Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

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):