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

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

La rondine at Investec Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park's 2017 season opened on 1 June 2017 with Martin Lloyd-Evans's new production of Puccini's La Rondine, designed by takis, with lighting by Mark Howland and choreography by Steve Elias. Elizabeth Llewellyn was Magda with Matteo Lippi as Ruggero, Tereza Gevorgyan as Lisette, Stephen Aviss as Prunier and David Stephenson as Rambaldo, Matthew Kofi Waldren conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Franz Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy, 1792
25 Jan 2012

Haydn’s The Seasons at Barbican Hall

This buoyant, refreshing performance of Haydn’s late oratorio, The Seasons, by Paul McCreesh’s superb Gabrieli Consort and Players conjured a calendric kaleidoscope of seasonal climes, from the warm bucolic breezes of spring to summer’s fierce suns and flashing storms, from autumnal harvests and hunts to the frozen mists and fiery hearth-sides of winter.

Franz Joseph Haydn: The Seasons

Gabrieli Consort & Players. Paul McCreesh, conductor. Christiane Karg, soprano; Allan Clayton, tenor; Christopher Purves, baritone. Barbican Hall, London, Saturday 14th January 2010.

Above: Franz Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy, 1792.

 

McCreech and his performers painted a collection of charming, detailed pictures of rural life, belying Hadyn’s own professed distaste for the text’s invitations to ‘word-painting’. The composer famously described what he considered the overtly mimetic sections depicting cocks growing, frogs croaking and so on as “Frenchified trash”, but here such sonic images brought much delight and were perfectly balanced with the more abstract reflections contained within Baron Gottfried van Swieten’s libretto.

After their success with The Creation (for which van Swieten had adapted and arranged episodes from Genesis and John Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost), the impetus for a new work seem to have come largely from van Swieten, who eagerly proposed another possible English language source to Haydn - John Thomson’s poem, ‘The Seasons’. The original comprises more than 4300 lines of poetry of a philosophical nature; Van Swieten selected, revised, re-ordered and translated, focus on the descriptive passages and producing a rather banal libretto, but one which did accord with the spirit of Enlightenment optimism, and which offered the composer much opportunity for illustrative detail.

However, The Seasons did not come easily to the once prolific Haydn. He reportedly found the text irritatingly simplistic; but, perhaps more significantly, the aging composer complained of weariness, lamenting his waning imaginative resources and “feeble memory and the unstrung state of my nerves so completely crush me to earth, that I fall into the most melancholy condition”.

The Seasons received its first performance in a private venue at the Schwarzenberg Palace in Vienna in April 1801. A month later it was rapturously received by the Viennese public. However, it was less celebrated in France and England, where Haydn had previously has such success and renown, and H. C. Robbins Landon has observed that this lack of interest may have heralded the decline and fall to the near oblivion that Haydn’s music would suffer in the nineteenth century.

Naturally, The Seasons falls into four parts. To begin, the “softest zephyrs, warm and mild” herald the rebirth of the dormant natural world, following a startling, large-scale orchestral introduction where explosive timpani strikes and syncopated rhythms evoke the shuddering passage from winter to spring. There are in fact instrumental ‘prefaces’ to each of the seasonal quarters; and the large Gabrieli Consort, with a rich brass ensemble of four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and full strings and woodwind, created varied, captivating soundscapes. Sweet flutes evoked spring’s mild airs during the opening accompanied recitative; gorgeously opulent horns rang triumphantly, first in Summer as the wakeful herdsman gathered up his cheerful flock, and later, joined by trombones, in a blaze of colour and energy in Autumn’s closing chorus, as “sound of the chase in the forests resound”. String playing was animated and nimble; accurate intonation characterised the unison chromaticisms which evoke the grey dawn indicating the beginning of Summer, while a glistening tremolo haze signalled that season’s fiercely blazing sun which “pours through clear and cloudless skies/A torrent of fire on the meadows below”. Textures were unfailingly crisp and clear, the four-note motif upon which Winter’s bleak Adagio introduction is founded wonderfully suggesting the wisps of swirling, freezing fog whipped up by the bracing wind.

The Seasons features three principal characters—Simon, a farmer (bass/baritone); Hanne, his daughter (soprano); and Lukas, a country lad (tenor) — who ruminate on aspects of peasant life, narrating personal anecdotes and reflecting on more abstract ideas.

As Simon, Christopher Purves’ full, round baritone carried the text powerfully to the furthest reaches of the Barbican Hall, every word of recitative crisply articulated and nuanced. In Autumn, the vigour and vitality of his singing inspired the chorus in their hymn to the joys of ‘industry’ (‘Thus nature rewards our toil!’). His aria, ‘See there on yonder open field’, was similarly enlivened and theatrical, as McCreesh judged the accelerandi and dramatic pauses that depict the dog as he “races in pursuit of his prey, then stops at once, and freezes, motionless as stone”, and the “terror swift” of the bird who takes wing “to escape th’approaching foe”, to perfection. In Winter, Purves effectively brought about a surprising change of mood in ‘Consider then, misguided man, the picture of thy life unfolds’, as the vivid immediacy of “icy blasts of piercing cold” are replaced by more abstract reflections upon the transitory nature of man’s life, leading to the final double chorus of praise to God for his gift of nature and its power of renewal.

Lukas’ cavatina, ‘Exhausted nature, faint ing sinks’, depicting the dazzling, debilitating heat of the midday summer sun, is one of the most beautiful numbers in the oratorio, and Allan Clayton’s serene, controlled pianissimo, supported by subdued low strings and gentle falling figures for flute and oboe, was supremely affecting. Clayton was unfailing alert to textual detail: at the start of Summer, the line “In darkness shrouded, steals the dawn, in pearly mantle” wonderfully expressed the intense anticipation and hope as “the weary night retires”. Lukas' Winter aria, ‘The wand’rer stands perplexed’, describing a traveller who falters and loses his way in the drifting snow, was especially poignant. Elsewhere Clayton’s fresh tone emphasised the works frequent affinity with folksong and Singspiel, as in the song of joy —a charming Andante dialogue between Lukas and Hanne — concluding Spring, which creates a mood of bucolic simplicity and delight recalling the unaffected world of Papageno and Papagena.

Christiane Karg’s Hanne was without affectation; a modest peasant girl, her well-centred soprano entertained the women spinning by the winter fire in an enchanting strophic Lied, as bubbling viola motifs depicted the “whirring” and “purring” of the spiralling wheel. Karg brought passion to her tone when joining with Lukas to relish the “bliss of love’s sweet rapture”; and she was not afraid to create a shriller sound to convey the “fear and trembling” of the pretty maid who fears the predatory nobleman but, as in all good folktales, uses her wile and wits to get the upper hand.

The principals are joined by a chorus of country folk, who provide glorious general hymns of praise at climactic moments, and form a dramatic cast of peasants, hunters, revellers and spinners. The Gabrieli Consort sang lustily and lustrously, relishing the more operatic moments of the score. The earth-shattering summer storm, and the exuberant hunting scene depicting the thrill of the chase and the riotous inebriation with which its success is celebrated, were impressively arresting. The Handelian fugues which conclude many of the seasonal sections were dynamic and uplifting.

All credit to McCreesh for inspiring his players and singers to perform with such startling energy and vitality. But, the moods were varied: equally striking was the clearing of the summer storm and the tolling of evening bells calling man and nature to rest. Despite the apparent increasing frailty and exhaustion of its composer, in this invigorating performance of The Seasons, there was evidence only of youthful vigour and joyful spontaneity.

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):