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

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne

Having been privileged already to see in little over two months two great productions of Die Meistersinger, one in Paris (Stefan Herheim) and one in Munich (David Bösch), I was unable to resist the prospect of a third staging, at Glyndebourne.

The Threepenny Opera, London

‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny Opera at the Olivier Theatre.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

W. A. Mozart by Barbara Krafft, Salzburg, 1819
28 Aug 2011

BBC Prom 50

In 2008, the late Richard Hickox, founder and then music director of the City of London Sinfonia, commissioned a work from composer Colin Matthews to celebrate the orchestra’s 40th anniversary, which takes place this year.

Benjamin Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Colin Matthews: No Man’s Land; W.A. Mozart: Requiem in D minor (compl. Süssmayr)

Emma Bell, soprano; Renata Pokupić, mezzo-soprano; Ian Bostridge, tenor; Roderick Williams, baritone; Henk Neven, baritone. Polyphony. City of London Sinfonia. Stephen Layton conductor. BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London, Sunday 21st August 2011.

Above: W. A. Mozart by Barbara Krafft, Salzburg, 1819

 

No Man’s Land received its premiere in this Promenade concert, which was dedicated to Hickox’s memory and reflected his own particular musical passions and interests.

A setting of ‘Airs and Ditties of No Man’s Land’, a sequence of poems by Christopher Reid, Matthews’ work takes the form of a conversation between the ghostly skeletons of two soldiers whose mangled bodies have been left hanging on the barbed wire which separates the opposing forces of the Somme. Captain Gifford (tenor, Ian Bostridge) and Sergeant Slack (baritone, Roderick Williams) reflect on their experiences of war in a discomforting sequence of reminiscences.

In fact, although there are some exchanges of dialogue between the two men, the overall effect of the sequence is less a ‘conversation’ than a series of individual outbursts juxtaposing painful recollections of the battlefield with ironic wartime songs and ballads of the period. The singers, aided by the musical fabric, worked hard to produce a coherent drama, joining together in the more expansive duet passages with a painful lyrical earnestness. Bostridge, in particular, convincingly conveyed the patrician gravity of the Captain; in his first arioso passage, describing the apocalyptic events of the battle — when the “earth erupted/ In fountains of black clay; Ancient trees somersaulted/ And broke their backs; a landscape/ jumped up and ran away.” — his high tenor soared emotively above the chamber orchestra’s occasional moments of poignant harmonic consonance. The physical casting was fortunate too, with Bostridge a tall, imposing figure of aristocratic assertiveness and Williams a more jovial, down-to-earth chap.

Adopting a chamber orchestra with percussion, celeste and a ‘an out-of-tune upright piano of the kind which might have made its way to the Western Front’, Matthews has created an atmospheric score which shockingly contrasts the humorous and the haunting, the sloppily sentimental with the bitingly ironic. In a manner reminiscent of Britten’s skilful pastiches, the idioms of the period — and even actual recordings - are adroitly recreated and integrated in Mahlerian fashion, the instrumentation further enhancing the incongruities between text and timbre. Thus, in a grimly cheery ballad, Williams’ relaxed warm baritone was suitably complemented by his nonchalant stance - an indulgent rubato here and there suggesting a gregarious pub performance — before succeeding to unsettling rhythmic busyness evoking the scurrying of rats in the trenches, and ominous drumrolls heralding Gifford’s disquieting declaration:

I’ll tell you something, Sergeant Slack,
I with they’d told me long before:
The tunes that march men off to war
Are not the same as march them back.

The sequence builds to a powerful conclusion: Slack’s waltz-like ditty is interrupted by dissonant rumblings leading to an instrumental interlude which conveys both compassion and despair. This is followed by Gifford’s recollection of a ‘dream’, an episode dramatising the appalling indifference of those in command to the sufferings of their men, which equals Sassoon in its casual bitterness. In the final exchange, Bostridge’s tenor assumed a hollow ring as, emptied of life, the two men confront the painful truth: the men who fall, not from ‘high-spirits’, not in a ‘swoon’, these men, “who go into no man’s land/ [And] won’t be back soon”. A solo violin mordantly underlined the text’s dreadful finality.

With its jarring juxtapositions, its pain and poignancy, and its disconcerting honesties, the overall effect of No Man’s Land is of a sort of War Requiem meets Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’. Matthews has created a moving, disturbing work of great emotional power, and he was well served by the CLS, whose well-defined playing was adeptly shaped into a dramatic whole by Layton.

The opening work, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, was similarly incisive and alert, as Layton gradually increased the rhythmic energy, eliciting a range of colours and sound worlds from his dynamic string players. The performance built from austere beginnings, through the sweet charms of the ‘Romance’, the racing wit of the ‘Aria Italiana’, and the sonorous intensity of the ‘Funeral March’, concluding with a Fugue of spiky vigour.

A pacy performance of Mozart’s Requiem made for an exciting, enlivened second half. Tempi were brisk, and crisp instrumental articulation was matched by the driving impact of Polyphony’s vocal delivery. The individual movements proceeded with scarcely a pause, forming an almost operatic whole. There were consummate performances from all four eminent soloists. Bostridge once again demonstrated his professional poise, and he was joined by baritone Henk Neven, who despite some confident projection found himself a little overwhelmed by an exuberant solo trombone in the Tuba Miram! Renata Pokupić’s mezzo soprano was full of life and colour, while Emma Bell’s bright, well-shaped soprano lines were a particular highlight. It all made for a pleasingly fresh and engaging rendering of this familiar work.

Claire Seymour

Click here to listen to this program.

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):