Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera



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


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):