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

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

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.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

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.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Katherine Rohrer as Lady Macbeth [Photo by Dan Swerdlow]
30 Mar 2009

Bloch’s Macbeth by UC Opera, London

Mention Macbeth — The Opera and most think of Verdi. Ernest Bloch took on the subject more than half a century later, in Paris in 1910, when Verdi’s version was almost as obscure as Bloch’s is today.

Ernest Bloch: Macbeth

Macbeth: George von Bergen; Lady Macbeth: Katherine Rohrer; Duncan: Ryland Davies; Banquo: Richard Rowe; Macduff: Carl Gombrich; Lady Macduff: Louise Kemeny; Son of Macduff: Laura Murphy; 1st Witch: Mimi Kroll; 2nd Witch: Jessica Blackstone; 3rd Witch: Ella Jackson; Lennox: Woon Kim; Porter: Ed Davison; Murderer: Rory Mulchrone; Servant: Simon Hall; Apparition: Alicia Bennett. University College Opera. Directed by: John Ramster, Conducted by: Charles Peebles.

Above: Katherine Rohrer as Lady Macbeth

All photos by Dan Swerdlow

 

Originally the opera was composed to a French libretto by Edmond Fleg, but Bloch revisited the piece forty years later and adapted it to an English libretto, much of it Shakespeare’s own text. The French version of Bloch’s opera had its UK concert premiere in 1975 at the Royal Festival Hall, but it has never been performed here in the English version, nor in a fully staged production. Not, that is, until UC Opera — that champion of neglected masterpieces and justly forgotten flops alike — took it upon themselves to rectify the omission from the repertoire.

Macbeth.gifGeorge von Bergen as Macbeth

This is an opera which concentrates on private moments, monologues and dialogues; the sleepwalking scene is a private nightmare, without the usual pair of onlookers. Far more of the play’s soliloquys survive than in the libretto Piave wrote for Verdi; even the Drunken Porter makes an appearance, with the opera’s one straightforward strophic song; a contrast in word-setting which reflects Shakespeare’s own switch from blank verse to prose.

The score is primarily reminiscent of Debussy in its often rather nebulous drift through the text, but has shades of Salome and Götterdämmerung as well. The student orchestra (UCL has no music department) was problematic: in a woodwind-dominated score, the wind and brass playing was at best weak and at worst excruciating. In his one-monologue cameo as Duncan, the distinguished veteran tenor Ryland Davies sang with a expertly-crafted lyrical arch to his phrasing which showed up the accompanying instrumentalists as being flat as a pancake beneath. The string playing was better, the basses making a particularly strong atmospheric impression with the darkly throbbing pizzicato in the scene immediately after Duncan’s murder. Charles Peebles, conducting, shaped the orchestration and choral singing as best he could; the final rhythmically-driven chorus in which all are united against Macbeth comes as a refreshing climax.

Bloch changes the order of the later scenes (Shakespeare’s Acts 4 and 5) giving an alternative slant to the plot: it’s not until after the (apparently motiveless) slaughter of Macduff’s family that Macbeth seeks the witches a second time, and they reveal to him only the parade of kings and the Birnam Wood prophecy. The other two prophecies are cut, so Macbeth’s only reason to fear Macduff is that he will be seeking to avenge his wife and children. It takes the tautness out of the structure: this is a play in which bad things definitely come in threes.

Scene_Act3.gifScene from Act 3

And indeed, director John Ramster makes good use of the Witches (student soloists Mimi Kroll, Jessica Blackstone and Ella Jackson). They hover over the battle-slain like malign Valkyries, and travel as tree-spirits with the avenging army to see the final part of their prophecy played out. It’s a very strong staging all round, with space and lighting always used effectively; Bridget Kimak’s set is presided over by a blood-red moon, which moves into a total eclipse at the denouement — a strong visual evocation of the coming together of all the fateful prophecies which have governed Macbeth’s bloody reign.

The (hired) major principals were also strong — considerably stronger, in fact, than most of UC Opera’s casting in recent years. George von Bergen was especially good in the title role, dominating his every scene with a strong stage presence and full, finely-nuanced baritone. The young American mezzo Katherine Rohrer (Glyndebourne on Tour’s recent Carmen) has a lightish, agile voice with an excellent top; her Lady Macbeth was elegant and fiery, the progress of her self-destruction visible in her face. Richard Rowe sang Banquo in an even, well-produced tenor (his murder takes place offstage). The bass-baritone Carl Gombrich (National Opera Studio trained, now on the administrative staff at UCL) was a soft-grained Macduff, needing a little more heft and edge when urging the household to awake and hear the news of Duncan’s murder. Of the student soloists, tenor Hal Brindley’s Malcolm was the stand-out performance.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

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):