between Antony and the valet (brightly sung by Kevin Massey), and as the actual suicides approach, cellos and basses pluck the same rhythmic figure as the drum ... ominous and magical and somehow very Roman in the heroic, Plutarchian sense.

The enormous cast were strong to the last guardsman. Lauren Flanigan, a major singing actress who has sometimes had difficulties (as Verdi’s Lady Macbeth, Strauss’s Christine Storch, Thomson’s Susan B. Anthony and Barber’s Vanessa) penetrating a large orchestra in the unfriendly acoustic of the New York State Theater, had no trouble filling Carnegie Hall in this soaring, Strauss-like part, and seemed especially to enjoy her whimsical, flirtatious exchanges with Antony, with the messenger who announces Antony’s marriage to Octavia, with her ladies in waiting. I could have used a more voluptuous, insinuating sound for her love music, such as the young Leontyne Price surely brought to it, but Flanigan was assured and effective. Her ladies were sung superbly by mezzos on the verge of major careers: Linda Vlasek Nolan, forthrightly dramatic, and Sandra Piques Eddy, luscious and dark-hued.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes, whose Met debut last winter as Ned Keene in Peter Grimes was striking even when surrounded by a huge, excellent cast, was just as impressive in this Shakespearean colossus of a leading role. If the City Opera still has its glorious production of Mefistofele, this is the man to renew it; if it hasn’t, some company should present one. He has the presence and the range, the power and the legato for it. His Antony was both leader of men and pensive, even depressed, as he considered the ruin his passions have led him to in hollow, reflective phrases.

Simon O’Neill, another New Zealander, making his New York debut, tossed off Caesar’s ungrateful lines as if they were vocalises. Caesar is a Strauss-tenor sort of role, impossibly high, yet O’Neill sang it with stylish ease. David Pittsinger, who has been doing accomplished work all over town for years, and who takes on the Ezio Pinza role in South Pacific this month, sang an admirable Enobarbus, Antony’s guilt-ridden confidante. And so it went through role after role — surely many of these parts would be doubled in an actual repertory performance, but the company seemed eager to show us just how many terrific young singers they had. And this was the revised edition of the score, with six roles omitted!

These performances showed us a company in excellent potential health, and a score ripe for rediscovery, ready to take its rightful place in the American repertory.

John Yohalem

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):