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

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Photo by English Touring Opera
12 Oct 2010

Promised End — English Touring Opera

In the final scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, faced with the dreadful sight of the distraught Lear cradling in his arms the body of his dead daughter Cordelia, the Earl of Kent asks: “Is this the promised end?”

Alexander Goehr: Promised End

Lear: Roderick Earle; Goneril: Jacqueline Varsey; Regan: Julia Sporsen; Cordelia: Lisa Markeby; Gloucester: Nigel Robson; Edgar: Adrian Dwyer; Edmund: Nicholas Garrett; Knight/Servant: Jeffrey Stewart; Servant/Captain: Adam Tunnicliffe. Director: James Conway. Conductor: Ryan Wigglesworth. Designer: Adam Wiltshire. Lighting: Guy Hoare. English Touring Opera. The Aurora Orchestra. Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Saturday 9th October 2010.

All photos courtesy of English Touring Opera

 

His words perhaps recall the aged Lear’s earlier hope that he might one day “Unburdened crawl towards death”. Or, as Edgar interprets, they may evoke the more terrifying image of the Day of Judgement. Whatever they infer, choosing Kent’s words as the title of an opera which — its sub-plots stripped away, its minor (and some major) characters shorn of significance — lasts less 90 minutes but which leaves the audience longing for the eponymous conclusion, is a potentially dangerous move.

It’s not that Alexander Goehr’s new opera has no musical or theatrical merits. Indeed, the first act moves briskly along and, for one unfamiliar with its poetical predecessor, raises a few interesting ideas. But, the second act rapidly loses focus; essentially this ‘personal take’ on Lear has little to say or reveal.

“It’s about old men who get it wrong when they have power and influence — and then get into a mess. That’s the reason I’m doing this opera. […] As an incipient old man myself, that’s what interest me about the story. I mean, I can do Romeo and Juliet now — I’m past that stage.’”

So Goehr declared in a recent interview in The Guardian, explaining his decision to tackle one of Shakespeare’s most complex, profound and disturbing plays, and one which defeated even Verdi and Britten, who abandoned long-held ambitions to compose an opera based on King Lear. Now aged 78, Goehr professes that the impetus to tackle Lear came when, suffering from depression upon retiring (reluctantly) from his Professorship at Cambridge University, he happened to have a dream in which the play was ‘staged as a Japanese Noh play’. The resulting opera mingles Noh stylizations with Elizabethan conceits but the sum of the parts lacks substance and coherence. One is reminded less of the successful cross-cultural integration of Noh practices with the medieval Mystery Plays in Britten’s church parables and rather more of the somewhat laboured device of the Male and Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia. Conway’s production — in which the chorus of principals stand (à la Brecht — another layer of cultural reference) white-faced and stock-still, motionlessly addressing the audience, ritually step through boxes of sand, and indulge in stylized dance movements (for example to accompany the blinding of Gloucester) — taps into the Noh clichés but offers little illumination.

Promised_End_03.gif

Indeed, the shadow of Britten hangs over this opera in more ways than one. The decision to use Shakespeare’s text verbatim recalls the approach of Britten and Pears when constructing the libretto of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this case, the eminent scholar, the late Frank Kermode, fashioned a libretto which Goehr has arranged in ’24 preludes’. But, while reducing the work to a manageable length — excising several (essential?) aspects of the drama and focusing on the central exchange between Lear and Gloucester — this still leaves the problem of how to find an appropriate melodic idiom for Shakespeare’s poetry. Goehr’s rather spiritless arioso simply does not convey the rich depths and meanings embodied in the sounds and rhythms of the spoken play. Moreover, the composer’s re-ordering of various episodes destroys the narrative coherence and makes it near impossible for anyone lacking knowledge of the original play to follow the psychological development.

The singers and players of English Touring Opera do their best. Lisa Markeby, playing both Cordelia and the Fool — a now familiar theatrical device — is appealing, but she is not given the opportunity to develop and express the full extent of her inner goodness. And, while the expressive focus of the opera is supposedly the meeting of the two foolish old men, Lear and Gloucester, now chastened and wiser as they reflect on their short-comings, the musical fabric fails to convey their supposed transformation. Roderick Earle bellows and blusters as an aggressive Lear, his scenes with Nigel Robson (Gloucester) lacking genuine emotional depth and sincerity. As Edgar, Adrian Dwyer is convincing and impressive. Goneril (Jacqueline Varsey) and Regan (Julia Sporsen) are not musically differentiated and have little dramatic role to play.

Promised_End_04.gif

Ryan Wigglesworth draws clear lines and textures from his band, the Aurora Orchestra. Goehr does create some interesting colours, not least through his use of the chamber organ and guitar — which evoke fittingly Elizabethan timbres — but the composite impression is one of episodic, unrelated colourings designed to fill the gaps between scenes.

In his programme note, Goehr asks for the audience’s indulgence: “So it remains only for me to say, that you will not be home too late and ask that by your clapping you show some approval for what has been done here.” This seems to me to be a patronising appeal to an audience that may long for a less superficial musical response to a play that interrogates essential questions of human existence.

Promised End is at the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, London on 11, 14, 16 October and then tours until 26 November. For touring details see www.englishtouringopera.org.uk.

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):