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

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

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):