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

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Franz Schubert
24 Mar 2009

Franz Schubert: The Conspirators (Die Verschworenen)

Schubert was desperate to be an opera composer — or so one might surmise from the many (at least 18) attempts he made to make a name for himself as a man of the theatre.

Franz Schubert: The Conspirators (Die Verschworenen)

The Queen’s Opera, in association with Bampton Classical Opera

 

Given that each Schubert Lied is in many ways a ‘mini-opera’ — tightly dramatic, conveying character, situation and a gamut of emotions with immediacy and power, the ‘meaning’ expertly communicated through an intense interaction of words and music — one might have expected him to have been more successful. Unfortunately, while he understood perfectly the musico-dramatic conventions of Mozart and his contemporaries, he failed to find his Da Ponte … and repeatedly applied his musical talents to undeserving material.

However, with ‘The Conspirators’ — his sixth and final effort in Singspiel — Schubert found some posthumous success; written in 1823, it was only performed privately during his lifetime, but the public staging in 1861 was well-received and the work became a popular success. One can imagine that its wit and parody were instantly appealing to the admiring Arthur Sullivan who, in the autumn of 1867, travelled to Vienna, returning with a treasure-trove of rescued Schubert scores.

Modelled on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Schubert’s libretto, written by Ignaz Franz Castelli, presents a tale of domestic discord and sparring spouses. The original play is a comic account of one woman’s mission to end The Peloponnesian War: Lysistrata convinces the women of Athens and Sparta to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to forgo warmongering, a peace strategy that ironically inflames the battle between the sexes. Castelli updated the action - a band of Crusaders, commanded by Baron Herbert von Ludenstein, are dissuaded from continually waging war by their wives, led by the Baroness — and removed some of Aristophanes’ more explicit obscenities! This was not enough to prevent trouble with the censors, however; for somewhat obscure political reasons, they balked at the title and insisted on having the opera renamed Der Häusliche Krieg (The Domestic War). It seems Schubert’s was out of luck once again …

Sadly, in this domestic tussle, the women do not prevail; but, whatever their own feminist principles, this did not prevent the girls of Queen’s College London from presenting a delightfully entertaining, remarkably confident and outstandingly assured performance of this unjustly neglected opera.

Bampton Classical Opera has an admirable history of devising challenging educational projects which enable young singers to work with professional musicians, thereby encouraging them to aspire to, and attain, the highest standards. In this shrewdly cast production, the young soloists proved an equal match for the two professional singers, tenor Tom Raskin and baritone Edmund Connolly, who supported and encouraged the young performers sensitively throughout. Indeed, ‘The Conspirators’ seems ideally suited to young, light voices, with its sequence of lyrical solos and duets demanding not virtuosity but clarity and precision, interspersed with lively, inventive ensembles — many of which had been deftly arranged and reallocated to allow members of the chorus to step briefly into the limelight.

After the Singspiel style, the dramatic action is largely conveyed spoken dialogue. Rightly doubtful that the witticisms of the 1823 text would still pack a punch, Gilly French and Jeremy Gray also revised the text, providing a new English translation, brisk and uncluttered, which struck an effective balance between detail and dramatic momentum. Even the literal silencing, by a severe throat infection, of one of the leading ladies could not stall the show: Hannah Burns read the dialogue from the wings with fluency and naturalness, while Katya Farkas’ graceful gestures and eloquent movement aptly expressed Isella’s coyness and cunning. In the opening duet, Isella’s lines were performed by thirteen-year-old Ella Clayton who, having learned the part at extremely short notice, displayed a confidence and talent far beyond her years.

All soloists showed themselves capable of projecting a range of musical emotions. Alice Sharman, remarkably convincing as Isella’s lover, Udolin, relished the occasion and was inspired to reach the peak of her performance in her ensembles with the male professionals. Alexandra Soiza communicated both Helene’s misery and her resolution in her beautiful opening aria, in which she laments the prolongued absence of her husband, Astolf. And, as the bossy Baroness, Theodora Hand delivered a consummate musical and dramatic performance which suggested that her operatic ambitions may well be fulfilled in years to come.

Perhaps the highlight of this opera is Schubert’s ensemble writing: given the opera’s clear delineation of the sexes, he shows a genius for exchange, for phrases that call across a musical space and are answered in kind. This production made the most of such opportunities, exploiting the small stage effectively and utilising the whole performance venue to take advantage of the antiphonal and imitative writing. Indeed, the staging was extraordinarily inventive. The restricted space and budget were no hindrance to the imagination of director Jeremy Gray: a combination of neat motifs and swift gestures produced the deft visual and verbal wit which has come to characterise Bampton Classical Opera’s unfussy, sharp approach.

The chorus also included members of the College staff. And, throughout there was a sense, not just of ambition and aspiration, but of genuine enjoyment and fun — a joy which was shared and conveyed by the small accompanying ensemble under the assured baton of Gilly French. A delightful evening.

Claire Seymour

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):