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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Gritton [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]
03 Dec 2010

Die Entführung aus den Serail, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

With its tricky ‘orientalist’ connotations, Singspiel-originating spoken dialogue, not to mention the problem of finding five outstanding singers who can cope with the considerable demands of the solo roles (and the commercial challenge presented by the need to pay a chorus who sing barely a few bars of music), Mozart’s Die Entführung aus den Serail does not receive as many stagings as it deserves.

W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus den Serail

Belmonte: Frédéric Antoun; Pedrillo: Tilman Lichdi; Constanze: Susan Gritton; Blonde: Malin Christensson; Osmin: Alastair Miles. Narrator: Simon Butteriss. The Joyful Company of Singers. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: Bernard Labadie. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Wednesday, 24 November 2010.

Above: Susan Gritton [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]

 

In 1781, having finally shaken off his over-bearing father, Mozart found himself in Vienna, a city which had previously welcomed and feted him as a prodigious child performer but which had little knowledge of his early operatic successes; or, indeed, awareness of his operatic ambitions. When Gottleib Stephanie the Younger, a successful actor and dramatist who had recently taken charge of the National Singspiel in Vienna, happened to give the young composer a libretto to consider, Mozart’s interest was immediately stimulated, and he wrote enthusiastically to his father of about his new ‘Turkish’ project. The subject matter was ‘convenient’ for the intended occasion of the premiere was the state visit in September by Grand Duke Paul Petrovich of Russia and his wife, in order to devise a clandestine agreement that would allow Austria and Russia to begin dividing up the Ottoman Empire.

Although, in the event, Mozart’s opera was not completed in time for the diplomatic visit, its colonial, propagandistic overtones can sit uneasily with modern audiences. Add to this the idiosyncrasies of the singspiel genre, and it is perhaps not surprising that performances of this opera are relatively rare. However, it contains many delights, and this concert performance of a new translation and narration, commissioned from Simon Butteriss by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, tackled the potential problems bravely, and with striking wit and panache.

This may be opera seria, but Butteriss has adopted an altogether more ambiguous mode; his translation and narration are wry, self-referential, and self-knowing. This might have proved tiresome, but in the fairly intimate setting of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, among a musically knowledgeable audience, he struck just the right note.

Much of the credit for the success of this performance must go to conductor Bernard Labadie, who moved the action swiftly on, whipping up a dramatic momentum and comic immediacy from his performers. The overture was pacy, perhaps overly so, but Labadie managed the extraordinary integration of the overture and opening scene with aplomb, controlling the transition between the multi-section, multi-tempi overture and the first aria most skilfully and establishing a dramatic vitality which was sustained throughout the performance. Without undue exaggeration, Labadie drew striking contrasts from his orchestra: a piquant piccolo and oboe complemented the interesting, nuanced timbres of the trumpets and horns, and enthusiastic string playing provided a springy foundation for woodwind colourings. Moreover, Labadie maintained a good balance between instrumentalists and singers, particularly in the concertante-style numbers. In particular, in ‘Martern aller Arten’ — which is practically a sinfonia concertante for voice and instruments — Susan Gritton’s voice swelled magnificently, but the soloist remained only one of several solo instruments.

The young French-Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun displayed a beautifully smooth line, as the fervent Belmonte, and would undoubtedly have won the heart of Constanze with ease. After some initial wobbles of intonation, he settled effortlessly into the suavity of the role, his ardent tone adding weight and variety of colour. Dramatically relaxed throughout, Antoun’s aria, ‘Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke’, was particularly impressive.

As Pedrillo, Tilman Lichdi demonstrated a sharp sense of wit (the risk of overkill was just about kept at bay), but his important serenade, ‘In Mohrenland gefangen war’, presented a welcome contrast and was expertly controlled and shaped.

Alastair Miles was a last-minute substitute for Timothy Mirfin in the role of Osmin, and this may explain his occasional air of overly serious concentration. While he used his face expressively, his need to read from the score did rather detach him from the relaxed immediacy of Lichdi’s and Antoun’s confident partnership. Miles gave a solid performance, and articulated the text well, but found the lower regions of the role quite challenging.

Susan Gritton, as Constanze, demonstrated the stunningly beautiful lyricism for which she is renowned and negotiated the intricacies with ease, although she didn’t always pay sufficient attention to the openings and endings of phrases. Faced with the comic capers of Pedrillo, Blonde and Osmin, Gritton effectively established the dignity of the role. She clutched a score, her thumb marking the page, throughout, although it remained closed; as Gritton has previously recorded this work it made one wonder why this was necessary as it was a little distracting. Moreover, her diction was rather careless. Denigrated as “hack work” by Mozart scholars such as William Mann, and disparaged by Edward Dent as the “very worst [libretto Mozart] ever set to music”, the text here was sung in German with English subtitles. Even if we allow that the verse may be execrable, it still would have been nice to have consistently heard the German enunciated clearly and crisply.

Malin Christensson had a battle to complement Gritton’s vocal weight, particularly in the ensembles where the latter projected powerfully and with poise; but as Blonde, Christensson gave a convincing, committed reading of the strong-minded servant and sang sweetly, with vivacious animation.

The Joyful Company of Singers waited patiently for their brief chorus at the end of Act 1; in the event, they were rather subdued, lacking the necessary lightness and energy — although this may have been a result of their positioning, at the rear of the stage, which made it difficult to project over the vibrant orchestral fanfares.

Butterriss’ obvious enthusiasm for this opera was contagious; his urbane narration, slickly sliding between comedy and seriousness, banished any sense of the potential discomforts or difficulties of the singspiel genre, and drew committed performances from his colleagues. Overall this was an enchanting evening, one which made one long for a full staging of this opera.

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):