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 Reviews

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Elisabeth Meister as Constanza [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera]
02 Nov 2010

Haydn: L’isola disabitata, London

Haydn’s L’isola disabitata is ideally suited to the modern taste for chamber opera. This is Haydn for those who think they don’t like his operas or even baroque form.

Franz Joseph Hadyn: L’isola disabitata

Constanza: Elisabeth Meister; Gernando: Steven Ebel; Silvia: Anna Devin; Enrico: Daniel Grice. Conductor: Volker Krafft. Director: Rodula Gaitanou. Designer: Jamie Vartan. Movement Director: Mandy Demetrious. Fight Director: Philip d’Orleans. Southbank Sinfonia. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, 28th October 2010.

Above: Elisabeth Meister as Constanza

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Written in 1799, just before the three best known operas, L’isola disabitata is enjoying a major revival all of its own, thanks to the 2007 edition used at the Young Artists production in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, London. It’s short, snappy and there are no high male voices.

ISOLA-00098-DEVIN-AS-SILVIA.gifAnna Devin as Silvia

Its beauty lies in its Spartan simplicity. This is a deserted island, after all. As with so much pre 19th century music, elaboration masks strong basic themes. L’isola disabitata is remarkably clear sighted. It’s about keeping faith, despite adversity.

Constanza (Elisabeth Meister) is a woman who has been on an isolated island for 13 years. She thinks she’s been deserted by her husband Genandro (Steven Ebel). The name “Constanza” means “constancy”, but Constanza is no passive saint like Penelope in Greek myth who kept faith with Odysseus when he wandered. Constanza gets angry, so mad that she almost becomes mad with bitterness. She passes the years by incising an inscription deeper and deeper into the surface of a rock. It’s a powerfully potent curse. Her love has turned to unrelenting hate.

When Constanza was abandoned, she held her infant sister in her arms. Silvia (Anna Devlin) is a feral child, who has grown up in isolation, knowing nothing of “civilized” society. She’s had no role model other than Constanza, so she’s been taught to fear men. While Constanza turns inward, Silvia enjoys the island, living with nature (symbolized in this production by a toy animal which also indicates her innocence).

Mysteriously, Gernando (Steven Ebel), her husband returns to the island. He hadn’t deserted Constanza of his own free will, but had been kidnapped by marauding soldiers. Recognizing the surroundings, he sets out to search for her and save her. Eventually they are reunited. Constanza destroys the curse, realizing it was wrong. Faith triumphs, against all odds.

ISOLA---00549---GRICE-(C)PE.gifDaniel Grice as Enrico

Silvia who has been taught to hate men, encounters Gernando’s companion, Enrico (Daniel Grice). At first she fears him, but they fall in love. Silvia and Enrico form a standard love interest sub plot, which enlivens the otherwise grim tale of Constanza’s suffering. But Haydn’s also commenting on the idea of society in Arcadian surroundings. He’s very much in tune with the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although L’isola disabitata predicates on marital fidelity, there are deeper, less explicit political implications.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that this opera should appeal to modern audiences. Although Haydn worked for Prince Esterházy, he wasn’t subservient, as his Symphony no 45, “The Farewell” indicates. The American Revolution showed how potent Rousseau’s political concepts could be, the French Revolution signaled the end of Absolute Monarchy. Musically, too, Haydn understood the Zeitgeist. Classical poise tempered baroque opulence. The Sturm und Drang movement, which so influenced Haydn was a precursor of what we now called Romanticism, which ushered in further revolutions in the arts and society.

Although L’isola disabitata is set on an island, the island is in fact no more than a structural concept indicating a situation cut off from the reality of normal society. Haydn uses a contemporary text, by Pietro Metastasio, which refers to barren rocks and smoke — metaphors of oppression, and of Constanza’s moral confusion. Hence the layer of smoke that filled the Linbury Studio Theatre for this production by the Royal Opera House Young Artists programme, enveloping set and singers in the mist. Suddenly there’s a sound of running water. Until the conductor (Volker Krafft) climbs out of the pit, you’re not sure whether the first part of the opera is over or not. Just as Constanza’s disoriented, so are we.

A friend observed that the set “looks like a bomb site”. She’s right, for Constanza must have felt that she’d been hit by disaster. The designs (Jamie Vartan) reflect Constanza’s emotional landscape. She’s desolate, ruined, shattered. She’s lost faith because she invested in the trappings of marriage, rather than love.

ISOLA-00736-EBEL&MEISTER-(C.gifElisabeth Meister as Constanza and Gernando Steven Ebel as Gernando

The spartan designs in this production also reflect Haydn’s music. L’isola disabitata uses only four voices, each distinctly defined and characterized. Until they’re united at the end, they sing alone, reflecting the characters’ inability to link up. The orchestra’s small — nineteen strings, with only two horns, two oboes, bassoon and flute. Minimalist by 19th century standards.

Musically, it’s also “modern”, in the sense that the voice parts are direct and communicate without excess adornment. The orchestral writing follows the words intimately. Sometimes one instrument shadows a voice, delicately picking up details. It’s word painting, almost as sensitive as Lieder would become.

Elisabeth Meister and Steven Ebel excel. Both have been prominent in the Jette Parker Young Artists scheme for some time, and have been heard many times in smaller roles in the main House. Meister memorably stepped in at short notice to sing the Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen. She sang with Ebel in Ebel’s The Truth about Love at the Linbury last year. He also sang Rimenes in Arne’s Atarxerxes. All these have been reviewed in Opera Today — please follow the links.

Daniel Grice’s Enrico was also good — I’d like to hear more of him. Anna Devin’s singing was rather obscured because she had to jump about so much. It’s in keeping with the idea of Silvia as a wild child unfettered by society, so director Rodula Gaitanou and movement director Mandy Demetriou are making a valid point, though overdone.

But the point of Young Artists presentations is learning through experience. There’s more to performance than technical prowess. Life skills count too. Please read “Polishing gemstones” where Simona Mihai and Kai Rüütel speak on the benefits of the Programme, one of the most highly regarded in Europe. The scheme also trains people in all aspects of opera, such as the conductor Volker Krafft, the director, designer, lighting and fighting. It’s tough being a creative artist especially in this financial climate. But if this excellent performance of Haydn L’isola disabitata is anything to go by, the Young Artists have proved themselves.

Anne Ozorio

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):