Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

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):