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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017

On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.

OPERA RARA AUCTION: online auction for opera lovers worldwide

On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

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):