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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

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):