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

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.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

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):