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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Iestyn Davies [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]
16 Jan 2011

The Art of the Countertenor

Since he first came to notice a few years ago — in Messiah in this very hall, as Creonte at Covent Garden, and as Arsace in Partenope at New York City Opera, to name by a few recently acclaimed performances — many a starry accolade has been heaped upon young Welsh countertenor, Iestyn Davies: “achingly beautiful tone”,“unforgettable focus and poignancy” and “compelling sense of rhetoric” are typical of the bountiful superlatives.

The Art of the Countertenor

Iestyn Davies, countertenor; Richard Egarr, harpsichord. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 13th January 2011

Above: Iestyn Davies [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]

 

This recital of gems from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries undoubtedly confirmed why Davies deserves such acclamations. Moreover, a concert of two distinct halves, it demonstrated the extraordinary range of his technical accomplishments, musical insights and dramatic embodiments. Unaffected and assured, he does not seek to impose himself upon the music; rather, his easeful stage presence and innate appreciation of the requirements of each particular musical medium allows the music itself to rise to the fore. The voice never distracts; it is only at the final cadence that one realises how supremely the song has been served.

We began in the seventeenth century with an exquisitely compiled and meticulously researched programme. Not only were the names unfamiliar but works were chosen to demonstrate idiosyncratic, and often unusual, qualities. Benedetto Ferrari’s triple-time, ‘Voglio di vita uscir’ (‘I want to depart this life’) introduced us to the Italian court musician, librettist and theorbo player’s penchant for the chaconne bass. Davies’ fresh, unaffected voice moved effortlessly between registers, particularly in the expressive recitative with which the song closes.

In ‘Figlio dormi’ (‘Sleep son’) by Giovanni Girolami Kapsberger — a celebrated virtuoso on the lute and theorbo — accompanist Richard Egarr’s gentle introduction and delicate instrumental episodes summoned to mind the affectionate, tender strumming of the lute. Embellishments were relished by both performers, and perfectly judged. This traditional ‘Ninna la nanna’ lullaby charmed and calmed; in contrast, the continuous, oscillating, two-note motif which underpins Tarquinio Merula’s ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna’ bewitched and disconcerted, before the consoling serenity of the final major key cadences.

Listening to Richard Egarr’s accompaniments was the aural equivalent of watching a painter at work. Relaxed and confident, instinctively attuned to the ‘colours’ of each song, Egarr selected just the right tints and shades from an extraordinarily rich palette of tones and textures. The ground bass in Ferrari’s devotional cantata, ‘Quest pungenti spine’ was superbly realised; the surprising dissonances between voice and harpsichord were piquantly emphasised but never exaggerated. Davies’ breath control is extraordinary and was on display in a variety of contexts: in the extravagant vocal gymnastics of the more elaborate coloratura episodes of cantatas by Porpora and Vivaldi; in Antonio’s Cesti’s intricate, freely exploratory lines in ‘Disseratevi, abissi’ (‘Gape open, ye abysses’); and also here in Ferrari’s long-held, tender opening notes. From the initial lyrical tranquillity, the countertenor found just the right sentiment of yearning and ‘sweet torment’, building as the lines become more florid and impassioned, to an ecstatic conclusion: “my Lord and God;/ they are the divine arrows/ that, softened and tempered/ by heaven’s fire/ attract and delight — ”. The chaconne bass is interrupted four times by recitative refrains, and the performers’ mastery of the formal structure more than matched their command of musical detail — and their delight in the harmonic pungencies.

The second half saw us on the more familiar terrain of the eighteenth century. In Porpora’s cantata, ‘Oh se fosse il mio core’ (‘Ah, if only my heart’), Davies revealed his dramatic poise, moving effortlessly between the moods of the successive recitatives and arias. Vivaldi’s ‘Pianti, sospiri’ (‘Weeping, sighing’) drew forth the peaks of Davies’ technical armoury — his projection, pacing, ornamental invention and virtuosic elasticity quite simply took one’s breath away. However complicated the line, the voice remained unhindered and light.

In between the vocal treasures, Egarr offered readings of Frescobaldi’s ‘Se l’aura spira’ and ‘Capriccio sopra Ut re mi fa sol la’, and Handel’s Suite in D (HMV428), exploiting texture to create a remarkable ‘dynamic’ variety; the pianissimo passages were particularly beautiful. Expertly shaping harmonic sequences and cadences, Egarr assembled the architectural forms of Handel’s Suite like a master builder.

The encores — an athletic showcase from Partenope and the lovely Irish folksong, ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ — demonstrated the performers’ unpretentious, genuine and infectious joy in the music and its performance. This recital celebrated Director John Gilhooly’s 10 years at Wigmore Hall. He could not have wished for a more glorious musical tribute.

Claire Seymour

Programme:

Ferrari‘Voglio di vita uscir’
Kapsberger ‘Figlio dormi’
Frescobaldi Toccata Settima from Il secondo libro (solo harpsichord)
Frescobaldi ‘Se l’aura spira’
Ferrari ‘Queste pungenti spine’
Frescobaldi ‘Capriccio sopra Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la’ (solo harpsichord)
Cesti Selino’s Lament: ‘Disseratevi, abissi’ from L’Argia
Merula ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna’
Porpora Cantata: ‘Oh se fosse il mio core’
Handel Suite No.3 in D minor HWV428 (solo harpsichord)
Vivaldi Cantata: Pianti, sospiri e dimandar mercede

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):