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

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Actaeon Surprising Diana by Titian (1556-59)
25 Jan 2012

Charpentier and Purcell by Early Opera Company

Composed during the spring hunting season of 1684, for a patron and performance venue unknown, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s brief six-scene Opera de Chasse (‘Hunting Opera’), Actéon, has remained seldom performed and something of a mystery.

Marc-Antonie Charpentier: Actéon; Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Actéon — Actéon: Ed Lyon; Diane: Claire Booth; Junan: Hilary Summers; Daphne: Ciara Hendrick; Hyale/Arthébuze: Elizabeth Weisburg; Deux Chasseurs: Jeremy Budd, Philip Tebb.

Dido and Aeneas — Aeneas: Marcus Farnsworth; Dido: Susan Bickley; Belinda: Claire Booth; Sorceress: Hilary Summers; First Witch/Second Woman: Elizabeth Weisberg; Second Witch: Ciara Hendrick; Spirit/Sailor: Ed Lyon.

Early Opera Company. Director/harpsichord: Christopher Curnyn. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 12 January 2012.

Above: Actaeon Surprising Diana by Titian (1556-59)

 

Based upon a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this ‘pastorale en musique’ tells the tragic tale of the unfortunate eponymous hunter who unwittingly stumbles upon the secluded bathing haunt of the goddess Diana and her attendant nymphs. He attempts to conceal himself but to no avail, and he is punished severely for his trespass by the angry goddess. Diana transforms him into a stag and Actéon is pursued and torn apart by his own hunting hounds.

It is a fairly lightweight piece, with some dramatic variety and pleasing emotional contrasts; Charpentier’s score is typically elegant, with regard to melodic phrasing, and rhythmically robust, most especially in the bucolic scenes enlivened by dance-like instrumental forms and textures. Here, the assembled soloists emerged from the one-per-part chorus, deftly moving to the forestage at appropriate points, skilfully diverting and sustaining the audience’s attention. All produced a fairly idiomatic pronunciation of the French text; but, while a graceful phrasing of the exquisite yearning phrases was achieved, there was little attempt to render the authentic ornamentation of the French baroque style.

Charpentier, an accomplished tenor, probably composed the title role for himself. Here, Ed Lyon, singing confidently and with obvious commitment to the drama, produced a beautiful youthful tenor, surely sufficiently warm and tender to melt even the most glacial goddess’s heart. If Lyon’s upper register sometimes lacked a little weight and substance, the touching vulnerability of his tender pianissimo in his transformation scene more than compensated; and, he exalted Diana’s loveliness with wondrous awe. His transformation aria was followed by a trio sonata for violins and continuo, exquisitely played by violinists Kati Debretzeni and Huw Daniel supported by Reiko Ichise on viola da gamba.

As Diana, Claire Booth sang with focus and clarity, but while she was admirably reliable in pitch and tone, at times she seemed a little too forceful for the role. The heart-rending action was rudely interrupted by the interjections of Juno (Hilary Summers), who confesses that, in a jealous rage aroused by Jupiter’s infidelity, she has brought about Actéon’s death. Summers enjoyed the extravagant dramatic aspects of the part, projecting powerfully from the Wigmore Hall balcony; but, her tone was rather strident and somewhat undid the mood of elegiac pathos.

Ciara Hendrick and Elizabeth Weisberg completed the line up of competent soloists; the seven singers joined to form a chorus characterised by neat ensemble, and clean, airy textures. After Actéon’s death, his hunting companions lament “the beautiful days cut short” of this invincible hero “in the springtime of his age”; unfortunately some poor flute intonation unsettled the overall tuning at the close of what had been an appealing and convincing performance of an attractive and stirring score.

Charpentier’s Actéon is an unusual yet complementary pairing with Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, the latter being inconveniently succinct and requiring a partnering work. Yet, Charpentier’s score preceded Purcell’s by only five years, and there are many affinities between them, not only of musical style - Purcell’s dance-textures and rhythms often sound distinctly French - but also of situation and mythic context, for Charpentier’s narrative is also related by one of Dido’s ladies-in-waiting in the aria “Oft she visits this lone mountain” in Purcell’s opera.

If Charpentier’s pastoral drama is ultimately rather frivolous, Purcell inspires considerably greater emotional weight and intensity. With Anna Stephany, the advertised Dido, indisposed, Susan Bickley stepped into the role at short notice, presenting a controlled, poised interpretation of regal bearing, betrayal and distress. If her early arias seemed overly guarded and reserved, a little lacking in affective gesture, by the closing lament her noble dignity was firmly established and her portrayal deeply poignant.

Claire Booth was a deliciously rich-toned Belinda, and Hilary Summers’ vocal exaggerations were more apt for the disconcerting devilry of the Sorceress. As Aeneas, baritone Marcus Farnsworth, made as much as is possible of the slim part.

Christian Curmyn led the ensemble in typically controlled and elegant fashion; perhaps his rendering was a little too restrained, more suitable for Charpentier’s relatively inconsequential drama, than for the emotional peaks and troughs of Purcell. There was grace and discipline, but few musical or dramatic surprises; in the Purcell especially, the emotional peaks were somewhat muted, the protagonists a little too self-possessed. Even in the Charpentier the dances lacked spontaneity; one longed for a looser rein which would permit the instrumental players the necessary freedom to inject an improvisatory quality. Purcell’s drunken sailors and grotesque witches were distinctly reserved.

Although we don’t know the circumstances and venue of the first performance of Charpentier’s Actéon, its brevity and intimacy, and the courtly ambience of the French baroque idiom, suggest a private setting. Similarly, while it was once firmly believed that Purcell’s opera was composed for girls’ school in Chelsea run by dancing master Josiah Priest, critics now question whether it was not in fact modelled upon John Blow’s masque, Venus and Adonis, and first performed at court in the 1680s. Whatever their origins, both works are ideally suited to the intimacy of the Wigmore Hall, and the Early Opera Group’s thoughtful, if rather conservative, performance, heightened the grace and eloquence of these elegant, affecting scores.

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):