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

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jonathan Harvey
02 Feb 2012

Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream

British composer Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream came to London four years after its premieres at the Holland Festival and in Luxembourg.

Jonathan Harvey: Wagner Dream

Claire Booth: Prakriti; Roderick Williams: Buddha; Hilary Summers: Mother; Simon Bailey: Vairochana; Andrew Staples: Ananda; Richard Angas: Old Brahmin; Actors: Nicholas Le Provost: Wagner; Ruth Lass: Cosima Wagner; Julia Innocento: Carrie Pringle; Richard Jackson: Dr Keppler; Sally Brooks: Betty/Vajrayogini. BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins. Director: Orpha Phelan. IRCAM Computer Music Designer: Gilbert Nuono. IRCAM Sound Engineer: Franck Rossi. Designer: Charlie Cridlan. Barbican Hall, London, 29th Jabuary 2012.

Above: Jonathan Harvey

 

How satisfying to see such a full Barbican Hall for the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s opera Wagner Dream. The premise of the opera is at once simple but devastatingly effective: a group of actors play Wagner and the people who surround him in his final hours, and they play out their parts on the uppermost level of the stage; as Wagner dies after a row between himself and Cosima about Carrie Pringle, an ex-Flower Maiden and ex-lover, he sees the events we see on the middle level, the opera Die Sieger (“The Victor”) that Wagner had planned. This is the Buddhist story of Prakriti, her love for the monk Ananda and the consequences of that thwarted love (Tristan, anyone?). The Buddha is able to explain Prakriti’s actions via references to her previous lives, but there is dissent when it is suggested that Prakriti join the previously male-only Buddhist order, mainly from the Old Brahmin. The Buddha accepts her; the action shifts back to Wagner’s time; the worlds collide though when it is Vairachana that guides him towards the next life (the dying Wagner himself had been seeing the characters throughout — none of the people around him, Cosima, the Doctor and so on, could).

Harvey’s grasp of drama is impeccable. The work lasts one and three quarter hours (there is no interval) and thanks to Harvey’s pacing, there is no sense of longeur. There is a sense, however, of underlying timelessness. Staging is sparse, but effective: the Wagners and their floral interloper have an austere table and chairs. The conception of austerity chimes perhaps with the overall feeling of ritual, underlined by pillars of smoke that emanated from both sides of the stage as the audience entered. The players of the BBCSO processed on stage as if about to begin a holy act (and perhaps they were). Surtitles were used, but only after the onset of the Buddhist story.

The vast stretch of Harvey’s available compositional resources was impeccably utilised. Tonal sections made great effect (a lullaby, for example) and yet did not jar in the slightest, instead appearing as just one element in the composer’s palette. The music shares with Wagner’s an ability to take the listener out of temporal time into the composer’s expanded time, and, as with Wagner, the time spent experiencing this piece seemed somehow telescoped, as one became intimately involved with the events and their musical realisation. One one level it felt as if we had been there years; on another, it was a mere moment.

Harvey’s use of electronics is by now ingrained into his mode of discourse, and the electronics emerged as the logical extension of the sound of the orchestra, taking their sounds and manipulating them not only timbrally, but in space as well. The inclusion of a choral concert the previous evening meant we were able to hear the ensemble passages linking back to that, a stylistic equivalence underlined by the programming of the weekend. Yet it was the moments of almost unbelievable beauty that Harvey was able to conjure up from his forces that will linger long in the memory, perhaps most notably his setting of Prakriti’s significant words “Love is strength, Love is beauty”.

While the acting was excellent, it was the singing that truly impressed. As the all-important Prakriti, the experienced Clare Booth excelled, her voice miraculously pure. As seductress, one has to ask if she is a Harvey equivalent to Kundry. Interactions with the creamy-voiced Hilary Summers (Mother) were a joy, and Harvey’s disjunct lines posed no problems to the vocalists. Only Andrew Staples’ tenor was, initially, disappointing — rather on the nasal side. Yet he seemed to relax into the role. Matching Booth for top accolades was Roderick Williams as the Buddha. Williams has a voice of gold. His declamation and presence were simply stunning.

Bass Richard Angas has lost none of his authority, and he projected the Old Brahmin, so stuck in the old ways’ rules, with real strength and conviction, while bass-baritone Simon Bailey made a fine fist of Vairochana. Martyn Brabbins’ conducting was beautifully confident, and the BBCSO responded by reminding us all why they are without parallel in demanding contemporary music. Alas, illness prevented the composer himself from attending. But there is no doubting that this weekend confirmed Harvey’s status at the head of British music, and similarly there is no doubting that this performance of Wagner Dream was the highlight of this mini-festival.

Colin Clarke

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):