Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Rosemary Joshua [Photo © BBC/Chris Christodoulou]
30 Aug 2011

BBC Prom 58: Mendelssohn’s Elijah

Droughts, deserts, false gods, angels, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and a firestorm. Plenty of drama in the Bible. In BBC Prom 58, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players made a good case for period performance of Mendelssohn’s magnificent Elijah op 70.

Felix Mendelssohn: Elijah op 70

Rosemary Joshua, soprano; Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano; Robert Murray, tenor Simon Keenlyside, baritone. Taplow Youth Choir. Ulster Youth Chamber Choir. Chetham’s Chamber Choir. North East Youth Chorale. Wrocław Philharmonic Choir. Gabrieli Consort & Players. Conductor: Paul McCreesh. BBC Prom 58, Royal Albert Hall, London 28th August 2011.

Above: Rosemary Joshua [Photo © BBC/Chris Christodoulou]

 

Elijah is a remarkable statement of faith. Graven images have distracted the people of Zion, and Elijah shows them the true God. Christians have monopolized the oratorio, especially in Britain, but fundamentally Elijah reflects something even deeper in Mendelssohn’s spirit. Although Mendelssohn was a devout Lutheran, he never denied nor denigrated his Jewish roots. Elijah’s God isn’t Jesus but the stern God of the Old Testament. St Paul was written to please Mendelssohn’s father, but Elijah springs from deeper sources. This gives the oratorio an undercurrent of grit which draws from the composer some of his most passionate, powerful music. No wonder Berlioz and Wagner were jealous and did all they could to destroy Mendelssohn’s reputation. The damage lasts still. One antidote is to listen toElijah and think about how he conveys its meaning.

Paul McCreesh conducted the Gabrieli Consort and Players. This was an inspired choice, as McCreesh and his orchestra are specialists in period performance, and have attempted to recreate something close to the 1847 Birmingham premiere of this work, so we can imagine its impact at the time. The early music sensibility is useful, too, because it brings Elijah closer to Handel and Bach, who were Mendelssohn’s own musical gods, and who are quoted in the score. The leaner period sound may be why the oratorio initially appealed not to Establishment High Church tastes but to the rise of the middle class in early Victorian times. McCreesh’s decision to “reclaim” Elijah from very Late Victorian practice is significant, for it connects to a time when Nonconformist Dissent was part of British Christianity, and choral performance an expression of such social values. Because this Elijah goes back to the fundamentals, it’s strikingly “modern” in the sense that it confronts dilemmas we still face today, like identity, beliefs and integrity.

Orchestrally, this BBC Proms performance was wonderful. Instruments like serpents, originally used in warfare to scare the enemy — baroque fantasy put to practical use. Slide trumpets which still sound natural and relatively unpitched. Goatskin timpani. The Royal Albert Hall Organ restricted to period stops and pipes. Two ophicleides augment the brass, and a magnificent contrabass ophicleides, known as the “Monstre” for obvious reasons. This period sensibility is not merely historic affectation. In the Bible, Elijah is a wild man of the desert who stands up to those who worship Baal, who seems to represent consumption and corruption. The orchestra thus connects to Elijah’s spartan defiance, and thus has more authenticity than more elaborate instrumentation. Furthermore, McCreesh’s musicians play as if they’re evoking ancient Hebrew instruments. Mendelssohn probably wouldn’t have heard Jewish liturgical music, but he had observant relatives, and was musician enough to intuit how instruments depicted in Bible pictures might have sounded. Mendelssohn is reaffirming his Jewish heritage discreetly but firmly. McCreesh and the Gabrieli’s prove the power of period practice.

The singers of the Gabrieli Consort were augmented by the forces of the Wrocław Philharmonic Choir, with whom they’ve co-operated before, and four youth choirs. Exceptionally precise singing — not a word muffled, despite the size of the Royal Albert Hall. Conducting this many singers at once is difficult, but here they were so well drilled, that no-one fluffed an entry. Perfect co-ordination, but even better, great enthusiasm and committment.

Perhaps it’s because the music is so “singable”. When the people call out to Baal, their calls are met by silence. These singers seem to listen! Blocks of male and female voices alternate and interweave. “Thanks be to God! He laveth the thirsty Land!”, the voices sing. Mendelssohn builds into the wild cross-currents images of wind and rain, thundering into parched ground. There are so many exquisite passages, it’s hard to pick out the most beautiful. “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps” for example, where the words “slumbers not nor sleeps” repeat in lovely tender patterns. Such delicacy from such a huge chorus. The final “and then shall your light shine forth” was a glorious apotheosis. Elijah has ascended to Heaven in a fiery chariot.

Although the five soloists naturally take the foreground, it’s the magnificent background of the choruses that make Elijah the monument it is. In this Prom, there were three hundred voices, creating a wonderful opulent sheen. These are the “people of Israel” after all, for whom Elijah sacrifices himself, so it’s utterly appropriate. Poised between soloists and massed choir are sub-groups like the double quartet, the quartet and an exceptionally good trio. “Lift up thine eyes to the mountains”, this group sings “whence cometh help”. They’re so clean and pure, they really do sound like angels.

Of these 300 voices, 181 are the voices of children from four youth choirs who participate in the Gabrieli’s Youth Coaching Project. This is an important part of the Gabrieli mission. Even though young voices break, by being involved, the singers learn the physical joy of singing and appreciate music better whatever they might go on to do in life. Singing is a community experience, and enhances life. These young voices are so well trained that there’s no lapse in standards. Indeed, their freshness adds excitement to the performance.

Simon Keenlyside sing Elijah. This is the key part, on which the whole oratorio hangs, and is the only one treated as a single “character”. Keenlyside is good, though he’s not quite as forceful as Terfel, Fischer-Dieskau or Goerne, but he’s clear and purposeful. His recitatives, “It is enough, O Lord” and “O Lord, I have laboured in vain” could have been more heart rending, because they show Elijah as human and vulnerable, but Keenlyside keeps them “English” and understated, which is perhaps more apt in an English context. Rosemary Joshua sings the soprano parts and Sarah Connolly the mezzo parts. Both were very convincing, though I’m imprinted with Gwyneth Jones and Janet Baker. Robert Murray had some tricky moments but was better in the Obadiah passages. Jonty Ward sang the Youth. It’s a beautifully written sequence where Mendelssohn contrasts the anxiety of the crowd with the pure, ringing tones of the Youth rising from silence. “It is nothing”, he sings three times. Then Elijah begs God for a sign, and the Youth beholds a cloud rising from the waters. It’s the incoming hurricane. The long drought is broken. The music explodes, like a storm, the choirs singing in tumult.

All BBC Proms are broadcast online, on demand and internationally for seven days after the live performance, and on subsequent occasions. To access the broadcast of this Prom 58, Mendelssohn Elijah, please follow this link. Please also visit the Gabrieli Consort website, where there’s a lot about the performance and those to come (Poland and Mendelssohn’s own Leipzig Gewandhaus on 16th September). A privately-funded recording is in the offing — for details read the Gabrieli Consort site.

Anne Ozorio

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):