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 Reviews

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Virgin Classics 19039
28 Sep 2011

Billy Budd at the Barbican

Among recent recordings of Britten’s opera Billy Budd, the recent release conducted by Daniel Harding has much to offer in terms of performance quality, interpretation, and also the quality of recording.

Benjamin Britten: Billy Budd, Op. 50

Nathan Gunn: Billy Budd; Ian Bostridge: Edward Vere; Jonathan Lemalu: Mr. Flint; Gidon Saks: John Claggart; Daniel Teadt: Donald; Neal Davies: Mr. Redburn; Andrew Kennedy: The Novice; Matthew Best: Dansker; Matthew Rose: Mr. Ratcliffe. London Symphony Chorus. London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Daniel Harding.

Virgin Classics 19039 [3CDs]

$29.99  Click to buy

Recorded live at the Barbican, London, between 5 and 9 December 2007, this performance involves a fine cast, led by Nathan Gunn as the title character and Ian Bostridge as Edward Vere, who stand out for their fine depictions of their characters in this work. Gunn has performed the role in various houses and brings to this recording the details of the character that both draw on his experience and also benefit from the clear direction Harding brings to this performance. The same can be said of Bostridge in the pivotal role of Captain Vere, whose memory of the story of Billy Budd serves as the frame for this opera, a Christ story by Herman Melville, which received dramatic shape in the libretto by Eric Crozier and E. M. Forster that serves as the basis for this intriguing score by Britten.

This particular recording of Billy Budd offers an evenly solid cast, in which the interplay between the characters emerges clearly. The solid delivery of the text through the sung voices conveys well the vocalizing Britten employed, such that the words come off clearly and, more importantly, the sense of the lines. Phrasing works well to allow the music to fit the libretto, such that the transition from Vere’s opening monologue and the scene that follows it (“Pull my bantams!” are equally clear. This transparent presentation of the score occurs throughout the recording, such that the culminating scene with Billy Budd in act 2, scene 3 is readily accessible, and the title character’s number “And farewell to ye, old Rights of Man!” is presented with the musical style and dramatic weight it deserves.

Beyond the performances of these two main figures, the other characters are well sung by fine performers. Gidon Saks offers a solid Claggart who conveys the character’s determination well, with Jonathan Lemalu giving good voice in his role as Mr. Flint, with these and the other principals supporting the drama well. They interact in the libretto with the characters Budd and Vere, who benefit from the strong performances of these singers. This also applies to the men of the London Symphony Chorus, who give voice to the crew of the ship throughout the opera, especially the choral music in the third scene of the first act and also the first scene of the second. The balanced, resonant sound is effective, with the rich choral textures serving as a contrast to the extended passages for solo voices.

That stated, the last part of act two is effective for various reasons, with the solid performances by Gunn and Bostridge standing out for their memorable portrayal of the roles of Budd and Vere. With Harding’s leadership, the resulting drama is borne out well in the pacing of the score as the work comes to its conclusion. The scenes unfold with appropriate musical sense and a thoughtful sense of phrasing, so that the text of the well-written libretto is always clear and prominent. This memorable reading is powerful in the intensity that emerges well in this live recording of Britten’s score, with the epilogue in Vere’s voice fitting appropriately onto the entire, impressive enterprise. Among the various recordings of Billy Budd currently available, it is good to have this reading, which brings a certain dynamic quality to the work.

The recording itself is spaciously recorded and issued on three discs, with a full libretto, along with a translation into French. The banding is useful in allowing for a sensible division of the work into the various parts of each scene, so that it finding specific passages is easy to do. More than that, the sound is uniformly clear and resonant, conveying well the live performances on which this release is based.

James L. Zychowicz

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):