Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.



The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David
27 Feb 2012

“Figures from the Antique”, Wigmore Hall

Modern and historic responses to classical tragedy and myth formed the unifying focus for this latest stage of Ian Bostridge’s year-long ‘Ancient and Modern’ project at the Wigmore Hall.

“Figures from the Antique”

Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano; Ian Bostridge, tenor. Aurora Orchestra. Nicholas Collon, conductor. The English Concert. Laurence Cummings, director and, harpsichord. Nadja Zwiener, solo violin. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday, 20th February 2012.

Above: The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David


One mild criticism levelled at Bostridge in the past has been that his repertoire range is rather limited, but this recital series is convincingly dispelling that censure; here, an intriguing assemblage of chamber cantatas proved that he is as comfortable, and accomplished, in styles as disparate as baroque seria and French mélodie.

Bostridge was partnered by the Austrian soprano, Angelika Kirchschlager, and, opening the recital with Handel’s O numi eterni, she immediately established her striking dramatic presence, launching with unrestrained emotional force into an anguished account of the rape and suicide of Lucrezia. La Lucrezia is a truly ‘operatic’ work. Except for the admixture of recitative and aria, it has very little resemblance to the standard Baroque cantata; rather it is a complex scena in a multifaceted and unique form. Such complexity is integral to the development of Lucrezia’s agonising responses: pain, fury, doubt, resignation and revenge. Kirchschlager maximised the transitions — often unpredictable and unsettling — from recitative to aria, powerfully revealing the volatility and extremity of Lucrezia’s emotional states. Histrionic outbursts characterised by abrupt, jarring shifts of register were juxtaposed with calmer episodes where a reflective ‘cello accompaniment (sensitively played by Jonathan Manson of the English Concert) intimated the underlying sadness beneath the outpourings of aggressive vengeance. With a wild energy, Kirchschlager absolutely inhabited Lucrezia’s destabilised, damaged psyche. Yet, while not lacking in dramatic impact, her projection of the text was less impressive; and, it was a pity that her performance was so bound to the score throughout.

In contrast, Bostridge’s rendering of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Io son Neron, l’imperator del mondo was most definitely ‘off the book’. Bostridge’s unmannered delivery — and the intermingling of flamboyant posturing and imperious flourishes with traces of ironic insinuation — revealed a dramatic and emotional range far beyond the internalised, tormented modes with which he established his reputation. In the first aria, in which a supercilious Nero challenges even the gods, Bostridge demonstrated both vocal strength and flexibility as he arrogantly declared, “I want Jove to tremble before the magnificence of my presence”. With fitting irony, the rejections of the notion of compassion in the second aria draw forth the tenor’s most beautiful, seductive tone. The recitatives conveyed the tempestuousness of the deluded, unbalanced emperor, demonstrating his extreme cruelty and his delight in the suffering and slaughter he causes. The last aria 'Veder chi pena' is set as a tarantella, a southern Italian folk dance, and Bostridge enjoyed the paradox that this light-hearted form is in fact the ultimate demonstration of Nero's malignity as he sings: "To watch those that suffer and sigh is my heart's desire, evil since birth.”

The ‘modern’ half of the recital began with Eric Satie's little known “La Mort de Socrate”, a quiet, reflective account of the great Greek philosopher’s final moments before he is poisoned. Impressively performing the ceaselessly unfolding declamation from memory, Bostridge demonstrated his profound musical intelligence, appreciating both the understated manner and charm of the early twentieth-century French idiom and the underlying sincerity and affectivity of the sentiments expressed. With poise and elegance he related the French text — fragments from Plato’s Dialogues translated by Victor Cousin — his even tone and graceful delivery unaffectedly revealing its simple poignancy. Bostridge’s reading was sympathetically supported by some accomplished playing by the Aurora Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon, who drew sharply defined textures from his ensemble.

Kirchschlager closed the recital with an impassioned performance of Benjamin Britten’s late masterwork, Phaedra, a ‘dramatic cantata’ written for Janet Baker. In contrast to the tragic nobility with which Baker reportedly imbued the role, Kirchschlager went for an unrelenting, full-throttle approach; and while she undoubtedly conveyed the neuroses and instability of Theseus’s unfaithful wife, by emphasising Phaedra’s sexuality and fickleness she neglected the quieter, internalised guilt and remorse that Britten’s music suggests. Certainly, in the ‘Presto to Hippolytus’ Britten sets explicitly sexual imagery from Robert Lowell’s translation of Racine: “Look, this monster ravenous/ For her execution, will not flinch,/ I want your sword’s spasmodic final inch.” And here Kirchschlager’s dazzling timbre together with striking rhythmic incisiveness from the instrumentalists of the Aurora Orchestra powerfully conveyed her adulterous lust and intimated her insanity.

But, Britten’s music is never frantic; the heights of Phaedra’s obsession are depicted by a chilling passage for stratospheric strings accompanied by untuned percussive strikes which suggest a pulsing, diminishing heartbeat, both serenely beautiful and poignantly prophetic of her imminent death. In the final ‘Adagio to Theseus’, Phaedra shows calm acceptance of her fate — “A cold composure I have never know/ Gives me a moment’s pause.” — her resignation underpinned by the orchestra’s gradual modulation towards C Major harmony and ‘resolution’. Superb instrumental playing — cellist Oliver Coates deserves especial mention — brought some emotional variety to the performance, to counter Kirchschlager’s remarkable but unremitting frenzy.

Claire Seymour


Handel: O numi eterni (La Lucrezia) HWV145

Corelli: La Follia for violin and string ensemble

Scarlatti: Io son Neron, l’imperator del mondo

Satie: “The Death of Socrates” from Socrate

Britten: Phaedra Op.93

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):