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 Performances

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Violeta Urmana [Photo by Christine Schneider]
06 Aug 2010

Prom 21 — Berlioz and Wagner

Period instruments and nineteenth-century grand opera are seldom found on the same stage — or even the same sentence — but as adventurous practitioners increasingly experiment in the repertoire of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it’s a sight and sound that will inevitably become more familiar.

Prom 21: Hector Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet — love scene; Richard

Isolde: Violeta Urmana; Tristan: Ben Heppner; King Mark: Franz-Josef Selig; Brangäne: Sarah Connolly; Melot: Timothy Robinson; Kurwenal: Henk Neven. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: Simon Rattle.BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London. Prom 21 Sunday 1st August, 2010.

Above: Violeta Urmana [Photo by Christine Schneider]

 

And, that’s no bad thing. This concert, the first of Sir Simon Rattle’s three Prom appearances this season, offered the opportunity to hear two great romantic scores performed on contemporary instruments and if the results of the lower pitch and the full, mellow tone of the OAE were not always wholly successful in the dramatic contexts, they were certainly thought-provoking and at times illuminating.

While the decision to present classic dramas of love and death by two cultural giants, Shakespeare and Wagner, seemed a natural and sensible one, it led to a slightly unbalanced programme, with the erotic love scene of Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, forming a first half lasting only 18 minutes — even in this rather slow reading by Rattle. Berlioz’s vast structure and forces — nine double basses towered over the centre of the platform — were shaped and guided with finesse by Rattle, who was ever alert to the composer’s startling harmonic effects. However, despite the use of copies of nineteenth-century woodwind instruments (for example, the oboes played on models of German instruments c.1865, with an easy, soft lower register; the bassoons employed French instruments c.1840 for the Berlioz, switching to German post-1870 for the Wagner, the latter possessing a darker, less reedy tone which blends well with the horns and clarinets), the sharp individuality of particular instrumental lines was somewhat softened, woodwind colours blending sweetly with the whole but not always delivering their full dramatic impact.

A similar problem was apparent after the interval, in Act 2 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, where the harmonious whole was achieved at the expense of orchestral incisiveness. Wagner aimed for a unity of instrumental and vocal lines, with the symphonic leitmotivic texture carrying the burden of the emotional and dramatic narrative, in dialogue with declamatory and naturalistic vocal melodies; but here the wash of orchestral sound served primarily as a secure, relaxed back-drop to the singers, who were therefore pushed to the foreground. Adding the fact that this was a concert performance, with no scenery and little dramatic interaction between the soloists, this was hardly the Gesamkunstwerk of Wagner’s ideal.

That said, the concordant orchestral cushion elicited by Rattle did evoke a sense of ‘distance’, and an appropriately ethereal atmosphere, for Tristan’s and Isolde’s desire can never be fulfilled in this world and release from yearning will only be achieved through transcendence. Moreover, particular instrumental effects were not neglected, and the rich palette of the period orchestra was revealed: the off-stage horns signalling the departure of the hunting party were strident and clamorous, while eerie sul ponticello playing by the strings conveyed both the delicacy of the moment and the anxious vulnerability of the lovers. Low woodwind colours intimated the shift from the daylight world to the realms of night, from the mundane to the oblivion of the sub-conscious.

With two renowned Wagnerian specialists in the cast, expectations were high, and it was no surprise that the quality of the singing invested this performance with vigour and compelling drama. Violeta Urmana, as Isolde, had no difficulty filling the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, her powerful, impassioned soprano always secure and focused, her tone thrillingly ecstatic. Sadly, Ben Heppner’s Tristan was less assured and rather inconsistent. While there is no doubting his innate appreciation of this musical language, there were more than a few wobbles, as he struggled to project. Yet, the exquisite sound for which he is renowned can still genuinely reveal Tristan’s exaltation. Franz-Josef Selig negotiated King Mark’s long monologue with confidence and clarity, conveying both the authority and stature of the betrayed King and the pain caused by Tristan’s disloyalty. Sarah Connolly communicated Brangäne’s distress thoughtfully, with controlled phrasing and delivery. Timothy Robinson (Melot) and Henk Neven (Kurvenal) completed the accomplished cast.

Overall this was a thoughtful and refined performance. But while these two passionate romantic encounters certainly touched the heart they did not, perhaps, quite reach to the soul.

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):