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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Otfrid von Weissenburg: Liber Evangeliorum: Verse and Music From the Age of Charlemagne
08 Feb 2009

Liber Evangeliorum: Verse and Music From the Age of Charlemagne

The emergence of a standardized western liturgy with a uniform chant repertory, while to a significant degree realized, neither completely silenced regional liturgies nor extinguished the additions to liturgical practice that comprise much medieval creativity.

Otfrid von Weissenburg: Liber Evangeliorum — Verse and Music From the Age of Charlemagne

Ensemble Officium; Wilfried Rombach, Director

Christophorus CHR 77279 [CD]

$20.99  Click to buy

The Liber Evangeliorum by the ninth-century monk of Wessenburg Abbey, Otfrid, is a rich example of the creative spirit seeking an outlet. Otfrid’s work provides in vernacular Old High German a poetic text of Gospel narratives, “harmonized” from the different Gospel accounts. Significantly, this text survives in a source that gives St. Gall neumes with some of the verses, confirming that, at least at one time, the text was sung, and in a liturgical context. And it is the challenge of this possibility that the splendid Ensemble Officium embraces.

Ensemble Officium’s recording reconstructs possible musical versions of some of Otfrid’s verses and interweaves them with Gregorian responsories and hymns for Advent and Christmas, and in so doing creates something of the idea of an embellished Vigils liturgy as might have been experienced in the St. Gall orbit. The liturgical reconstruction is “loose” — the chants are drawn from diverse days, for instance — but the interplay of vernacular lessons (Otfrid’s texts) and canonical liturgical material is engaging and resembles the dynamic of lection and lyrical response at the core of the night office.

The recreations of Otfrid’s verses favor variety. In some instances the texts are spoken, in others they are sung to recitational chant. In still others, the verses are spoken to the improvised accompaniment of fiddles, occasionally (and richly) in counterpoint with polyphonic choral lines. The renditions of the liturgical chants are also interestingly conceived, often with instrumental drones and counterpoints, as well as polyphonic vocal layering.

The ensemble is a mixed personnel with both men and women singers. And while the execution is uniformly impressive, the sound of the women is particularly stunning, with pure, bright, highly focused tone. Some of the chants are lengthy — the invitatory “Praeoccupemus” approaches ten minutes, for instance — but the tone and approach are entrancing and hypnotic, with little temptation to check the clock.

Liber Evangelorium is imaginatively conceived and engagingly rendered. Given the amount of interpretation and reconstruction required—the musical notation is imprecise, the performance practice flexible, the liturgical context uncertain — there are ample opportunities for missteps. The historical record offers little room for certainties here, but the aesthetic results of the program and its performance are most assuredly gratifying.

One drawback to the CD, however, is the relative lack of translations. All of the texts have a modern German translation printed; Otfrid’s texts have thumbnail sketches in English and French, as well; the liturgical texts are translated in German without the summaries. Given the care that has been taken in creating the liturgical dynamic, broader access to the text would seem a fitting improvement.

Steven Plank

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):