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

Manon Lescaut Munich : Opolais, Kaufmann

Puccini Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera. What is Manon Lescaut really about? The Abbé Prévost's 1731 narrative was a moral discourse. Unlike many modern novels, it wasn't a potboiler but a philosphical tract in which the protagonists face moral dilemmas

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’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):