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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017

On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.

OPERA RARA AUCTION: online auction for opera lovers worldwide

On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

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):