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

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Royal Symphony

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

Kiss Me, Kate: Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome

In 1964, 400 years after the birth of the Bard, the writer Anthony Burgess saw Cole Porter’s musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, a romping variation on The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s comedy, Burgess said, had a ‘good playhouse reek about it’, adding ‘the Bard might be regarded as closer to Cole Porter and Broadway razzmatazz’ than to the scholars who were ‘picking him raw’.

Beat Furrer FAMA - Hörtheater reaches London

Beat Furrer's FAMA came to London at last, with the London Sinfonietta. The piece was hailed as "a miracle" at its premiere at Donaueschingen in 2005 by Die Zeit: State of the Art New Music, recognized by mainstream media, which proves that there is a market for contemporary music lies with lively audiences

Franz Schreker : Die Gezeichneten (Les Stigmatizés). Lyon

Franz Schreker Die Gezeichneten from the Opéra de Lyon last year, now on arte.tv and Opera Platform. The translation, "The stigmatized", doesn't convey the impact of the original title, which is closer to"The Cursed".

The Anatomy of Melancholy

Semper Dowland, semper dolens (Always Dowland, always doleful) was the title chosen by John Dowland’s for one of his consort pieces and the motto that he took for himself. Twice rejected for the position of musician at the court of Queen Elizabeth, he is reputed to have been a difficult, embittered man. Melancholy songs were the fashion of the day, but Dowland clearly knew dark days of depression first hand.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marina Poplavskaya [Photo courtesy of Zemsky Green Artist Management]
26 Jul 2011

Verdi’s Requiem, BBC Proms

Not only did Verdi’s Requiem make its debut, rather remarkably, in the church of San Marco in Milan but the performance was as a liturgical one; Verdi’s intentions were quite firmly to provide a memorial mass for the Italian patriot, Manzoni.

Giuseppe Verdi: Requiem

Marina Poplavskaya, soprano; Mariana Pentcheva, mezzo-soprano; Joseph Calleja, tenor; Ferruccio Furlanetto, bass. BBC Symphony Chorus. BBC National Chorus of Wales. London Philharmonic Choir. BBC Symphony Orchestra. Semyon Bychkov, conductor.

Above: Marina Poplavskaya [Photo courtesy of Zemsky Green Artist Management]

 

But following this sacred premiere, the work went on to have 3 further performances at La Scala and Verdi then took it on tour round theatrical venues in Europe. So from the word go, the piece has been poised between the sacred and the secular. It is this which gives the piece some of its fascination and difficulty. Verdi’s writing mixes operatic elements with some which are more sacred. For soloists he calls for 4 experienced Verdians, but then he writes unaccompanied ensemble passages for them which are some way from what he would have written in an opera.

At the BBC Proms on Sunday 24th July, Semyon Bychkov conducted BBC forces in a very large scale performance. There were 3 choirs (BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC National Chorus of Wales and the London Philharmonic Choir) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a quartet of soloists all with strong Verdian credentials (Marina Poplavskaya, Mariana Pentcheva, Joseph Calleja and Ferrucio Furlanetto). The three choirs numbered around 450 singers and the orchestra was similarly large scale, complete with a cimbasso on the brass bass line (instead of the modern tuba or euphonium)

This issue of size is an interesting one, which can also be traced back to Verdi’s original performances. Though the 1874 performances at La Scala used a choir of 120, when Verdi took the work on tour round Europe his attitude seems to have been flexible. So that whilst he performed the piece in Paris at the Opéra-Comique (not a large theatre), in London it was performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1875 with huge forces. Clearly Verdi was not dogmatic about the forces involved, so we should not be either. Instead we can sit back and revel in the sheer sound that Bychkov conjured from his Proms forces.

The opening demonstrated what a wonderful sound can be created by a disciplined large choir singing in hushed tones. Though big in scale, this wasn’t a driven or a bombastic performance, Bychkov drew some beautifully quiet and detailed singing from his choristers. The difficulty of combining 450 singers in such a space should not be underestimated and it is to the three choirs’ credit that their choristers combined in such a powerful and disciplined fashion.

All was not quiet, of course. Come the ‘Dies Irae’ then all hell was let loose in appropriate fashion. Here we were able to take stock of Bychkov’s flexible tempi. He did not drive the piece forward manically, but let it expand at a rate suitable for the Albert Hall’s problematic acoustic. The ‘Dies Irae’ was not the fastest performance that I have experienced, but even when letting the music breathe Bychkov kept up the power and momentum in an impressive fashion.

The chorus’s big solo moment, of course, comes in the ‘Sanctus’ where they perform without the soloists. Here we got some beautifully detailed singing, and fine dancing tone.

The soloists were an interesting bunch, each with a distinctive and particular voice. Mezzo-soprano Pentcheva was a last-minute replacement for Sonia Ganassi. Pentcheva has proven Verdi credentials; her voice combines a distinctive dark hued lower register with a flexible upper, capable of some lovely quiet singing. She has a strong vibrato which might not be to everyone’s taste. She proved tasteful and flexible in her singing and brought some great beauty to her quiet moments, along with vivid projection of words.

Calleja sang the tenor part with full tone and a fine sense of line; he brought a fine sense of quiet rapture to the ‘Hostias’. Perhaps he missed the more bravura elements of the part, but he was a fine ensemble singer contributing intelligently to the many concerted solo moments. Ferrucio Furlanetto brought a world-weary grandeur to the bass part; lacking the ultimate in power, he showed commitment and discipline along with a fine sense of line.

Finally, of course, we come to the soprano; whilst all the soloists have their moments, Verdi’s use of the soprano in the final ‘Libera me’ ensures that it is the soprano who we remember best. Poplavskaya brought her familiar plangent tones and beautifully expressive line to the role, singing with a commitment which suggested she was living the part rather than just singing a soprano solo. She floated some supremely lovely lines during the piece, but these were always intelligently placed and not just vocalism for its own sake. In the ‘Libera me’ she took the drama to the point where she was in danger of becoming manner, but the ‘Requiem’ section where she sang just accompanied by the unaccompanied choir was simply beautiful. Though I must admit to having a slight reservation, Poplavskaya’s quiet plangency threatened to push the notes below pitch, but this was a small point in what was a very fine performance.

The soloists are more than just 4 individuals, Verdi asks them to sing in ensemble rather a lot and to do so unaccompanied. Poplavskaya, Pentcheva, Calleja and Furlanetto patently listened to each other and though their voices were very different, created a real ensemble. Most people who have heard the Requiem quite a few times have stories about the intonation problems in these ensemble passages. But not here. And in the ‘Agnus Dei ‘Poplavskaya and Pentcheva sang in octaves in a way which, whilst not quite of one voice, came pretty close.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra provided sterling support and some brilliant playing. Granted their string tone does not approach the vibrancy of the best bands in this music, but they brought commitment, intelligence and delicacy.

Bychkov controlled all in a way which allowed the detail of the work to be felt without compromising the big moments. This was certainly a performance of contrasts. Inevitably some detail gets lost in the Albert Hall, but Bychkov brought out much that was finely wrought, then contrasted it with some spectacularly loud moments. The ‘Dies Irae’ and the ‘Tuba Mirum’ are not the be all and end all of a performance of Verdi’s Requiem; here these big moments were big indeed but contrasted with some moments of nicely quiet intensity.

Robert Hugill

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):