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

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Portrait du compositeur Vincent d'Indy (1851 - 1931) par Antoine Bourdelle au Musée Bourdelle.
16 Oct 2009

Fervaal by Vincent d’Indy

Vincent d’Indy lived eighty years and, when not composing, spent his time revising the teaching of music in France or simply annoying everybody.

Vincent d’Indy: Fervaal

Fervaal: Richard Crawley; Guilhen: Deanne Meek; Kaito: Barbara Dever; Arfagard: Donnie Ray Albert. American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein, at Avery Fisher Hall. October 14.

 

Nineteen when Prussia tramped all over his beloved France in 1870, he became a passionate nationalist with all the excesses of the time and place: anti-Germanism became, for him as for many, a racial “Celticism,” and his Francophilia included royalism, anti-Dreyfusism and anti-Semitism. Yet he was too good a musician not to appreciate Wagner and be influenced by Wagnerian method.

As a composer of opera, d’Indy was part of that post-Wagnerian movement determined to find in local folklore ways to celebrate national glory, a movement that produced dozens of works from Ireland to Armenia, most of them long forgotten — Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel is a rare success and survival. D’Indy’s Fervaal, which affects to find in the druids a mythic antidote to sophisticated modern life, is d’Indy’s contribution. It had its premiere in Brussels in 1897 and reached Paris in 1913 — just in time for this sort of perfervid nationalism to cheer entry into World War I; Fervaal has not been fully staged anywhere since. That the hero, a druidic prince of divine descent vowed to chastity — though how that will preserve his dynasty is not made clear — is seduced by the love of a “Saracen” princess. Their doomed union prefigures the death of the old gods and the birth of a world based on love (sound familiar?). The Celtic-Saracen passion might appeal to multiculturalists in modern France, with its huge, disaffected Muslim population, but would probably not delight the aristocratic d’Indy and leaves the auditor puzzled.

Still, as a concert version presented by the American Symphony Orchestra under that indefatigable lover of obscure scores, Leon Botstein, made clear, Fervaal is extraordinary without being especially endearing. The great flaw is that none of the three principal characters has much personality — they declaim at taxing length but they never persuade us that they feel any of the emotions they announce. They do not persuade us that they exist — that they have inner lives, emotions that can be reached by other persons. None of their music possesses the charm d’Indy gives to his choruses, who are variously and convincingly warring tribes, exultant priests, sensuous Saracens, spirits of the clouds or natural forces moaning as storms or winds. D’Indy might have achieved success with a dramatic oratorio had he ever composed one — grand opera on the Meyerbeer or Wagner pattern does not bring out his best.

The opera’s enormous orchestra lacked (Botstein said) several instruments d’Indy requested that are no longer much played. There were an enormous variety of winds and brasses typical of the period, exquisitely deployed: contrabass clarinets, for example, and four saxophones to accompany the apparition of the cloud-goddess Kaito and her cumulonimbus attendants — an answer for those who have doubted the spiritual qualities of the saxophone sound. For orchestral color, d’Indy was clearly a master of the genre — he is perhaps best known for his set of orchestral variations on the legend of the Descent of Ishtar — played in reverse from most complex to least, as the goddess disrobes to her naked theme.

My heart went out to the three lead singers — especially to Richard Crawley, a last-minute replacement, who had to learn the title role (easily as long as either Siegfried) in two and a half weeks — for the acres of ungrateful declamatory singing they were obliged to hurl out at Fisher Hall all evening. That they could pace themselves and did not run out of steam is a tremendous tribute to the professionalism of all hands. Donnie Ray Albert may lack the Wagnerian surge and sonorous depths that d’Indy appears to have hoped for in Arfagard, the uncompromising druid priest and prophet, but his sturdy bass-baritone never lost authority. Deanne Meek’s clear mezzo-soprano probably has some sensuous notes somewhere, but she didn’t much display them as the Saracen princess Guilhen, though one would have thought “seductiveness” part of the job description. She, too, deserves points for unflagging industry. Barbara Dever sang the small but distinctive role of Kaito, whom d’Indy calls the goddess of the clouds — but he wrote it and she sang it in the style and intensity of Wagner’s Erda, a part she could obviously handle whenever called upon. Many small roles were ably covered and the Concert Chorale of New York were especially virtuosic, with the only really lyric singing of the occasion.

John Yohalem

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):