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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

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):