Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Chapiteau, la fuite en Egypte, Cathédrale d'Autun
09 Dec 2011

Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ, London

I have somehow managed to miss Sir Colin Davis’s London performances of L’Enfance du Christ, making it one of the final major Berlioz works I have heard in the flesh.

Hector Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ, op.25

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano); Allan Clayton (tenor); Roderick Williams (baritone); Neal Davies (bass). Britten Sinfonia Voices (chorus master: Eamonn Dougan); Britten Sinfonia; Sir Mark Elder (conductor). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Thursday 8 December 2011.

Above: Chapiteau, la fuite en Egypte (Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d’Autun)

 

(I hope to rectify the understandable omission of the Messe solenelle when Riccardo Muti conducts it in Salzburg next summer, a performance of the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale remaining.) There was much to enjoy in this performance from Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia, though my impression was that much of an often badly-behaved audience enjoyed it more than I did. (The second half was considerably delayed whilst the rest of us were compelled to wait for a gang of braying corporate hospitality beneficiaries from Mills and Reeves solicitors. I should like to think that it was from that group that a friend overheard some people announcing that the work had been composed by Benjamin Britten…)

For me, the problem lay in Elder’s conducting, certainly not in the ever-immediate response of the Britten Sinfonia. On the positive side, Elder imparted drive to the narrative, almost as if this were an opera rather than a dramatic choral work. (Berlioz never termed it an oratorio, though it is commonly and harmlessly thus described today.) I especially liked the ominous orchestral tread from Herod’s Palace, forshadowing the ‘Libera me’ from Fauré’s Requiem. Berlioz’s inimitable nervous energy was present throughout, to considerable effect. And the Ishmaelite trio for two flutes and harp was an utter delight, charmant to a degree, though it seemed quite unnecessary for the conductor to traverse the stage to conduct it. The bassoon timbre, echoing, consciously or otherwise, the music for the Witch of Endor in Handel’s Saul, was spot on for the appearance of Herod’s soothsayers. But the near-absence, certain orchestral rebellions notwithstanding, of string vibrato was a serious problem. The Vibratoverbot was not universally applied, or at least not universally adhered to: I both saw and heard valiant musicians tempt the wrath of the Norringtonian gods. There are so many objections to this practice that it is difficult to know where to start. It is utterly unhistorical, despite the pseudo-historical pleas routinely made for it. At any rate, the contrast between lively, colourful, plausibly ‘French’ woodwind and frankly unpleasant string sound was jarring. Indeed, the poor violins were forced to play for the scene in the Bethlehem stable in a fashion more reminiscent of a scratchy school orchestra than the fine ensemble we all know this to be. It could have been worse for them, I suppose: they might have been members of Norrington’s demoralised Stuttgart orchestra. Afterwards, I noticed a quotation from Elder in the programme: ‘Each particular scene has its own timbre. It is not a rich, twentieth-century sound but rather more restrained with little vibrato in the voices and instruments.’ No justification is made for the claim, let alone the results, but I cannot help wondering why, if every scene has its own timbre, a more-or-less blanket prohibition on vibrato is considered appropriate.

Choral singing was first-rate throughout, the Britten Sinfonia Voices clearly well trained by Eamonn Dougan. The choir’s keenness in the fugue, ‘Que de leurs pieds meurtris on lave les blessures!’ was exemplary, likewise the fine blend of the final a cappella chorus (with narrator), a barrage of coughs notwithstanding. Offstage, the invisible angels impressed equally, though there was something distinctly odd about the sound of the organ; I assume it must have been electronic. That the Shepherds’ Farewell was a little hasty was no fault of the singers.

The vocal soloists all had their strengths too. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sarah Connolly and Roderick Williams proved the strongest: what a joy it was to hear such a melting duet from them in the stable scene, their voices happily uniting deeply-felt expressiveness with Gallic elegance. The French language heard elsewhere was often more of a trial; though Allan Clayton often sang beautifully, especially at the close, the meaning of the words was not always quite so apparent. Whilst Neal Davies had his moments, the power of his projection of Herod’s turmoil — at times, this presages both musically and temperamentally close to Boris Godunov — was often compromised by a tendency to emote excessively. The dryness at the bottom of his range was cruelly exposed from time to time.

In a sense, I have saved the worst until last: a half-baked attempt — Elder’s initiative, I am told — to evoke a sense of ‘community’ prior to the performance. Even some time after the solicitors and their important clients had deigned to join proceedings, we were made to wait a good few minutes whilst Elder and various members of the orchestra walked around on stage, conversing inaudibly in a fashion that would have shamed the most homespun of amateur dramatic societies. A concert scheduled for 7.30 thus began at 7.45. Alas, the only ‘community’ evoked was that of Deborah Warner’s ludicrous ENO staging of the Messiah. (For those brave enough to relive the horror, click here.) There was so much that was good in this performance that it was a real pity for a few aspects to have detracted from it so significantly. Let us hope, then, that London will not have to wait too long for another performance from Sir Colin.

Mark Berry

Click here for additional information regarding this performance.

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):