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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Kaufmann, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

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):