Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

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):