Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



Georg Philipp Telemann: Brockes-Passion
19 Mar 2009

TELEMANN: Brockes-Passion

Heinrich Brockes’s famous poetic setting of the Passion, Der für die Sünden der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (1712), was one of the most significant devotional texts of its day in Germany.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Brockes-Passion

Birgitte Christensen, Lydia Teuscher, sopranos; Marie-Claude Chappuis, mezzosoprano; Donát Havár, Daniel Behle, tenors; Johannes Weisser, baritone; RIAS Kammerchor; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin; René Jacobs, director.

Harmonia Mundi HMC 902013.14

$34.99  Click to buy

A so-called “passion oratorio,” Brockes’s text is a fully versified account of the Passion of Jesus, harmonized from the various Gospel accounts. The perhaps more familiar model from Bach’s two passions is that of the “oratorio passion,” where a single Biblical account is preserved verbatim, with modern poetry and chorales interposed in the form of arias and choral or congregational song. If less familiar in our day, nevertheless Brockes’s text in its own time achieved great visibility through its frequent publication as a devotional text and in musical settings by Keiser (1712), Telemann (1716), Handel (1716), Mattheson (1718), Stölzel (1725), and Fasch (1723). Portions of the poem also appear in Bach’s St. John Passion.

Brockes was a native of Hamburg and from 1720 an active member of the government. Telemann also had a long association with Hamburg as Kantor and Music Director, appointments that began in 1721 and likely reveal the influence of the poet. Several years ealier (1716), Telemann had given performances of his setting of the Brockes Passion in Frankfort, where he was then municipal music director and chapel master at the Barfüsserkirche; these performances were repeated in Hamburg from 1718-1720. Thus, in at least a professional capacity, Telemann and Brockes would have been well known to each other. In Hamburg the requirements for new Passion settings would see Telemann compose over forty liturgical passions, a prolific response to a common Kantorial need. But the setting of the Brockes Passion has gained a significance and prominence beyond its sibling works. Consequently, this excellent new recording by René Jacobs and his forces is an especially welcome one.

Jacobs has shaped his reading of Telemann’s colorful score with a compelling dramatic sense. Somewhat surprisingly, the absence of prose in the libretto does not impede the dynamism and forward motion of the narrative, and the arias themselves are frequently short and rarely da capo. Occasionally units cohere to create something akin to a “cantata-as-scene.” For instance, early in the oratorio, Jesus pleads for mercy in a lyric aria (“Mein Vater! Schau, wie ich mich quäle”), followed by his recounting of the torments he bears in an accompanied recitative; this is then followed by a return of the aria music to a second stanza of text, reminiscent of structural patterns found in cantatas. We may tarry a bit in the “cantata,” but more typical is a sense of dramatic impulsion, animated by strong, vivid, and quick contrasts. For instance, following Peter’s denial, the penitent disciple sings of his regret in lamentative tones, which turn menacing with the text’s turn to Satan’s laugh. Similarly strong contrasts are found throughout the oratorio, including in the unusual attention given to Judas’s tortured resolution to hang himself, immediately followed by the Daughter of Zion’s pastoral reflection on God’s grace.

Brockes’s text imagery is drawn with a bold pen. Here, in an aria sung by a Faithful Soul, you get both an example of the vivid nature of the language and the characteristic dynamic of contrast:

His [Jesus’s] bloodstained back resembles Heaven
Adorned with countless rainbows,
Like signs of pure grace,
Which, where the guilty flood of our sins runs dry,
Shows us the radiant sun of his dear love
In the streams of his blood.

The vividness of Brockes’s language is well served by Telemann’s colorful approach to the score. Obbligato instrumental lines for oboe, flutes, recorders, and various strings are frequent, often dramatically symbolic, and challenging. Moreover, the orchestra is also given special effects, such as the haunting piercing of Jesus’s flesh in the sound of ponticello string bowing. Certainly one of the more impressive aspects of the recording is the brilliant playing of the orchestral players of Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, with oboist Xenia Löffler offering particularly expressive performances. For their part, the solo singers uniformly embrace dramatic flexibility and fluency of idiom, and do so with compelling expertise—qualities that remind, as well, of the distinctive singing career of Jacobs himself.

Our deep attachment to Bach’s Passions may blind us to the broader contexts in which these beloved works arose. Telemann’s setting of the Brockes Passion is a masterful example of the riches that await our moving beyond the seasonally familiar; Jacobs’s performance is a most gratifying way to begin that journey.

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):