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

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.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

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):