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

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau : Maître à danser - William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers. Maître à danser, not master of the dance but a master to be danced to: there's a difference. Rameau's music takes its very pulse from dance. Hearing it choreographed connects the movement in the music to the exuberant physical expressiveness that is dance.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

Antonin Dvořák: The Cunning Peasant (Šelma Sedlák)

What an enjoyable opportunity to encounter Dvořák’s sixth opera, Šelma Sedlák¸or The Cunning Peasant!

Idomeneo, Royal Opera

Whether biblical parable or mythological moralising, it’s all the same really: human hubris, humility, sacrifice and redemption.

Donizetti’s Les Martyrs — Opera Rara, London

Opera Rara brought a rare performance of Donizetti’s first opera for the Paris Opera to the Royal Festival Hall on 4 November 2014, following recording sessions for the opera.

Luca Pisaroni in San Diego

Bass baritone, Luca Pisaroni, known to opera lovers throughout the world for his excellence in Mozart roles, offered San Diego vocal aficionados a double treat on October 28th: his mellifluous voice, and a recital of German songs.

La bohème, ENO

Jonathan Miller’s production of La bohème for ENO, shared with Cincinnati Opera, sits uneasily, at least as revived by Natascha Metherell, between comedy and tragedy.

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall - Liszt, Strauss and Schubert

Any Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau performance is superb, but this Wigmore Hall recital surprised, too. Boesch's Schubert is wonderful, but this time, it was his Liszt and Strauss songs which stood out. This year at the Wigmore Hall, we've heard a lot of Liszt and a lot of Richard Strauss everywhere, establishing high standards, but this was special.

Wexford Festival 2014

The weather was auspicious for Wexford Festival Opera’s first-night firework display — mild, clear and calm. But, as the rainbow rockets exploded over the River Slaney, even bigger bangs were being made down at the quayside.

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

Capriccio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Although performances of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio have increased in recent time, Lyric Opera of Chicago has not experienced the “Konversationsstück für Musik” during the past twenty odd years.

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

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):