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

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

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?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ian Bostridge [Photo by David Thompson courtesy of Askonas Holt]
23 Dec 2011

The Bostridge Project: ‘Ancient and Modern’

This latest instalment of Ian Bostridge’s ‘Ancient and Modern’ series juxtaposed the tender melancholy of the Elizabethan age with the modernist anxieties of the early twentieth century, revealing both a sensitivity to textual nuance and profound human sensibilities which transcend temporal epochs.

Song Recital Series: The Bostridge Project: ‘Ancient and Modern’

Sophie Daneman, soprano; Ian Bostridge, tenor; Mark Stone, baritone. Philippa Davies, flute; Nicholas Daniel, cor anglais; Elizabeth Kenny, lute; Julius Drake, piano. Heath Quartet: Oliver Heath, violin; Cerys Jones, violin; Gary Pomeroy, viola; Christopher Murray, cello. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday, 21st December 2011.

Above: Ian Bostridge [Photo by David Thompson courtesy of Askonas Holt]

 

We began with the master lutenist, John Dowland, whose distinctive blend of poem, melody and harmony was exquisitely celebrated in a sequence of ensembles, solo songs and lute dances. After a lively, euphonious opening — the trio ‘When Phoebus first did Daphne love’, in which the voices swelled and declaimed in joyful harmony — Ian Bostridge established a more intimate air, with ‘Daphne was not so chaste’. Seated, Bostridge struck a relaxed pose; the improvisatory flourishes and sense of spontaneous melodic growth reminding us that these songs would have been sung in intimate, domestic settings by whichever forces were to hand. Elizabeth Kenny’s lute was no mere substitute for voices, but an instrument in subtle dialogue with the melody, and providing telling harmonic nuance. Mark Stone’s rendering of the renowned ‘In darkness let me dwell’ seemed, in contrast, overly mannered and theatrical. The limited melodic range of these songs naturally highlights the centrality of the text and there is no need for the singer to excessively dramatise the words; indeed, to do so risks destroying the very simplicity and fluidity of line which encapsulates the understated sorrow — one merely needs to take each phrase as it comes.

The trio ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’ achieved a madrigalian lightness of spirit, with yearning intensity escalating through the breathy line, “To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die”, the Elizabethan euphemism beautifully coloured by Daneman. Here Stone provided solid foundations for the subtle textual nuances of the upper voices. Daneman revealed a rich lower register in ‘Flow my tears’, her eloquent phrases decorated with sensitive cadential elaborations by the lute. The three voices came together once more for ‘White as lilies was her face’, rhythmic vigour — when reflecting on the power of a woman’s wooing to undo the male — contrasting with a more subdued depiction of loss, and climaxing with an intricately assertive declared intent to “banish love with forward scorn”. Interspersed between these songs were two pieces for solo lute, the aptly titled ‘Semper Dowland simper dolens’ and ‘Mignarda’, in which Kenny relished the freedom of form and adventurous tonal palette.

Philip Heseltine, who assumed the name Peter Warlock (reflecting his interest in the occult), was deeply influenced by his Elizabethan predecessors and conducted much research into the idiom which had a marked effect on his own musical style. Six of his ‘Elizabeth songs arranged for voice and string quartet’ revealed a plaintive sound world; the Heath Quartet’s restrained, almost imperceptive vibrato recreated the undemonstrative yet acutely affecting timbre of the viol consort, the closely nestling voices further deepening the mood of concentration. In ‘Born is the Babe’ deft counterpoint between the imitative instrumental entries supported a sincere rendering of the text by Mark Stone; in particular, a tender cadence emphasised the solace of Christian faith: “The haven of peace when worldly troubles toss/ Who cur’d our care by suff’ring on the cross.”

