Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

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):