Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

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):