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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):