Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

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):