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

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim…) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.

Prom 57: Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO

Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.

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):