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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

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):