Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Belsazar by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (c. 1635)
13 Dec 2011

Belshazzar’s Feast, London

The English Oratorio season at the Barbican Hall, London continued with Gerald Finley and two very different approaches to Belshazzar’s Feast — William Walton and Jean Sibelius.

Belshazzar’s Feast — Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem; Jean Sibelius Songs; Jean Sibelius Belshazzar’s Feast - Suite; William Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast

Gerald Finley, baritone. BBC Symphony Chorus. BBC Symphony Orchestra. Edward Gardner, conductor. Barbican Hall, London, 10th December 2011.

Above: Belsazar by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (c. 1635)


For their 2011/12 season at the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra are exploring all of the symphonies of Sibelius. So for their concert on Saturday 10th December, whose main work was Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, it made sense to include Sibelius’s suite Belshazzar’s Feast based on music a wrote for a play, and in addition Gerald Finley, the baritone soloist in the Walton cantata, sang three of Sibelius’s songs with orchestra. To open, conductor Edward Gardner had chosen Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, written just 8 years after Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast had been premiered.

The Sinfonia da Requiem was originally a commission from the Japanese Government, but Britten’s symphony with its Christian Pacifist sentiment was not acceptable to the Japanese and the work was premiered by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. It is one of only two works for full orchestra alone by Britten which include the word symphony in its title (the other is the Cello Symphony). In the Sinfonia da Requiem Britten does use traditional sonata form, but the work has a three movement structure with the music moving continuously from the opening ‘Lacrymosa’ (Andante ben misurati) to the concluding ‘Requiem Aeternam(Andante molto tranquillo), with only the central movement, ‘Dies Irae’ (Allegro con fuoco) being at a faster tempo.

Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave a strong performance which had an involving dramatic propulsion, reflecting perhaps both the composer’s and the conductor’s involvement with the operatic stage. Britten used a large orchestra but Gardner drew some very finely grained playing from the orchestra players.

The three Sibelius songs presented us with a microcosm of Sibelius’s wider career. ‘Kom no hit, död’ (Come away death) was originally written for a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in 1909, but was orchestrated by Sibelius in 1957, the final year of his life. It is a dark and mysterious piece, with harp arpeggios underlying the plain vocal line. ‘Pa verandan vid havet’ (On a balcony beside the sea) was a piece of existential angst setting a text by the Swedish symbolist poet Viktor Rydberg and was written in 1903. The orchestral introduction came directly from the world of Sibelius symphonies, catching the brooding despair of the poem. The austere vocal line helped bring out the music of the Swedish language and the piece concluded with an astonishing outburst at the end. Whereas the first 2 songs had been in Swedish, the final one, ‘Koskenlaskijan morisamet’(The Rapids-Rider’s Brides) was in Finnish. The poem by August Ahlqvist-Oksanen has strong links to the Kalevala and Sibelius’s setting dates from the same period as his Kalevala-inspired works such as the Leminkainen Legends. The piece is a long narrative lyric ballad with a tragic end. All three pieces were well put over by Finley, in each creating a small drama, but in the concluding moments of the ballad, Finley’s voice was in danger of being overwhelmed at the climaxes.

After the interval the Sibelius Suite from Belshazzar’s Feast consisted of four movements for small orchestra, all evoking the exotic oriental world of the play for which they were written (Hjalmar Procope’s Belshazzar’s Feast premiered in 1906), though still filtered through Sibelius’s own distinctive melodic voice. They formed an interestingly small scale prelude to Walton’s far larger work, though the completist in me did wonder whether something from Handel’s oratorio on the subject couldn’t have been included as well!

Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast is rather a large scale work to find onto the platform of the Barbican Hall. The work was originally premiered at Leeds Town Hall, not exactly a large venue but one with a platform able to accommodate far more singers than at the Barbican. This meant that the BBC Symphony Chorus fielded just 150 singers to battle it out with Walton’s huge orchestra. Edward Gardner’s approach to the piece took no prisoners as he emphasised the brilliant, 1930’s glitter of the work with both chorus and orchestra combining to give a bright, sharp edged account. It was unfortunate that in the dramatic recitation at the opening, the men of the chorus failed to find complete unanimity. Walton’s setting is not, of course, simply about noisy bombast, and there were many fine quieter moments when both orchestra and chorus gave us some fine poised singing and playing. In the semi-chorus section (‘The trumpeters and pipers’) a smaller group of the BBC Symphony Chorus delivered a nicely subdued performance whilst not quite erasing memories of the BBC Singers in the same passage.

As baritone soloist, Gerald Finley brought superb commitment and dramatic credibility to the role, making every single word of Walton’s recitatives tell. But Finley’s is not a huge voice and the price to pay for his intelligent delivery was the simple fact that at key moments his voice did not quite ride over the orchestra the way it should have done. The extra brass players were placed in the balcony of the hall, giving rise to some interesting aural and spatial effects. Gardener’s control of his huge forces was impressive. But his structuring of the work itself was such that he rather emphasised the gaps between the different sections, making the work a series of separate movements rather than a single dramatic whole.

London does not really have an ideal venue for Walton’s large scale cantata and it was interesting and enterprising of the BBC to try putting the work into the Barbican Hall. The BBC Symphony Chorus did a sterling job at projecting both words and music, but there were moments when the sound was just not quite massive enough. But a lot of the piece did work surprisingly well and the struggle between chorus and orchestra almost became part of the raison d’être of the performance.

Robert Hugill

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):