Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

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.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

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):