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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

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):