10 Oct 2010
Technicolour Radamisto at ENO
Handel’s Radamisto came to the ENO at the Coliseum in glorious technicolour.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
Handel’s Radamisto came to the ENO at the Coliseum in glorious technicolour.
Images of Asia proliferate polygamously — Mughal India, Tokugawa Japan, and Chinese restaurant chic, tumbled randomly together. The text, of course, mentions Armenia. Visual indigestion, if you’re culturally aware. But to Handel and his audiences, specifics didn’t matter. Radamisto is a morality tale which transcends time and place.
Tiridate (Ryan McKinny) lusts for Zenobia (Christine Rice) who’s happily married to Radamisto (Lawrence Zazza). To win her he’ll drop his wife Polissena (Sophie Bevan) and usurp Farasmane’s kingdom (Henry Waddington). But Zenobia’s having nothing of it. She’d rather die than be unfaithful. Subplots and complications (they’re all family, for example) are decorative embellishments. The basic message is surprisingly simple: love overcomes all.
This fundamental chastity pervades the whole opera. Structurally, it’s very tight. In neat succession, set piece arias follow one another, allowing each singer to display his or her vocal virtuosity.Simplicity of form, allowing inventive elaboration without blurring the basic line. Much like the set designs. Despite being floridly over the top, these designs are much more minimal than appear at first.
Christine Rice as Zenobia and Lawrence Zazzo as Radamisto
Lawrence Zazzo’s Radamisto is superb. His tessitura isn’t forced but flows well, carefully modulated and well-judged, important in a role which stresses integrity. The extended rhapsody on honour is particularly striking, decorations extending each word, yet flowing naturally, without affectation. You marvel at the inventiveness, but also meditate on meaning. Honour does matter, Radamisto keeps saying as he and Zenobia amply demonstrate. These aren’t just “words”, dwelling on them serves a moral as well as artistic purpose.
The contrast between Radamisto and Tiridate is enhanced counterbalancing Zazzo’s countertenor with Ryan McKinny’s bass-baritone. In baroque, low voices often signify villains, but McKinny doesn’t overdo the inherent power in his voice. Instead he relies on subtle expression, using agile legato. In any case, refinement enhances the role. Tiridate holds a sword poised to kill Radamisto, but the long, lyrical elaboration deflects the menace, Reality, in Handel, is deeper than it seems on the surface.
Christine Rice is exquisitely dignified and gracious. In Carmen, she seemed inhibited, and even as Ariadne in Birtwistle’s The Minotaur she didn’t access the kinkier aspects of the role. As Zenobia, however, she’s ideal. Her patrician reserve perfectly fits the role, so she can create Zenobia’s compelling beauty with her voice. Sophie Bevan’s Polissena and Henry Waddington’s Farasmane impressed too. Ailish Tynan’s Tigrane reached notes higher than might be expected.
Scene from Radamisto
So what was my biggest misgiving about this production? David Alden depicts Tigrane as a grotesque, a camp cross between Sidney Greenstreet and King Farouk, but for no conceivable purpose. Is he trying to inject comic humour? Perhaps it works in a grubby sort of way but it jars with the noble import of this opera. The whole point, for Handel, was to edify. The idea of morality trouncing tyranny was inherently racy in a time when absolute monarchy still held sway. Besides, Tigrane is arguably a hero since it’s he who selflessly resolves matters. This portrayal is misogynistic and homophobic, completely pointless. Admittedly it was part of the 2008 Santa Fe premiere but it’s still deeply offensive and should be dropped.
What Alden lacks in sensitivity, Laurence Cummings made up for with the orchestra, who played with brio under his direction.