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

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

Kindred Spirits: Cecilia Bartoli and Rolando Villazón at the Concertgebouw

Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has been a regular favourite at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam since 1996. Her verastile concerts are always carefully constructed and delivered with irrepressible energy and artistic commitment.

Cav/Pag at Royal Opera

When Italian director Damiano Michieletto visited Covent Garden in June this year, he spiced Rossini’s Guillaume Tell with a graphic and, many felt, gratuitous rape scene that caused outrage and protest.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christopher Ainslie as Artaxerxes [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House]
03 Nov 2009

Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes — Baroque Hyperbole

Thomas Arne's masterpiece, Artaxerxes, was a huge hit after its 1762 debut. Yet the work is now a rarity. This spectacular performance at the Linbury Studio Theatre, will certainly raise its public profile.

Thomas Arne: Artaxerxes

Christopher Ainslie: Artaxerxes; Elizabeth Watts: Mandane; Andrew Staples: Artabanes; Caitlin Hulcup: Arbaces; Rebecca Bottone; Semira: Steven Ebel; Rimenes: Anthony Kurt-Gabel; Adrien Mastrosimone, Edward Mitton, Sebastien Rose: servants and guards. Ian Page, conductor, Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company. Martin Duncan: Director. Johan Engels: Design. Nicholas Michaletos: Lighting. Movement: Michael Poppe. Additional music by Ian Page and Duncan Druce. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London.

Above: Christopher Ainslie as Artaxerxes [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House]

 

Baroque is hyperbole, celebrating exuberance. Artaxerxes, set in ancient Persia, gave Arne an opportunity to create an “oriental” fantasy that would shock and awe. This production, by the Royal Opera House at the Linbury Studio Theatre certainly was spectacular in the true, over-the-top baroque manner, enhanced by modern technology.

Artaxerxes starts in silence. The Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company sits on stage in a brightly lit white pit. They’re wearing white too, which dazzles in the darkly shrouded stage. Gradually from the shadows emerges a truly magnificent golden throne, not like any story-book European king’s throne but an intricate golden web, 5 meters high. It references the Pharaohs —Tutankhamen meets the Peacock Throne of Persia..

The costumes (by Johan Engels) are amazing. They look vaguely 18th century yet are made of Japanese brocade and silk, lime green, neon pink, electric blue, colours that rarely exist in nature, with samurai-like shoulderpads and helmets. European, but with a distinctly alien flamboyance. This is the true magpie spirit of the baroque, an age when Europe discovered that worlds existed beyond anything they’d imagined. It didn’t matter if the influences were Japan or Persia, as long as they were exotic.

The servants who also act as guards, are mysterious, some wearing samurai helmets, but often simply swathed in black, like ninjas. This could be a reference to bunraku, the Japanese theatre tradition where puppets “act”, manipulated by black-clad puppeteers, meant to be semi-invisible. It could be a comment on how formal and stylized life in Court circles might have been. When the singers collapse emotionally, they fall down, held up by the “ninjas” who then become symbols of dark, inexpressible feelings.

The costumes may be hyper-real and the set minimalist, but that reflects the plot. It’s so convoluted it’s not easy to follow even if you’ve read up on it. Artaxerxes’s father Xerxes is assassinated by Artabanes, father of Arbaces, Artaxerxes’s best friend. Both young men are in love with each others sisters. Father frames son for the murder and condemns him to death. But the son is so loyal to the new king, that he kills the rebel General. In remorse, Artabanes confesses and Artaxerxes exiles his regicide future farher in law, restoring the son to honour and marrying the daughter.

Musically, Artaxerxes is surprisingly simple, with a small chamber orchestra, instruments doubled for volume. The continuos are harpsichord and cello. Some of the arias are familiar even though the opera itself is rarely heard. There are good moments for vocal pyrotechnics. Words are held for 10 or 12 measures amply decorated. Nonetheless, it’s not specially inventive as music.Artaxerxes will be much better known thanks to this production, but might not have quite the same effect in concert performance.

Very good singing all round. Christopher Ainslie’s Artaxerxes wasn’t so extreme as some countertenors can be, so he didn’t shake the balance of the ensemble but convinced as an intuitive young man who doesn’t do ruthless. Caitlin Hulcup’s Arbaces was so convincing that you had to remind yourself she was a mezzo. Elizabeth Watts’s Mandane, and Andrew Staples’s Artabanes were solid. Steven Ebel’s Rimenes was striking, his stage presence mature beyond his actual age.

Rebecca Bottone’s Semira was outstanding. Tiny as she is, she sings and acts with such intensity that it seems to shake her frame. It’s Semira who challenges everyone, and it is she who doesn’t accept that Arbaces is a killer. Left to his own devices the poor fellow is a bit of a wimp, despite being sweet. Bottone’s passionate portrayal was so strong that she was worth watching even when she wasn’t singing.

This was a new performing edition by Ian Page, who conducted and wrote additional music for the recitatives. Duncan Druce write the delightful finale, where all the cast sing before the golden throne. The original recitatives and finale were lost in a fire that burned down a theatre not far from Covent Garden in 1808, so it’s good that it should be restored and heard again at the Royal Opera House, not far from where Arne lived 250 years ago.

Anne Ozorio

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):