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

Jessye Norman
08 Jun 2010

Festive Concert with Jessye Norman

It was more the ruins than the remnants of a once-great voice that Jessye Norman brought to Israel’s new, 6500-seat outdoor opera theater at the foot of historic Masada Mountain.

Festive Concert with Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman, soprano. Raana Symphonette Orchestra. Conductor: Rachael Worby.

Above: Jessye Norman

 

The appearance of an artist whose best years lie in the past can be a moving experience in its recall of extraordinary greatness. Hearing Norman, once one of the most impressive voices of her day, at this point in her career was, however, disquieting — and disheartening.

The concert was a major event in launching the program that makes Israel Opera a major player among the world’s summer opera festivals. Yet the established format for such gala events is in itself of questionable artistic merit: one sits patiently through bits and pieces of opera — the Marchfrom Aida and a bit of orchestral Puccini — waiting to hear a modest handful of hits sung by the artist of the evening.

The music that made Norman famous — Strauss, Mahler, Wagner — is clearly no longer within her reach and thus was totally absent from the Masada program. There she turned rather to Saint-Saens and Puccini and — on the second half of an almost three-hour concert — Gershwin and Duke Ellington. For certain qualities Norman, now 65, can still be praised: pitch is no problem and — with an excess of hand gestures — she still throws herself into the music.

The sad truth, however, is that she has lost absolute control of her voice; there is no longer flexibility, and only rarely was there at Masada a hint of the beauty and richness that once made her special. To counter her diminished powers Norman chose as her partner onstage young American Rachel Worby, now at home with the Pasadena Pops, who worked in Israel with the Raanana Symphonette, an ensemble founded in 1991 largely by musicians from the then still Soviet Union.

Worby qualified at Masada as an accommodating accompanist — not as an independent conductor. She took her cues from Norman and did what she could to help the singer create an impression of great artistry. Alas, it did not work.

The new theater, so successful for the lavish production of Verdi’s Nabucco on the previous evening, was much too large for the Norman concert. The sound so superb in Verdi was anemic; the show was too small for the majesty of surroundings that reached to the very edge of the Dead Sea.

Also physically diminished, Norman failed to reach her audience emotionally in the first half of the program; there was little enthusiasm in the response to Italian hits. Things went somewhat better with Gershwin and Ellington — but not much better. Although Norman on occasion sang this music earlier, it was never at the center of her repertory, and despite the use of a husky chest voice, one could not overcome the impression that here she was poaching.

The irony of It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing was that Norman could not make it swing at all. “You can hear Ella Fitzgerald rotating in her grave,” someone commented in leaving the performance that ended with several encores, including an uncomfortably graceless Amazing Grace. One wonders about Norman’s health. Getting on and off stage was an obvious effort; several times she remained on stage in a darkened chair while the orchestra was in the spotlight and on several occasions she remained seated while singing.

The big critical question, however, concerns the “why” of this event. Why did Israel Opera invite Jessye Norman for a concert that not only heralded a new festival, but also celebrated the company’s 25th anniversary? The concert underscored a turning point in the history of an ambitious and admirable company. The concert was thus designed to give Israel Opera at Masada an instant cachet: I’m Jessye Norman and I’m here to tell you how fantastic Masada is…

In this Norman failed Israel Opera; the concert was far from sold out, and many chose to listen to the second half at the bars outside the theater. And Norman? Why did she do this? How did she see — and hear- herself?

Once a queen, always a queen?

To a star who once had it all, recent years, devoted largely to good works, have been unkind. (Compare Norman’s artistry today with that of Frederica von Stade, also born in 1945.) She remains active, doing good works, but, as one saw at Masada, Jessye Norman is no longer a presence in the world of performing artists.

The Norman conquest, so to speak, is over.

Wes Blomster

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):