Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

François Couperin
28 Nov 2011

François Couperin by Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

Although François Couperin won his reputation as an esteemed composer at the ostentatious and vainglorious court of Versailles, under the patronage of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, his work is often surprisingly discreet and intimate.

François Couperin: Sonata from Premier Ordre: La Françoise ‘Les Nations’; Première Leçon de ténèbres pour le mercredi Saint; Deuxième Leçon de ténèbres pour le mercredi Saint; Suite from Premier Ordre: La Françoise ‘Les Nations’; Sonata from Premier Ordre: L’Espagnole ’Les Nations’; Troisième Leçon de ténèbres pour le mercredi Saint; Suite from Premier Ordre: L’Espagnole ‘Les Nations’.

Dame Emma Kirkby, soprano; Elin Manahan Thomas, soprano. Florilegium. Ashley Solomon. director. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 24 November, 2011.

Above: François Couperin

 

These qualities were affectingly demonstrated during this wonderfully tender performance by Florilegum of secular instrumental and sacred vocal music, compositions which unite the best of contemporary French and Italian conventions.

Couperin was born in 1688 in Paris, the son of Charles Couperin, the organist St Gervais in Paris. On his father’s premature death, the organist position passed to Lalande, but François, an early musical genius, was already deputising for Lalande at the age of ten, and on his 18th birthday he officially inherited his father’s previous position. Lalande praised the young man’s innovative 1690 collection of Pièces d’orgue as “worthy of being given to the public” and helped to establish him as a Court organist in 1693. In 1700 Couperin acquired the younger D’Anglebert’s position as harpsichordist at Versailles.

He amassed a notable quantity of superlative harpsichord pieces, which began appearing in elegantly engraved editions in 1713, following other noteworthy collections by Rameau and Dandrieu; but, ever the individualist, Couperin chose to group his pièces into ordres rather than suites, and relied much less on dance movements than his contemporaries, preferring the freer and more evocative pièces de caractère.

In his publications of the early 1720s he offered a wide variety of ways in which the French and Italian styles might be united. As Richard Langham Smith’s eloquent, informative programme notes state, the works grouped under the title of Les Nations were “written in the style of Corelli”; the composer had been “charmed by the sonatas of Corelli, whose works I shall love as long as I shall live, just as I do the works of Monsieur de Lully”.

Les Nations is the title under which Couperin published a collection of four large-scale sonatas; Florilegum presented two – the earliest of the ordres composed for chamber consort – La Françoise and L’Espagnole. Director Ashley Solomon, fellow traverse flautist Andrew Crawford, and violinists Bojan Cici and Tuomo Suni were expressively supported by Emilia Benjamin’s viola da gamba, David Miller’s theorbo and the delectable harpsichord playing of Terence Charistan. The ensemble relished Couperin’s luscious timbres and colours, responding naturally to the considerable rhetoric of the small dance forms, exploiting contrast and delighting in the piquant expressive dissonances.

In the slower, more intricate movements, as in the ‘Sarabande’ of L’Espagnole, the meticulous attention to ornament and detail was impressive, although such details were never allowed to disrupt the graceful melodic line. String and woodwind articulation in the more energetic dances was bracingly crisp and fresh; repetitions were constantly re-invigorated. Rapid passage work in ‘La Gigue’ from La Françoise was sharply articulated. Despite the fact that these interpretations were clearly honed to perfection, there was a surprising sense of spontaneity, as if the reading was unfolding in real time.

Florilegum.pngFlorilegium [Photo by Amit Lennon]

The instrumentalists were joined by sopranos Dame Emma Kirkby and Elin Manahan Thomas in Couperin’s captivating Leçons de Ténèbres, extremely beautiful and genuinely spiritual music for ecclesiastical use. Couperin’s interest in the Italian style, as represented by Carissimi and Charpentier, influenced his sacred vocal music, particularly his motets, versets and leçons de ténèbres, and the result of this stylistic diffusion is enchantingly presented in the Leçons.

In the Tenebrae service, psalms are sung, interspersed with the text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. In Couperin’s setting we are aware of delicate and deliberate crafting: each of the responsaries is preceded by a huge musical ‘capital letter’ much like the way the first letter of a Hebrew psalm is set to a long melisma – as Langham Smith describes “a musical equivalent to an ornamented manuscript with elaborately gilded capital letters.”

The two soloists brought their own strengths to the delivery of the text. Thomas, alert and energised, using the voice to thrill and excite; Kirkby effortlessly shaped individual phrases into affecting larger units, creating heart-rending melodic shapes and inflecting the text with human sentiment. Soaring melodic arches and effortlessly gilded ornaments evoked cathedral realms. For Kirkby aficionados, vocal purity and beauty is taken for granted, but she also exhibited a real sense of the architectural splendour of these pieces.

Thomas’s pronunciation of the Latin text was idiomatically French in inflection, as it would have been performed at the time. Her ornamentation was superb; she produced a shimmering beauty which invigorated the sacred text with exotic nuance. In the third lesson, the intertwined soaring voices evoked aspiring gothic cathedral arches. The accompaniment was flexible and alert, sensitive to nuance and creating a real sense of intimacy. The repeated refrain, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominium Deum tuum”, (Jerusalem, return thee to the Lord, thy God) both united the various lessons, and provided variety and gradation.

These are pieces of heavenly exquisiteness, designed to inspire piety through their sheer beauty. Whatever one’s religious allegiances and affiliations, this recital inspired ‘devotion’ through the performers’ absolute commitment to magnificent splendour and nuanced, expressive inflection, perfectly assimilating the sacred and the secular.

Claire Seymour

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):