Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

Armida in Pesaro

Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

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):