Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sir Edward Elgar
06 Sep 2009

The Dream of Gerontius: Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago

For the eighteenth program of its seventy-fifth anniversary season the Grant Park Music Festival under the direction of its principal conductor Carlos Kalmar gave two performances of Sir Edward Elgar’s monumental oratorio for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, The Dream of Gerontius.

Sir Edward Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

Alysson McHardy, mezzo soprano, John Mac Master, tenor, Paul Whelan, bass-baritone, Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, Carlos Kalmar, conductor. Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago

 

In the performance seen on 1 August 2009 John MacMaster sang the role of Gerontius, the Priest and Angel of the Agony were performed by bass Paul Whelan, and the Angel was sung by mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy. The significant parts representing the Assistants in Part I as well as the Demons, Angelicals, and Souls in Part II were performed by the Grant Park Chorus as led by its director Christopher Bell.

Elgar’s composition, based on a text by Cardinal John Henry Newman, depicts the final hours of the life of Gerontius, his dream and vision of heaven, and finally his death, judgement, and passage into the company of souls in Purgatory. Elgar’s libretto reflects the original poem by Cardinal Newman, a number of verses having been deleted but none of the remaining text showing any substantive changes. The orchestral prelude was played by the Grant Park Orchestra with careful attention to succeeding moods unfolding during its development. After the opening predominance of the lower strings, an alternate melodic structure was introduced with the harp providing lightness or the suggestion of upward movement. In the next wave of moods the brass section was joined by a dramatic increase in percussion, suggesting the momentous end of life but with strains of the previous, lighter melody still evident as a counterbalance. After such a point of synthesis at the close of the prelude Gerontius begins to perform a monologue of his realization that death is near. In this role Mr. MacMaster invested the text with alternating shades of pathos, fervor, and dramatic intensity as he pleaded for divine support at the time of life’s passing. In response to an appeal to his mortal friends, the Assistants modulated their initial choral participation to sound, alternately, more importunate to God or more directly supportive of Gerontius. The Latin prayers [Sanctus fortis; Miserere, Judex meus, etc.] which now served to preface the petitions of Gerontius were sung by MacMaster with a heroic dignity as the orchestra swelled in accompaniment to match the rising intensity of Elgar’s score. When the tenor sings of a “fierce and restless fight” within his soul, Kalmar enhanced the orchestral tempos skillfully in order to underscore the mood of a battle. At this point the choral Assistants further enumerated famous Biblical battles as a means to “Rescue this Thy servant.” As if in response to this encouragement, in the final segment of the first part of the Oratorio, the Priest sung by bass Paul Whelan gave imperatives to the soul of Gerontius in his march toward judgement. As the supportive voice at the time of death Whelan gave memorable, lyrical force to his part, infusing a fine sense of legato into his extended lines shared with the chorus of Assistants. He intoned the “Name of God” with a declarative and steady, high pitch, so that the Soul was now prepared — given this vocally impressive, additional support — to face its maker with renewed courage.

In the second, longer part of the Oratorio the Soul of Gerontius, now departed from life, sings much of his role in dialogue with the Angel. The Soul seems to awaken from sleep and feels “an inexpressive lightness,” a noticeable transition marking his death and passing into the afterlife. MacMaster sings this introductory segment with clear anticipation, as he states that a voice of distinctive melodic character can be heard nearby. The Angel begins now her responses, at once leading and instructive, as the Soul questions its further path to judgement. Allyson McHardy’s assumption of the role of the Angel was nothing short of a vocal revelation. The mezzo-soprano’s range, secure in all registers, is a decided asset in this role, which requires a number of emotional transitions at differing vocal levels. McHardy began her statements with liquid tones in which her accompanying words to the Soul establish a sense of trust or reliance on the ethereal figure. When asked why the impending judgment did not instill a sense of fear, the Angel replies that “thou didst fear” while alive, thus alleviating a sense of present dread. Yet in response to the Soul’s question on the source of the “fierce hubbub,” the Angel reminds of their proximity to the court of judgement. The tumult of voices heard represents the demons who assemble to collect those souls fallen prey by their previous sinfulness. As McHardy elaborated on this habitual behavior, her voice ascended to dramatic high notes of confident intensity characterizing the diabolicals, as they “claim their property.” A similar dramatic communication returned as McHardy assured the Soul of a fleeting view of the Lord at the moment of judgement and, even more, as she accompanied the Soul across the threshold to the Choir of Angelicals. At the very moment when the Angel announces that the judgement will begin, the Angel of the Agony enters to intone a litany of prayers as an intercession. As sung by Whelan with exemplary attention to diction, the pathos of the moment was brought to even greater focus. The final praises and “Alleluia” sung by the Angel, as well as her words of “Farewell” to the Soul of Gerontius were given a special poignancy in McHardy’s closing piano notes. The ultimate “Amen” as a welcome to the Soul by the Angelicals was sounded on a sublime note of peace by the Grant Park Chorus.

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):