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 Reviews

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

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):