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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ian Bostridge
17 Jun 2009

Ian Bostridge at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

In a recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert featuring twentieth-century instrumental and vocal compositions Ian Bostridge sang Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations under the direction of principal conductor Bernard Haitink.

Ian Bostridge at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

 

The concert opened with a contemporary arrangement of early music, Steven Stucky’s transcription of Henry Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary, this version receiving its first performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The second half of the program offered a masterful account of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, the performance here yielding considerable opportunity for both soloists and orchestral ensemble.

The brief transcription of Funeral Music in four parts, beginning and ending with a march, honors the musical spirit of Purcell while offering a modern interpretation of the same. After an introduction emphasizing low notes for the flute, a steady piano accompaniment gives way to the drums signaling a dignified realization of death. Following this opening, the CSO brass played an appropriately somber dirge, indeed one associated with the elevated stance of passing royalty. An oboe solo, performed here with great effect by Eugene Izotov, was echoed by the brass, such types of musical dialogue informing much of the remainder of Stucky’s transcription of Purcell. Sustained notes held by the use of the vibraphone introduced a continuity leading to a final stately reprise, with the repetition of drums calling the funereal tone into an ultimate focus.

The significance of Purcell’s music for Benjamin Britten is certainly recognized from the latter’s instrumental compositions, and the pairing in this concert with Les Illuminations functioned as yet further homage to the earlier composer. Britten was first inspired by the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud in the late 1930s and finished in 1940 his cycle of songs, Les Illuminations for high voice and strings, based on Rimbaud’s texts of the same name. The singer’s approach to the poetic texts by Rimbaud and interaction with the string orchestra is key to a unified approach in a performance of this cycle. Bostridge has given ample consideration to a multi-faceted approach evident in this program. He injects a sense of drama without appearing overwrought in tone while, at the same time, maintaining sufficient ironic distance so that his performance serves as both song and commentary on the text and music being performed. In the introductory lines of “Fanfare” Bostridge declares with proud conviction “J’ai seul la clef de cette parade” [“I alone have the keys to this parade”]. When these words are repeated and varied ending piano on the phrase “cette parade sauvage” [“this savage parade”], the singer becomes a keeper of secrets, one who bears the mask of an omniscient observer. With this alternating perspective Bostridge guided the listeners through the following series of poems chosen and set by Britten. “Villes” [“Cities”] details the varied and stirring activity of the modern city, filled with moving individuals and their means of transportation. To illustrate the mix of ancient and modern — the seeming paradox of nature, myth, and metropolis — Bostridge intoned, in effective succession, a rising followed by a descending scale on the verbal forms in the phrase “la lune brûle et hurle.”[“the moon burns and howls”]. At the close of this song the paradox of frenetic movement and ancient model was capped softly by Bostridge as he asked “d’ou viennent mes sommeils…?” [“from where does my sleep come …?”] with tender inquisitiveness. In the following text of “Phrase” the lyrical I speaks, almost as one of the fates, stretching cords from one pinnacle or window to another. While describing movement here with the statement, “et je danse” [“and I dance”], the tenor emphasized the physical verb starting on a crystalline high note that progressed, glissando and gracefully all-encompassing, to a concluding low. In the following three pieces, before an orchestral interlude, the tone sways between the private and the open spheres. “Antique” is a direct address to the son of Pan, both description and attempt to communicate, during which Bostridge used his voice to suggest the musical instrument associated with the deity. The range of notes struck so effectively by the singer in the conclusion to this song evoked the female and male aspects of the “double sexe” as cited. In “Royauté” an unidentified couple indeed play at the roles of royalty for an extended day, their self-absorption brought out especially in the ironic detachment of this performance. The movements of the ocean and foam slapping against a boat in “Marine” were convincingly imitated by melismatic effects on “l’écume” [“foam”] and the final emphasis of “tourbillons de lumière” [“whirlpools of light”].

As the first in the second group of texts following the orchestral interlude, “Being Beauteous,” as titled by Rimbaud, is replete with contrasting images that call into question the concepts of actual and idealized appearance. Through notable shifts in tempo Bostridge underlined these contrasts while allowing the text to maintain its own organic flow. The tone of the song was aptly concluded with a low, almost heavy vocal projection on the words “de l’air leger” [“of the soft air”], suggesting by the performer antithesis in one’s perceptions of beauty. In the final two songs, “Parade” and “Départ,” the soloist released a crescendo of varied emotions as he observed and commented on the parade of humanity, a further and elongated assurance here given that the key to the parade rested with the perception of this voice. In “Départ” Bostridge looked truly weary as he sang “Assez vu” [“Enough seen”], the slow and quiet intonations now concluding a cycle of contradictions, as the final phrase, “l’affection et le bruit neufs” [“the new affection and noise”] trailed softly into memory.

In the Symphony No. 15 by Shostakovich, performed after the intermission, Haitink gave cohesive direction to a sprawling work that blends original motifs with ample quotation. In the first movement, marked Allegretto, an initial motif was introduced by the solo flute, played poignantly by Mathieu Dufour and leading into a series of other solo parts in succession. After the bassoon, oboe, and trombone contributed their parts, combinations of instruments — e.g. flute and brass, piccolo and strings — were punctuated by intermittent references to the William Tell overture by Rossini. In the second, Adagio movement a solo for cello was played exquisitely by John Sharp, who was subsequently joined by Dufour in a duet followed by the full complement of strings. The concluding movements of the Symphony, with various tempo markings including — again — Allegretto, contain yet further quotations from the composer’s own works as well. The integration of the past and transformation into a new composition remained the guiding force behind Haitink’s memorable interpretation.

Salvatore Calomino

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):