Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi (c. 1612/1620) [National Gallery of Art]
18 Jul 2010

Darkness Visible: Dowland and beyond

This was a recital of concentrated intensity — a remarkable dialogue between texts, timbres and idioms, across ages and among performers.

Darkness Visible: Dowland and beyond

Mark Padmore, tenor; Lawrence Power, viola; Elizabeth Kenny, lute and

Above: The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi (c. 1612/1620) [National Gallery of Art]


Taking the music of the enigmatic and complex figure, John Dowland — lutenist, actor, Elizabethan diplomat and suspected spy — as its starting point and impetus, the programme explored some of the many transformations of Dowland, revealing the performers’ innate understanding of the myriad ways in which words and music ‘speak’ to their audiences.

Even the most simple and ‘straightforward’ of Dowland’s own lute songs and airs are rarely without courtly sophistication and ironic conceits, and while the opening song, ‘Away with these self-loving lads’, relates a folky narrative reminiscent of pastoral comedy, the alternations between music and declamation, forward momentum and dramatic pause, reminded us of the theatrical context of many of the first performances of these songs. ‘O sweet woods’ demonstrated the creamy lyricism of Padmore’s tenor, floating and ethereal in the higher registers, firm and centred, even warmly earthy in the lower regions. A rhythmic strength and flexible control of tempo was apparent in ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’.

Political intrigue — shrouded in a coded language of betrayals and reprisals — underpins Dowland’s ‘If my complaints could passions move’, as a melancholy lover’s abstract address to an absent Love, masks a very specific entreaty to Elizabeth I on behalf of Dowland’s patron, the Earl of Essex, for an end to exile and a re-admittance to the court and to the Queen’s heart. Employing ornament both for exquisite melodic effect and to highlight textual nuance, Padmore’s earnest entreaty, ‘Yet thou dost hope when I despair,/ And when I hope, thou mak’st me hope in vain’, would surely have moved any regal sensibility; while an unaffected lightness added a gentle poignancy to the avowal, ‘That I do live, it I thy pow’r:/ That I desire it is thy worth’.

Britten drew upon this melody in his Lachrymae for solo viola; after much fragmentation and development, the theme is sonorously sounded in the piano bass in the final moments, establishing a destination for the unfulfilled searching of the preceding bars. Widely regarded as one of the foremost viola players in the world, Lawrence Power created an heightened intimacy which recalled the contexts of the original Elizabethan performances. With melancholy tenderness, Power conveyed the restless tension at the heart of Britten’s lament, the veiled ending astonishing for its delicate restraint.

Returning to Dowland himself, Kenny’s and Padmore’s powerful rendition of the mournful, solipsistic ‘In darkness let me dwell’, brought the first part of this concert to a close; but no focus or intensity were lost during the interval, as proceedings recommenced seamlessly, opening with Thomas Adès’ piano work, Darknesse visible, a reinterpretation of Milton’s poem, played with supreme musicianship by Andrew West. West appreciated both the architectural lucidity of Adès’ eerie composition — creating exquisite spatial forms from the contrasting registers and textures of the weaving contrapuntal lines — and its troubled beauty, placing just the right emphasis on pungent dissonances and the interplay of sound and silence, anger and restraint.

Hieronymus Kapsberger, a lutenist from Italy (despite his father’s Germanic name), was typical of those foreign composers whose music found its way into many Elizabethan collections, gathered while their owners were undertaking a Grand Tour of the continent. Performing Kapsberger’s ‘Toccata, Passacaglia and Coloscione’, Elizabeth Kenny’s controlled artistry and gentle but focused tone brought to mind Virginia Woolf: ‘Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly’s wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron’ - words which perfectly capture the combination of fragile beauty and inner strength that characterised Kenny’s playing. She relished the chromatic twists and piquancies, and the exotic ‘Turkish’ colours of the ‘Coloscione’.

Another less familiar name followed, Sigismondo d’India, whose ‘Lamento di Giasone’ is a larger-scale dramatic song, alternating recitative and aria, accompanied by the rich, expansive tones of the theorbo. Padmore and Kenny moved effortlessly between action and contemplation, enjoying the madrigalian harmonies and word painting, the delayed cadences and the contrasts between major and minor tonalities. The serene, pianissimo stillness of ‘O diletto moral, com’in un punto/ Cangiasti insieme e qualitate e stato!’ (‘O happiness of mortals, how in one brief moment/ you have changed both yoru nature and condition!’), was transformed to an uneasy swiftness, ‘Mori, morto al dolore,/ Mori, morto mio core!’ (‘Die, killed by grief,/ die my dead heart!’).

Passing, by way of a sincere reading of Henry Lawes’ setting of Philip Sidney’s ‘O sweet woods’ and ‘Tavolo: In quell gelato core’ (‘In that icy heart’), to two songs by Frescobaldi, ‘Cosi mi disprezzate?’ (‘Thus you despise me?’) and ‘Se l’aura spira’) (‘If the soft winds blows’), Padmore and Kenny demonstrated an uncanny empathy and the ability to let this music speak for itself. Giulio Caccini’s ‘Amarilli mia bella’ brought the performance to an exquisite close. Padmore’s purity of tone, elegance of phrasing and clarity of diction were astonishing: rarely, can words and music have seemed more unified in sense and sentiment; seldom does the actual performance of a song seem so integral to its meaning.

Claire Seymour

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):