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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

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’.

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):