Recently in Reviews
‘A century after the Somme, who still stands with Britain?’ So read a headline in yesterday’s Evening Standard on the eve of the centenary of the first day of that battle which, 141 days later, would grind to a halt with 1,200,000 British, French, German and Allied soldiers dead or injured.
A day is now a very long time indeed in politics; would that it were otherwise. It certainly is in the Ring, as we move forward a generation to Die Walküre.
If composers had to be categorised as either conservatives or radicals, Christoph Willibald Gluck would undoubtedly be in the revolutionary camp, lauded for banishing display, artifice and incoherence from opera and restoring simplicity and dramatic naturalness in his ‘reform’ operas.
Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.
The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.
If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.
On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).
In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.
The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.
Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.
In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.
With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past
Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.
Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.
The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.
Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of
the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to
say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for
the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.
Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.
My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it
should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.
Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found
myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.
12 Jul 2010
Handel’s Serse (Xerxes) at Iford Manor
Something rather extraordinary happened to opera seria in 1738. The
acknowledged master of that time, London’s George Frideric Handel,
presented two new operas at the King’s Theatre: Faramondo and
They were stylistically very different and with the latter the
German-born composer threw caution to the winds both musically and
It was a bad call at the time as Serse flopped completely. The trouble was
that he dared to change a tried and tested formula: the wholly serious, or
tragic, seria format was infiltrated by comic or buffo
elements; he mixed characters of both high and low class within the drama, and
he even tinkered with the classic A-B-A da capo form of the arias. In
Serse much of the vocal music is in arioso form, which drives
the action forward more than the traditional, more musically complex da
capo format. All this was too much for London audiences at the time and
Handel lost money and soon after abandoned opera for the oratorio form. Luckily
for us, today we can appreciate his innovations and revel in them — as
indeed did the audience at Iford Opera in Wiltshire last Friday night.
Andrew Radley as Arsamene [Photo courtesy of Iford Opera]
Once again, Iford Arts is to be congratulated for rising so magnificently
above the apparent limitations of its charming venue — one could indeed
argue that those very limitations of size and accessibility produce something
special time and again and last night was no exception. Iford encourages young
talent and in its regular offerings of Handel masterpieces in intimate
surroundings it also encourages the singers to concentrate on expression and
colour, as they do not need to worry about pushing their voices.
The usual convoluted Handel plot of misplaced affections, thwarted plans,
ladies (and men) in disguise and the triumph of love and duty (in varying
degrees) was efficiently translated into the tiny, greenery-draped colonnaded
space that is the delightful Iford Cloister by director David Freeman. Although
advertised as “Serse”, the opera was given in English and this
“Xerxes” was a translation/edit by Andrew Jones which revived
memories of the famous Hytner production of the 1980’s in its language,
if not its staging. The lively score, regretfully drastically abridged, was
offered in spicy miniature by the well-regarded players of La Nuova
Musica directed from the harpsicord by David Bates who encouraged some
really meaty, full-blooded playing from his 10 piece ensemble. In Acts I and II
the cast were somewhat depressingly attired in budget-store casuals with a bit
of sequin tat here and there to suggest royalty (one felt particularly for the
female singers who suffered very unflattering wardrobes — surely at odds
with the story?) but come Act III things improved a little. A few pyrotechnics,
many tiny candles, and a clever exploding model bridge (to take King Xerxes
across the Hellespont into Greece) made the most of the tiny stage area.
Kristin Finnigan [Photo by and courtesy of Ralph Ripley]
More importantly, there was much to admire vocally with some excellent
singing from the young cast, many of whom are at the beginning of their careers
yet showed remarkable histrionic as well as musical abilities in this most
demanding of genres. There was no one outstanding performer, but we left with
perhaps three strong memories: the exciting contralto voice of young Kristin
Finnigan (Amastre) which promises to help revive the great tradition of this
most English of voice types, the impressive comic timing and agile baritone of
William Townend (Elviro) and the expressive warm-toned countertenor of Andrew
Radley (Arsamene). Verity Parker impressed with some spot-on high coloratura as
Romilda whilst also singing with some nice supple tone. She was contrasted
effectively with Kristy Swift in the soubrette role of Atalanta who
brought out the foxiness of this character with some sparkling high notes and
agile phrasing. Rather unusually, this production gave the title role to a
countertenor, the more experienced William Purefoy. These days, it’s more
often a mezzo soprano role (although written by Handel for a soprano
castrato of great renown, Caffarelli) but here at Iford the tiny stage
and proximity of the audience enables the less powerful countertenor voice to
take it on. Purefoy coped well enough with the high tessitura of this
demanding role, if not convincing us dramatically. His was no dangerously
vindictive King but rather a placid, slightly academic, royal. This was
particularly so in the scenes with his stage brother Prince Arsamenes, when
Radley acted for both of them. Purefoy is certainly a good singer (his
“rage” aria, Crudie furie in Act III was efficiently
despatched despite its huge demands on the singer) but rather miscast here.
The role of the bluff, if dim, General Ariodate was robustly taken by
baritone Jonathan Brown who made much of his limited role whilst contralto
Kristin Finnigan was forced to do the same. How one longed to hear more of
Amastre’s music and less of her creeping around the cloister, forever
listening to the plotting of others’ loves. Finnigan might just be
something special in the making — directors take note.
Cutting Handel is a fact of life — unpleasant but sometimes necessary
— but for this writer there were just too many “cuts too
far”. So many important, and lovely, arias went unheard. Everyone comes
to Iford by car (there is no evening public transport in this idyllic rural
location) so why not revel in more of Handel’s sublime music and get home
half an hour later? After all, another thirty minutes in this beautiful place,
with music of this quality, is hardly an imposition.
© Sue Loder 2010
Serse, by G.F. Handel continues on the 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th
July at Iford, near Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, U.K. More information: www.ifordarts.co.uk