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

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry

As a whole, this concert proved a curious affair. It probably made more sense in the context of Thomas Adès’s series of Beethoven and Barry concerts with the Britten Sinfonia. The idea of a night off from the symphonic Beethoven to turn to chamber works was, in principle, a good one, but the sole Gerald Barry piece here seemed oddly out of place – and not in a productive, provocative way. Even the Beethoven pieces did not really seem to fit together especially well. A lovely performance of the op.16 Quintet nevertheless made the evening worthwhile.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Charles Kemble (1775-1854) and Harriet Smithson (1800-1854) as Romeo and Juliet. Lithograph by François-Antoine Conscience(1795-1840). [Source: Wikipedia]
20 Feb 2012

Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette — Opera with few words

Mark Elder and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brought Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette to the Royal Festrival Hall.

Hector Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette

Patrica Bardon; John Mark Ainsley; Orlin Anatassove. Schola Cantorum Oxford. BBC Symphony Chorus. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: Sir Mark Elder. Royal Festival Hall, London, 18th February 2012.

Above: Charles Kemble (1775-1854) and Harriet Smithson (1800-1854) as Romeo and Juliet. Lithograph by François-Antoine Conscience(1795-1840). [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Extracts from the piece are heard often enough, but hearing the whole work shows Berlioz’s intentions more clearly. This Roméo et Juliette is an orchestra-drama, where the story unfolds in the vivid musical tableaux the music evokes. Voices are only part of the orchestral palette, used solo or tutti when needed. to develop orchestral colour. This is a hybrid form, a semi-opera with arias and no “roles”. Just as Mendelssohn wrote Lieder ohne Worte, Berlioz wrote semi-operas without words. (Click here for a review of Dan Albright’s Berlioz’s Semi-Operas.)

This Roméo et Juliette was conceived to be heard on stage, for much of its impact is visual and theatrical. Hence the large orchestra and unusual instruments, and the massed choirs on this occasion dressed in jewel-hued shirts to highlight effect.

Although much is made of the works roots in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, perhaps it might be even more prescient to hear this Roméo et Juliette as part of a platform of new ideas about music drama that were growing in the 1840’s and 50’s. We think of Wagner and Verdi when we think of opera history, obliterating the altogether different approaches with which Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann were experimenting. That I think is the real significance of this piece. It’s an outgrowth from oratorio, but even more radically it is orchestra-theatre, very different from opera convention in its time.

Indeed, its connection to stage play is paramount. Berlioz became obsessed by Harriet Smithson when he watched her perform Shakespeare in Paris. The picture above is a contemporary print showing Smithson and Charles Kemble in Romeo and Juliet. In an age before close ups and amplification, theatre practice could have to have been more stylized than we’re used to now. Perhaps Berlioz, a music and theatre critic, intuited that good orchestral writing had the potential to express feelings in greater complexity than most actors were capable of. Berlioz’s flamboyance often seems to stem from a need to do bigger and flashier than anyone else. This extravagant emotionalism may have been what drew Wagner to Berlioz. How different it is from the elegance of Mozart and the charm of Donizetti! Sadly, just as Romeo and Juliet were doomed, Berlioz and Harriet were not happy together.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment must have enjoyed themselves, for each instrume4nt is a player in this piece. Berlioz was fascinated with instrumentation, and wrote the seminal treatise on orchestration cherished by Strauss and Mahler, and still useful now. Berlioz included the saxophone, then newly invented, long before the instrument became associated with jazz. Part of the fun in Roméo et Juliette is the way Berlioz highlights small details. An ophicleide (also a “new” instrument then) lurks among the trombone, darting out for a surprise attack in the opening “Tumulte” which depicts Montague/Capulet struggle. The ophicleide is “nastier” than a tuba, a flick knife as opposed to a scimitar. Berlioz is writing brutish street fight, expressing much more than words might do.

Many other witty effects like the percussionist standing stage front, so you can’t miss him, beating two metal bells. An allusion to the bells of the procession or to the Mass in general? In the “Queen Mab” sequence (the scherzo in part II), the magical fairy is evoked by delicate flutes and piccolo. Mendelssohn wrote his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1826, and discussed it with Berlioz when they were in Rome four years later. Similar luminous delicacy, more refinement here than in the rest of Berlioz’s sprawling, freewheeling adventure.

Although Patricia Bardon’s French was unintelligible (she was substituting at short notice), it wasn’t as much of a problem than it might have been. Juliette only sings for a short time, but her musical signature (plangent harps) lingers throughout the piece. She’s in a tomb, but not dead, as the music reminds us. John Mark Ainsley sang the tenor part, but Berlioz placed much more emphasis on Père Laurence, who gets the biggest “part” in this piece when he sings the recitative and aria that implore the Montagus and Capulets to make peace. The bass Orlin Anastassov was a powerful presence, using hiss voice to quell the tumult. The part evidently appealed to Berlioz, or it binds together all the orchestration, solo and tutti, vocal and instrumental. It’s also grand theatre.

Anne Ozorio

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):