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

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

La pietra del paragone in Pesaro

Impeccable casting — see photos. Three new generation Italian buffos brought startling new life to Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2002 production of Rossini’s first major comedy (La Scala, 1812).

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

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):