Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



Renata Pokupić [Photo by Chris Gloag courtesy of Intermusica]
23 Oct 2011

Renata Pokupić, Wigmore Hall

In this appealing lunchtime recital programme, Croatian soprano Renata Pokupić demonstrated a rich, varied tonal palette and strong communicative skills as she spanned one hundred years of European song.

Renata Pokupić, Wigmore Hall

Mezzo-soprano: Renata Pokupić; Piano: Roger Vignoles. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 17th October 2011.

Above: Renata Pokupić [Photo by Chris Gloag courtesy of Intermusica]


Ranging far from the coloratura repertoire with which she has primarily made her name in the opera house, Pokupić was perhaps more comfortable with the impassioned folk sentiments of Dvořák’s Cigánské melodie (Gypsy Songs) and the flamboyance of Weill’s songs from Marie Galante than with the poised control of Schubert’s late lieder or the expressive nuances of Enescu’s settings of Clément Marot; but, supported by the typically accomplished accompaniments of Roger Vignoles, she presented an engaging sequence of song to a receptive audience.

The opening four Schubert songs, all composed during the last two or three years of the composer’s death in 1828, reveal the extraordinary diversity that Schubert achieved within the small form. Drawn and translated by Edward von Bauemfeld from Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, ‘An Silvia’ is a sweet serenade to the eponymous protagonist. Adopting a tender, reflective tone Popukić revealed flashes of glimmering brightness, as the narrator remarked nature’s adoration of Silvia’s powers – “the wide fields praise her” and “Her gentle child-like charm refreshes”. Unfortunately, ‘Im Abendrot’ (‘Sunset glow’) and ‘Die Junge Nonne’ (‘The young nun’) were marred by some insecure intonation and melodic uncertainty; Popukić particularly struggled to control sustained pitches and confined melodic contours. Moreover, though the larger dramatic canvas of the final song suited the mezzo soprano’s temperament, a fittingly vigorous outburst as the nun rejoices in her transfiguring love for her God – “The loving bride awaits the bridegroom,/purified by testing fire -/ wedded to eternal love” – revealed plenty of power and fire, but also some unpleasant pushing of the voice at the expressive climax.

Roger Vignoles is a master of the judicious accompaniment, creating consistent, understated textures from which significant bass figures, telling melodic motifs and pointed expressive gestures sleekly arise to effortlessly assert themselves and then surreptitiously fade, always in expressive service of the text or diplomatically responding to the singer’s needs. This was most powerfully evident in the Schubert songs. Thus, the gentle ‘strumming’ of ‘An Silvia’ was momentarily enlivened by melodic echoes of, and dialogue with, the voice, all the while underpinned by the springing dotted rhythms of the leaping bass. And, appreciative of the way these ‘miniature’ forms can contain significant emotional depths and range, and alert to the overall structure and drama, he expertly controlled the rubato and brief but affective alternation of major and minor tonalities in the penultimate stanza of ‘Im Frühling’, restoring the settled ambience at the close. Sweeping, arpeggiated chords radiated the warm, golden gleam of the glowing sun in ‘Im Abendrot’, then gave way to the ‘raging storm’ – conveyed by an energised, oscillating bass, trembling beneath clanging treble cloister bells – in ‘Die junge Nonne’.

A more centred vocal line, amid adventurous harmonic progressions, was achieved in the ardent ‘Estrene à Anne’ (‘A gift for Anne’), which began the sequence of five songs from the Romanian George Enescu’s Sept Chanson de Clément Marot. Popukić effectively negotiated the rather archaic French texts and demonstrated much feeling for textual meaning and nuance, particularly in ‘Languir me fais’ (‘You make me pine’), where Vignoles’ elegant piano introduction adeptly established the reflective mood. She enjoyed the wit of ‘Aux damoyselles paresseuses d’escrit à leurs amys’ (‘To young ladies too lazy to write to their friends’), pianist and singer crafting an adroitly calculated, insouciant reading. Popukić’s delightfully rich lower register was much in evidence in ‘Changeons propos, c’est trop chanté d’amours’ (‘Let’s change the subject, enough of lauding love’), an unsentimental drinking song which galloped and then collapsed in a inebriated conclusion in praise of liquor and its celebrants, Bacchus and Silenus, who: “drank standing bolt upright;/ then he would dance,/ and bruise himself/ his nose was as red as a cherry;/ Many are those descended from his race.”

The second half of the recital found Popukić in her more natural element, whether embodying the bohemian personae of Dvořák’s folk songs, which tell of the joys and hardships of gypsy life, or enjoying the cabaret lilt of Weill’s songs for Jacques Déval’s play, Marie Galante. Popukić proved herself capable of shaping and controlling wide-ranging melodic arcs and leaping between registers, and of communicating extremes and contrasts of emotion, in the Cigánské melodie. An intense gravity characterised ‘My song resounds with love to me again’, as the narrator experiences both joy and loss, “when I am glad that, freed from misery/ my brother dies”; and deep melancholy underpinned ‘And the wood’s silent all around’, despite the warm major harmonies. Similarly, the arching melodic phrases of ‘Songs my mother taught me’, beautifully fashioned by Popukić with lustrous tone and enriched by the piano’s decorative ornamental motifs and propelling syncopations, presented a poignant blend of contradictory sentiments. A wilder more festive mood was created in the following two dances, ‘The strings are tuned, my lad’, and ‘Wide sleeves and loose trousers’, as Popukić at last fully relaxed, relishing the nonchalant fluctuations of pace and the unrestrained celebrations of freedom and music.

In Weill’s tango-inspired ‘Youkali’, Popukić unleashed a sultry low register and suave lyricism, saving a dulcet floating colour for the closing phrase as the narrator reflects that, whatever tedium we must endure in life, the human soul seeks escape, “oblivion everywhere”: “to find the mystery,/ where our dreams are buried/ in some Youkali.” The melodramatic grotesquery of ‘Le grand Lustucru’ (‘The Great Bogeyman’) and the extravagant dramatic sentiments of ‘J’attends un navire’ (‘I wait for a ship’) allowed Popukić to indulge her theatrical instincts, bringing the recital to an energetic and highly entertaining conclusion.

Claire Seymour


Franz Schubert: ‘An Silvia’ D891; ‘Im Frühling’ D882; ‘Im Abendrot’ D799; ‘Die junge Nonne’ D828.

George Enescu: Songs from Sept chanson de Clément Marot Op.15

Antonín Dvořák: Cigánské melodie (Gypsy Songs) Op.55

Kurt Weill: Songs from Marie Galante

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):