‘O Death, rock me asleep’ was more Stygian in mood, plangent suspensions complementing the dark richness of Bostridge’s lower register as he called for death to “rock me asleep,/ Bring me to quiet rest”. In contrast, Daneman soared with piercing clarity above the dense string texture in ‘Abrahad’, recognising her husband’s death — “Alas, alas, alas, alas, lo, this is he!” — before calling dramatically for death to embrace her too, in elaborate echoes between voice and strings in dynamic variation. Maytime celebrations brought more joviality to the end of the first part of the programme, Stone’s declamatory bon esprit in ‘When May is in his prime’, being followed by Bostridge’s sweet delight in the through-sung, ‘No more, good herdsman, of thy song’. Bostridge’s ability to subtly colour an individual word, assimilating detail and overall meaning, was evident in the forward momentum he brought to repetitions in the song’s conclusion: “Your pipes to me but harsh do sound/ Wherein such sweetness erst I found/ Well may the nymph then ever fare,/ For she, for she, for she is she without compare.” The vigorous string lines underlining Daneman’s “chirping notes” in ‘In a merry may morn’ brought the first half to a joyful end.

Warlock dexterously imitates Elizabethan counterpoint and textures in many of his own songs, such as ‘Sleep’, where meandering vocal and piano lines climax in cadential flourishes of a distinctly Tudor flavour. Pianist Julius Drake enjoyed the gradual enriching of harmonic vocabulary in the second stanza, and in the piano postlude tenderly recalled the falling fifth of the opening vocal phrase, “Come, sleep”. In ‘Rest, sweet nymphs’ Bostridge achieved a remarkable gentility of tone, the dulcet softness gradually expanding through the vocal rise, “Lullaby, lullaby,/ Hath eas’d you and pleas’d you,”; typically Bostridge pointed the rhyme before subsiding to a surprisingly quiet sweetness in the concluding line: “And sweet slumber seized you,/ And now to bed I hie.” Drake’s rocking dissonances in ‘Cradle Song’ gradually became an unsettling chromatic bed above which Daneman soared expansively to reassure that “Thy nurse will tend thee as duly as may be”. The syncopated rhythms and off-beat accents of ‘Jillian of Berry’ allowed Stone to indulge in more light-hearted sentiments.

Though similarly taking his inspiration from the Elizabethan, Ivor Gurney gives voice to a more restless, modernistic yearning, and Drake profitably explored the doubts and fears conveyed in the shifting, exploratory accompaniments and postludes to the songs presented here. In ‘Even such is time’ the imminence of death was conveyed by the low piano chords which begin the song, and the desperate hope, “My God shall raise me up, I trust” (Stone), with its ringing piano octaves was unsettled by the searching postlude. Drake conjured a rippling lute texture in ‘Orpheus with his lute’ (Daneman), and a sprite-like effervescence in the impish counterpoint of ‘Under the greenwood tree’ (Stone). In ‘Brown is my love’ Stone’s honeyed tone and arching phrases aptly captured the lover’s rapture. The concluding Gurney song, the well-known ‘Sleep’, provided a striking contrast to the preceding setting by Warlock: Daneman’s soaring melodic lines struck just the right balance between anxious restlessness and musical completeness.

The recital concluded with a profoundly moving performance of Warlock’s The Curlew. The instrumental interludes were astonishing affecting: the colourings of Daniel’s rich cor anglais and Davies’ pure flute timbre were exquisitely beautiful; the individual members of the Heath Quartet expertly articulating their solo melodic fragments; and the various strands formed a dialogue of bitter-sweet elegance. Bostridge’s innate feeling for the text was evident throughout, but most powerfully felt in ‘The withering of the boughs’, with the repetition of the refrain — “No boughs have withered because of the wintry wind;/ The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams” — achieving first a mysterious magic and then, when spoken, a more disillusioned stoicism. Through ‘He hears the cry of the sedge’, an almost unbearable intensity amassed, with chromatic clusters underpinning instrumental fragments, and the voice rising achingly as, in a Yeatsian vision of apocalypse, the axle breaks and stars “hurl in the deep/ The banners of East and West”; eventually the voice slipped into resigned release, as the low tenor proclaimed: “And the girdle of light is unbound,/ Your breast will not lie by the breast/ Of your beloved in sleep.” The height of anguish, perhaps, but also heart-breakingly beautiful.

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):