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

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

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):