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

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susanna Phillips
16 Oct 2010

Jephtha, New York

Jephtha was Handel’s last work — he went blind while composing it, noting this on the manuscript, and though he lived another seven years, did not deign to dictate new music.

G. F. Handel: Jephtha

Jephtha: Thomas Cooley; Iphis: Susanna Phillips; Storgè: Charlotte Daw Paulsen; Hamor: Ian Howell; Zebul: Kelly Markgraf. Chorus and orchestra of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, conducted by Kent Tritle. Performance of October 13.

Above: Susanna Phillips

 

That’s a pity, because Jephtha’s musical and dramatic structures indicate that a closer intertwining of staged drama and static oratorio was coming into being: Chorales are fewer and less involved in the action than in the earlier oratorios, and the action includes a remarkable quartet of conflicting points of view at a moment of high tension, almost unprecedented in Handelian drama and pointing the way to Mozart and Rossini. Characters state their feelings in da capo arias, as one expects, but alternate such static reveries with soliloquies in recitative accompanied by full orchestra or the occasional duet. The characteristic emotions and tunes we know from Handel are here, but new expressive tools are brought to their aid. After forty years in the business, the great man hadn’t run out of, or even low on, new ideas.

The story, though Biblical, resembles the Idomeneo legend familiar to us from Mozart’s opera (Bible stories could not be staged in England before the twentieth century): Israel’s General Jephtha has vowed, if successful in battle, to sacrifice the first creature he encounters on his return. To his embarrassment, the creature who emerges to welcome him is his daughter. He squirms, he bargains, he considers alternatives — but a vow’s a vow. However, like Neptune (in Idomeneo’s case), Jehovah lets him off the hook: An angel suggests that Iphis, the general’s daughter, be offered to perpetual virginity as a Jewish nun, in effect, and that an animal be sacrificed instead. In the Bible, actually, relentless Jephtha sacrifices his daughter, but Handel’s version recalls the tale of Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac. In any case, the unhappy ending would have had unpleasant political ramifications in Handel’s day, when the rationalists were dwelling on such tales to discredit religion generally. Handel, devout believer and lifelong optimist, pulls it off convincingly, and few among his usual audience today are likely to spot the change. Only Iphis’s boyfriend remains unhappy.

St. Ignatius Loyola, Manhattan’s Jesuit church, is an edifice in the style of a great Roman basilica, with porphyry columns, faux marble panels, frescos of the saint’s life, death and apotheosis and a rather muddy acoustic: A small chorus and orchestra (always preferable for Handel) booms down the long nave to Park Avenue, but individual voices and instruments are not as clear as one might like and soloists seemed to lose their clarity at one end or another of their range. Conductor Kent Tritle’s rhythms were happily vivid, and the three lengthy acts passed swiftly to the exciting conclusion.

St.-Ignatius-Loyola.gifSt. Ignatius Loyola

The singers made rather an able than a striking set. Thomas Cooley, in the emotionally awkward title role, sounded too light for the martial persona in the first act but gained strength and bite as the catastrophe of his ineluctable choice came home to him. Charlotte Daw Paulsen has some splendid maternal contralto notes but her voice thinned to a strand above them. Ian Howell, singing Iphis’s boyfriend, a role Handel wrote for a mezzo soprano, is an adept countertenor without the mezzo power or sensuousness one might desire. Kelly Markgraf has a pleasing and agile bass but had very little to do as Jephtha’s brother.

Vocally the occasion would have been professional but little more had not Susanna Phillips sung Iphis, the designated sacrifice, whose arias must present her as a spirited warriors’ cheerleader, a devoted daughter, a fearful suppliant, and a willing martyr by turns. Phillips, who has been garnering lots of attention lately, proved worthy of it: she has an even, flexible voice with a goodly heft to it, shining power in the upper range and no less force and beauty in lower tones. (Handel never wastes part of a voice — he expects his singers to use it all.) Phillips gave a radiant performance, and by the very fact of singing so well throughout her compass disproved any suspicions that St. Ignatius’s acoustics were kinder to certain ranges of sound than others. Her only failing is a certain imprecision in swift ornament — she has, for instance, no trill, and Handel often calls for one. The quality of her soprano is so thrilling and her musicianship so steady that I hope to encounter it often. She will sing Pamina at the Met this winter; she should be adorable in that adorable (and not too ornamental) part.

John Yohalem

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):