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

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Caroline Copeland of the New York Baroque Dance Company with Opera Lafayette. [Photo by Louis Forget courtesy of Opera Lafayette]
11 Feb 2010

Armide by Opera Lafayette

Gluck’s Armide, as semi-staged (costumed dancers but no scenery) at the Rose Theater by the Washington-based Opera Lafayette, was exactly what Gluck designed the piece to be: a supremely elegant entertainment.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Armide

Armide: Dominique Labelle; Renaud: William Burden; La Haine: Stephanie Houtzeel; Sidonie: Judith van Wanroij; Phénice: Nathalie Paulin; Artemidore: Robert Getchell; Hidraot: William Sharp; Aronte: Darren Perry. Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus and the New York Baroque Dance Company, at the Rose Theater. Conducted by Ryan Brown. Performance of February 3.

Above: Caroline Copeland of the New York Baroque Dance Company with Opera Lafayette. [Photos by Louis Forget courtesy of Opera Lafayette]

 

The voices filled the small theater, the string section of the small orchestra was full enough to thrill, the dances were delicious, the French diction superb.

Armida (in French Armide), the heartless pagan sorceress who hopes to undermine the Crusades by capturing the Christian champion, Rinaldo (Renaud), only to fall in love with him herself, first appeared in Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, last of the great Italian Renaissance epics. Until the nineteenth century, all literate folk knew these stories (and, in Italy, read them), and their tales of love and magic were familiar tropes, each presenting a particular love problem. In Armida’s case, can the enchantment of love, which corrupts her ability to perform witchcraft, outweigh the allure to Rinaldo of glory and duty? In other words, can a woman balance a career with amour? And would a man give up for love what a woman is willing to give up for love? And should he? Innumerable composers contributed Armida operas to the debate, among them Lully, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, even Dvorak. In these works, Armida often gets — but never holds — her man.

That fine line between love and hate attracts audiences, not just composers. At the climax of Gluck’s opera — as a stunt, he had set the same Quinault libretto Lully had used in his Armide ninety years before, just to show he could write a “modern” opera without the help of a “modern” poet — Armide, determined to subdue her passion for Renaud, invokes La Haine, the goddess Hatred, to drive this love from her heart — only to call off the Furies in mid-spell. La Haine is offended by Armide’s shilly-shallying, and Renaud soon abandons her. The Crusade must go on, and Renaud, another Aeneas, must go to Italy to found the House of Este, Tasso’s patrons.

Armide2_creditLouisForget.gifJunichi Fukuda, Rachel List and Joy Havens of the New York Baroque Dance Company with Opera Lafayette.

Thirty years ago, when Armide was presented at Carnegie Hall by an organization calling itself the Friends of French Opera, the producers were unable to find a cast capable of performing Gluck’s declamatory melody. Among the variously maladroit styles that evening long ago, the one thoroughly enjoyable performance was given by the late Bianca Berini, an old-fashioned Verdi mezzo, portraying La Haine. Lacking scenery, Berini chewed Carnegie Hall itself down to the lath and plaster. Today, when the grand Verdi manner is almost extinct, a crop of singers capable of performing Gluck adeptly has appeared on the scene — I am thinking, in particular, of Christine Brewer’s Alceste, David Daniels’s Orfeo, Danielle de Niese’s Euridice, Vinson Cole’s Admète, Krassimira Stoyanova’s Iphigénie en Aulide, Ekaterina Gubanova’s Clytemnestre. We must now add Dominique Labelle’s Armide for Opera Lafayette.

Labelle has an unusual voice, pastel fire in a broad palette of hues, carefully displayed here to indicate haughty indifference, voluptuous flirtation, strident rage and, ultimately, despair. Gluck puts Armide through her paces, but Labelle could handle everything he tossed her way.

Stephanie Houtzeel, as La Haine, was a treat for connoisseurs of audible and visible over-the-top hauteur, but she lacked the depths of voice ideal for this contralto role. I found William Burden — a notable Pylade in Iphigénie in Tauride at the New York City Opera — pallid and uncertain in the early, heroic scenes of his role, though his pretty tenor grew in size and warmth as the amorous duets progressed and the intensity of his feelings evolved. Judith van Wanroij displayed a glossy soprano of generous size in three small roles. Nathalie Paulin, her companion in three others, gave pleasure but with less fullness and more classic restraint. Veteran William Sharp sang a pagan king of great glamour. Robert Getchell, who drew particular applause, and Darren Perry did well by the comic roles of the knights sent to reclaim the lost Renaud for the Christian cause — constantly distracted by spirits masquerading as the girls they left back home.

The orchestra takes its place as a full participant in any performance of Armide. The score is full of scene-painting: tempests rise and fall, ravines and ghoul-haunted woodlands are traversed, Furies are summoned from the depths of Hell, and sylphs glide on from some poetic Arcady. Gluck seizes every opportunity to depict activity, atmosphere and setting — curiously enough, not with the winds and brasses that most composers rely on for such things (though these are present), but almost entirely through the strings, the ways they are played, the rhythms they record or interrupt: basses slash and grumble, violins surge and tremble. Is Gluck consciously recalling, for this libretto from a previous century, that Louis XIV’s first court orchestra consisted entirely of violins (the first time in history that twenty instruments ever played in tune) and that composers were long reluctant to add flutes to such a mix, much less bassoons or horns? Or is it merely that he’s so good with strings he doesn’t need to bother with anything else? Certainly, without drowning anyone out, the music carries the singers in Armide rather than merely accompanying them. Ryan Brown’s dancing and ardent conducting inspired great melodramatic storms of sound to alternate with the elegant dances that make up so much of any French grand opera of the period.

This being the case, Opera Lafayette was content to leave the scenery and costumes (aside from the six dancers of the New York Baroque Dance Company) to Gluck’s music and our imaginations. The Rose Theater — which I estimate is barely twice the size of the jewel-box Residenz-Theater in Munich where Mozart’s Idomeneo premiered — is an ideal space for Gluck or almost any other eighteenth-century opera other than those depending on special scenic effects. Voices sound big and juicy without forcing, a small orchestra and chorus sound enormous.

Dance always played a large part in French grand opera, and reconstructing French court dance has long been Catherine Turocy’s specialty. Her dancers here enacted battling warriors, masked temptations, courting shepherds and rag-headed demons with steps that hovered between mime and formal dance. They were always entertaining and generally relevant to the story, and when masked evincing an impersonality appropriate to spirits summoned and embodied by a great and enigmatic witch.

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):