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

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Athaliah, as depicted in Antoine Dufour’s <em>Vie des femmes célèbres</em>, c. 1505; in the Dobrée Museum, Nantes, France.
17 May 2009

Athalia — Lincoln Center Great Performers Series

You won’t get much argument nowadays — you won’t get any from me — if you call Handel’s dramatic oratorios operas in all but name.

G. F. Handel: Athalia

Athalia: Simone Kermes; Josabeth: Sarah Fox; Joas: Johannette Zomer; Joad: Iestyn Davies; Mathan: James Gilchrist; Abner: Neal Davies. Balthasar Neumann Choir, Concerto Köln, conducted by Ivor Bolton. Lincoln Center Great Performers Series, Alice Tully Hall, May 16.

 

Many of them can be staged, and are; I have seen stagings of Susanna, Samson and Belshazzar, among the “sacred” oratorios — not to mention the famous video of Peter Sellars’ Theodora and stagings of the “secular” oratorios, Semele and Hercules. Several of the sacred oratorios — notably Esther and Athalia, from Racine, and Hercules, from Sophocles — are based to varying degrees on actual stage plays. Too, Handel had written some two dozen operas before he turned to oratorio, propelled as much by poor management decisions in managing his Italian singers as by the English demand for musical entertainment in English — much as he missed the scenery and special effects, he saw no reason not to exploit his gifts for characterization and high drama, and much to add in the use of a chorus, which became affordable when he gave up scenery, costumes and ballet.

Athalia, his third sacred oratorio and the one, critics agree, where he broke stride into greatness, is the melodramatic tale of one of the Old Testament’s most unusual figures, the queen who usurped the throne of Judea, massacred the royal family (including her own children and grandchildren), and restored the worship of Baal to Jerusalem. After seven years, she was overthrown and slain by the one grandson who escaped the massacre. Although her reputation has been obscured by that of her mother, Jezebel, it’s a heck of a story, and Racine (modeling his tale on Greek tragedy) summed it up in one extraordinary day, as does Handel. (Sukkoth, apparently — the celebrations in the Temple are of a harvest festival.)

As presented at the newly refurbished Alice Tully Hall by the Concerto Köln, Athalia was almost restive in its concert chains, straining to get out and be a drama at every twist and turn. All the fine singers were acting, and Concerto Köln made the most of Handel’s various accompaniments: the slashing strings (one section after another), for example, as the renegade priest Mathan reflected on what was in store for him now that God had defeated Baal, or the recorders that attempted to console the restless, guilt-ridden Athalia. Rhythms were crisp and danceable, and the tension of the story never relaxed.

It takes some skill to chew scenery when there is no scenery, and Simone Kermes, as Athalia, had it down — you wouldn’t want to get in her way. She was in character the moment she walked in: hair dyed red to match her flouncy orange and yellow gown and gold platform pumps, eyes starting from her head, every movement expressing a woman of emotional extremes. She underlined every extravagant syllable with voice and gesture (words like “gore” and “horror” got special attention), and her fruity, Germanic vibrato shook the hall. She looked and sounded not of the same world as the other singers — unlike her, mostly British — as was only proper for this alien, sympathetic-repulsive figure, tragic in her resolve to face the collapse of all her schemes.

The contrast this made with Sarah Fox as the confident (but not untroubled) Josabeth, Athalia’s daughter who has secretly preserved the last prince of the royal house, could hardly have been greater. Fox has a huge, bright, vibrato-free, clarion sound with perfect attention to every little turn and grace note, the perfect instrument for Josabeth’s passionate convictions — she could be a young Sutherland, except that her diction is outstanding. Josabeth is Handel’s voice of the idealist who will triumph — his librettist omitted the prophecies of Judaea’s decadence in Racine, which didn’t suit the mood in Oxford in 1733. Johannette Zomer was charming in the small trouser (well, knicker) role of Prince Joas, given to a boy in Handel’s day.

The men were not quite so exciting, so involved, as the women. James Gilchrist sang a thoughtful Mathan, humanizing the turncoat’s obsequiousness and despair just as Handel does. Iestyn Davies sang the role of the high priest, Joad, with confidence and lovely floating head tones, very much in the rather undemonstrative English countertenor tradition. Neal Davies sang Abner, one of Handel’s bass generals, such a joy, amid trumpets and drums, in the right throat — but though he hit all the notes, I found the notes themselves hollow, ill-supported, unresonant. His was the only second rate performance of the occasion, and he the only performer I would not be eager to hear again.

Two dozen is the maximum number I ever care to hear in a Handel chorus, no matter the size of the hall. The Balthasar Neumann Choir number twenty-five, but I forgive them, on account of the precision of their music-making and the subtle phrasing they impart to choruses of triumph, of prayer, of seductive luxury (when priests of Baal), of nuance to words like “groan” and “wound” — when Handel gets a word like that, he makes the music feel it, and the Neumann Choir made us feel it too.

John Yohalem

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):