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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Nicholas Coppolo and Hanan Alattar [Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Gotham Chamber Opera]
22 Jan 2010

Il Mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, around 1777, the Empress Maria Theresa used to visit Prince Esterhazy’s summer palace at Esterhàza, where there was an opera house fully equipped with stage machinery, leading singers, an orchestra, and a guy named Joseph Haydn to compose on cue.

Franz Joseph Haydn: Il Mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon)

Clarice: Hanan Alattar; Flaminia: Albina Shagimuratova; Lisetta: Rachel Calloway; Ecclitico: Nicholas Coppolo; Cecco: Matthew Tuell; Ernesto: Timothy Kuhn; Buonafede: Marco Nisticò. Gotham Chamber Opera at the Rose Center Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, conducted by Neal Goren. Performance of January 20.

Above: Nicholas Coppolo and Hanan Alattar [Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Gotham Chamber Opera]

 

Haydn is often considered the father of the symphony, the string quartet and the piano sonata, but he is seldom mentioned in an operatic context. That’s not because he wasn’t any good at it — he was often very good. But he was seldom consistently good at opera, and he never found — or sought, maybe — the sort of mature libretto that would display his talents as Lorenzo da Ponte displayed those of Mozart, Salieri and Martin y Soler. Haydn’s operas seem a series of amiable misfires with charming moments — but I’ve only attended seven of them, and none were his grand operas, Armida and Orlando Paladino, which may play differently.

As the operatic world scours forgotten and therefore fresh scores, Haydn, a familiar name, is bound to seem appealing even without Maria Theresa’s imprimatur (“Whenever I want to hear good opera, I go to Esterhàza,” she said, probably as much to goad the management of her court theater back in Vienna as to compliment her host). Haydn’s style is familiar to us, all modern opera singers being trained to perform Mozart, and the forces required are seldom large.

Carlo_Goldoni.gifCarlo Goldoni, librettist

Il Mondo della Luna, using a popular libretto by Goldoni that was set by everyone from Galuppi to Paisiello, is a typical buffo tale of a rich old fool, Buonafede (“good faith”), opposed to the marriage of his two daughters and their maid to the three impecunious men they love, with the sly twist that the old coot has a hobby: astronomy. One of the boyfriends, Ecclitico (“ecliptic”), is a charlatan astrologer who pretends to transport the old boy to the moon. Buonafede, presented to the lunar emperor, is dazzled by Lunatic mores and court etiquette (Maria Theresa probably loved this part), but he regrets his womenfolk are missing the fun. Quicker than you can say, “May the farce be with you,” they arrive! — beamed by transporter, one presumes. The emperor marries the venal maid, Lisetta, and his chamberlain and master of ceremonies wed the two daughters. Wedding hymns are sung in the Lunatic tongue. Buonafede is puzzled that the girls already speak it so well, and though furious when he learns he has been bamboozled, accepts the fait accompli. In the full libretto, he reflects philosophically that you really need to travel to get the right perspective on life back home — but the moral was one of Gotham Chamber Opera’s omissions.

Gotham has created one of the more dazzling entertainments of the New York season by presenting this nonsense in the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, replete with instrument panels, space suits (the elegant and witty costumes are by Anka Lupes), globular space helmets, acrobatic “moon nymphs” and above it all, on the 180-degree dome, shooting stars, exploding galaxies, shots of earth and the moon, and the wildest light show since psychedelia fell from fashion. Viewers of a certain age (mine) may recall The Saint in its heyday, but the music was better at the planetarium and the show a lot shorter. The whole run has sold out, and it’s hard to imagine anyone attending who would not gladly go again.

The one exception I would take is, in fact, to the evening’s brevity. Over-anxious not to bore, music director Neal Goren and director Diane Paulus may have left too much out. Over half the opera was omitted — on the grounds, Goren says, that the cuts were less than top-drawer Haydn. That may be true, and no one wants more secco recitative “dialogue” than we absolutely need, but confining most of the singers to one aria apiece means the characters are one-dimensional, silhouettes of slight interest or humanity. You cannot tell the sisters apart, for one thing — from the synopsis in the program, I’m not sure which one marries which lover — and you do not know or care if their feelings are sincere. In a farce, someone ought to want something sincerely or the crazy shenanigans aren’t as funny; there’s no contrast. You need Kitty Carlisle as a backdrop for the Marx Brothers.

In Il Mondo della Luna, Gotham goes for constant entertainment rather than letting the drama merely rest, at any point, upon the skills of the singers, the beauty of the often wonderful music. This is a current trend, and those of us who like singing may find that, fun as it is, it can go too far in an MTV direction. On the plus side, it sure was fun.

It would be difficult to single out any performer among the seven flawless players of this ensemble cast. Marco Nisticò seemed to be enjoying himself as the bubbling blowhard Buonafede, and he had the most to do, swinging hips as he ornamented his arias. Nicholas Coppolo gets special notice for being so slimy a phony as Ecclitico and then leaping seamlessly into the role of ardent lover to sing a rapturous duet with his Clarice (Hanan Alattar — or was it Flaminia, Albina Shagimuratova? Well, each one had an aria, and both were excellent). Rachel Calloway, as pert Lisetta, demonstrated the swagger of a chambermaid is exactly the right style for an empress. Timothy Kuhn sang an alluring love song to himself — director Paulus’s idea, not Haydn’s, but charming in context, and Matthew Tuell triumphed as the spunky valet who ascends to the lunatic throne. This was far and away the best all-around cast I have encountered in a Gotham production, each of them worthy at the very least of another aria or one of the omitted da capos. They were also all Lucy-ready farceurs — though a very little “disco” dancing in eighteenth-century costume goes a long way, and after an hour of it one wondered if director Paulus had run out of ideas or was simply bored by the characters. The Gotham orchestra played music that was always pleasant and sometimes heavenly.

Impossible to discuss the event and not mention Philip Bussmann, credited with Video and Production Design, who made a charming evening a spectacular one. And the Gotham team for dreaming this up, and the Museum of Natural History for recognizing a major opportunity when it came their way.

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):