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

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

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):