Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



Benjamin Britten: Owen Wingrave
06 Apr 2009

Benjamin Britten: Owen Wingrave

In the parlance of a Hollywood film pitch, Britten's penultimate opera might be described as "War Requiem" meets "Turn of the Screw."

Benjamin Britten: Owen Wingrave

Peter Coleman-Wright - Owen Wingrave; Alan Opie - Spencer Coyle; James Gilchrist - Lechmere; Elizabeth Connell - Miss Wingrave; Janice Watson - Mrs Coyle; Sarah Fox - Mrs Julian; Pamela Helen Stephen - Kate; Robin Leggate - General Sir Philip Wingrave, Narrator. Tiffin Boys Choir. City of London Sinfonia. Richard Hickox, conducting.

CHAN 10473(2) [2CDs]

$34.99  Click to buy

An adaptation by Myfawny Piper of a Henry James short story, Owen Wingrave relates the story of a young pacifist in a family of soldiers who tries to prove his bravery by spending the night in a room in the ancestral home supposedly haunted by two ghosts. In the morning he is discovered dead.

If that sounds like rather thin material for a full-length opera, it is. In two acts that run about 110 minutes, Owen Wingrave manages to feel much longer. Didactic and portentous, the libretto’s flat characters declare their positions in tedious, protracted arguments, only to reach a climax that strives for an eerie ambiguity but just feels unclear and unmotivated. The excellent booklet essay by Anthony Burton explains that similar criticism was made of Adams’s short story. Burton goes on to conclude that the opera is a “major personal statement” for Britten, which is all good and fine, but that doesn’t make it an artistic success. The score undoubtedly is “close-knit,” as Burton describes it, as it uses a few motifs over and over. Your reviewer cannot agree with Burton, however, that Britten’s music is “imaginative,” as it all sounds like music he had written, to greater effect, for other pieces. Besides the titles mentioned in the opening line of this review, strong echoes can also be heard of the Britten masterpiece Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

However, any work by a major composer such as Benjamin Britten deserves a hearing, and this Chandos recording, one of the last conducted by the late Richard Hickox, brings together excellent singers to give the work a fighting chance - no pun intended - at winning converts. Peter Coleman-Wright wrestles with his conscience in the title role, employing a smooth, well-modulated baritone. In the thankless roles of Owen’s belligerent family, Alan Opie and Elizabeth Connell try their best to fill out their one-dimensional characters. Janice Watson and James Gilchrist also make fine contributions.

The Chandos sound has its fans and detractors. For your reviewer, the aural picture boasts remarkable clarity, but that comes at the cost of being set at a very low-level, even for a classical release. For anyone with somewhat weak hearing, that necessitates a high level of output. Louder sections then blast out painfully, and if somehow one forgets to adjust the setting for the next music one listens to, sudden deafness is a real possibility.

For the most committed admirers of Britten’s music, this CD captures a fine performance. For anyone else with the slightest interest in the material, a fairly recent film production with Gerald Finley at least gives the viewer of Owen Wingrave some visual stimulation to make the 110 minutes pass a little less “pacifically.”

Chris Mullins

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):