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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)
07 Jun 2011

Candide, Barbican Centre

‘Glitter and be gay!’ cries Cunegonde, determined to overcome the bitter circumstances in which she finds herself in sordid, downturn Paris.

Leonard Bernstein: Candide

Andrew Staples: Candide; Kiera Duffy: Cunegonde; Kim Criswell: Old Lady; Jeremy Huw Williams: Pangloss, Martin; David Robinson: Governer, Vanderdendur, Ragotski; Marcus Deloach: Maximilan, Captain; Kristy Swift: Paquette; Jeffrey Tucker: Bear Keeper, Inquisitor, Tzar Ivan; Matthew Morris: Cosmetic Merchant, Inquisitor, Charles Edward; Jason Switzer: Doctor, King Stanislaus; Michael Scarcelle: Junkman, Inquisitor, Hermann Augustus, Croupier; Peter Tantsits: Alchemist, Inquisitor, Sultan Achmet, Crook. London Symphony Chorus. London Symphony Orchestra. Kristjan Järvi: conductor. Thomas Kiemle: director/producer. Barbican Centre, London, Sunday, 5th June, 2011.

Above: François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)

 

And, her show-shopping number from Bernstein’s opera-operatta-musical, Candide, certainly provided an apt watchword for this concert performance at London’s Barbican Centre on Sunday evening, which fizzed and sparkled, oozing happiness and sweetness to wash away the occasional glints of darkness.

From the first downbeat of Kristjan Järvi’s baton, as he furiously kick-started a breakneck overture, to the stirring choral conclusion, the energy never once flagged, and the melodies kept flowing. Järvi control of Bernstein’s flexible structures, with their changing time signatures, flexible syncopations and cross rhythms was superb, and he deftly kept the large forces of the orchestra and chorus synchronised, give or take a few untidy ritenutos, dynamically driving them forward. It’s not often that one sees an entire viola section smiling beatifically to themselves, but that’s what happened here as they rang out yet another glorious overture melody, anticipating the optimistic sentiments of Candide’s and Cunegonde’s vision of future bliss, ‘Oh happy we’. The LSO’s instrumentalists obviously enjoyed the indulgent riches of this colourful and euphonious score, and relished the variety of the composer’s effortless pastiches and parodies, although at times I would have liked a little more brash boldness from the brass and reckless abandon from the percussionists!

The chorus were in boisterous mood, their carefree swaying and animated hand-waving, providing a dash or two of visual humour to match the primary-colour lighting which flagged up changes of mood, for anyone in doubt. Having collapsed anarchically as the Westphalian schloss Thunder-ten-Tronck succumbed to an enemy onslaught, the chorus gleefully bobbed and cheered — ‘Watch ‘em die! … Hang ‘em high’ — through the frenzied mayhem of the Auto-da-fé. Their rather uncoordinated involvement was funny the first time, but rather tiring on the second, third, fourth occasion. However, by the final chorus, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, they were back firmly under the control of the conductor’s baton for the stunningly powerful a cappella declaration, ‘Let dreamers dream what world they please’.

Best of the soloists was Andrew Staples, as a wide-eyed, innocent Candide; he balanced a firm, focused tone with moments of more gentle reflection. The bright buoyancy of his opening ‘Life is happiness indeed’ had, without undue sentimentality, modulated by the end of his journey into a moving moment of realism and disillusion, as his love and hopes dissipated into ‘Nothing more than this’ — Cunegonde was really only in it for the money. Candide’s two Meditations in Act 1 were the highlight of the evening as, supported by piquantly alternating major/minor harmonies, he floated perfectly placed rising major sixths to convey his tender hopes that his teacher Pangloss’s maxim could indeed be true: ‘There is a sweetness in every woe’. Staples sincerity was utterly convincing as he put his faith in the ‘kindness’ and ‘sunlight I cannot see’; and strong harp and woodwind playing gave rhythmic and harmonic propulsion, suggesting optimism and resolution.

At times, Kiera Duffy might have done well to remember that power sometimes works best when balanced with restraint. For, while she dazzled in ‘Glitter and be gay’, crystal clear when striking the stratospheric heights of Cunegonde’s wild enthusiasm for a bling-laden life of recklessness and glamour, she allowed her enthusiasm to get the better of her and at times was in danger of slipping into melodrama and histrionics.

She was matched in her excesses by Kim Criswell, an old stager of musical theatre and ‘cross-over’, whose Old Lady was a wild, backcomb-haired banshee, exuberantly flinging herself — and her partners — into the tempestuous tango of the aptly titled ‘I am easily assimilated’, and the musical hall antics of ‘What’s the use’. Marcus DeLoach, as Maximilian, was one of the few whose diction was unfailingly crisp and biting; and, in various supporting roles, Jeffrey Tucker, Matthew Morris, Charles Edward, Jason Switzer, Peter Tantsits and Michael Scarcelle were uniformly accomplished.

But, I found Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams a disappointing Pangloss; he distinctly lacked the warm openness of sound needed to convey Pangloss’s spirit of innocent optimism. There was little sparkle, despite his diamante-studded tie, and he fell back on bluster and posturing. Both pitch and words were pretty indiscriminate, which made the title of his aria, in his second role as Martin, wryly ironic — ‘Words, words, words’.

Certainly, there is nothing sacred about Bernstein’s text. No fewer than six contributors had a hand in the book and lyrics, and it underwent numerous revisions, with Bernstein himself being involved in at least seven of them! Here we were treated to a cynical, occasionally acidic, narration by Rory Kinnear — updating that prepared by Bernstein and John Wells for concert performance. Kinnear reprised some of the bitter scepticism of his recent Hamlet at the National Theatre. Leaping blithely onto the platform, he was a master of droll scepticism, eye-brows arched, tongue firmly in-cheek. I suspect that many of the topical witticisms were added, or even improvised, by Kinnear himself; his voice amplified, we could sharply hear every riposte, something which could not always be said for the singers themselves who suffered when Järvi gave chorus and orchestra free rein, despite their placing at the front of the stage. It didn’t help that, although the libretto was printed in the programme, it was impossible to read the text in the darkened auditorium — at least during in the first Act before, presumably, complaints made their way to the stage management …

There was one ‘wrong note’ in Kinear’s narration, however, and it came right at the end when, interrupting the triumphant final cadences of the gloriously overwhelming chorus, he sardonically asked the audience, ‘Any questions?’, a quip which jarred with the musical sentiments expressed. Of course, there are no ‘questions’: the music is unambiguously jubilant, the ‘message’ clear.

That said, this flippant parting shot couldn’t dampen my spirits at the end of this wonderful performance and, despite the torrential June downpour, my smile lasted all the way home.

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):