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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):