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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Prophet Elijah Receiving Bread and Water from an Angel (1628) by Peter Paul Rubens
08 Mar 2012

Elijah, Barbican Hall, London

The Barbican’s six-month series celebrating the English oratorio, has now reached Mendelssohn’s Elijah — or perhaps we should follow the Victorians and refer to it as ‘the Elijah’, given that it was performed in English, in William Bartholomew’s translation.

Felix Mendelssohn: Elijah, op.70

Simon Keenlyside (baritone); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano); Lucy Crowe (soprano); Andrew Kennedy (tenor); William Carne (treble); Britten Sinfonia Voices (chorus master: Eamonn Douglas); Britten Sinfonia/Andreas Delfs (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, Wednesday 7 March 2012.

Above: The Prophet Elijah Receiving Bread and Water from an Angel (1628) by Peter Paul Rubens

 

My preference for the German version is neither here nor there, really, given the commission for the Birmingham Festival, and certainly not when it is performed in a series devoted to English-language oratorios. However, it is interesting to note the difference in sound; indeed, it is almost impossible not to notice it. Bach seems more distant, at least for much of the time, though it is not necessarily the case that Handel seems closer. For better or worse, we seem closer to the world of Victorian piety. (Consider, in a celebrated example, how different ‘O for the wings of a dove’ and ‘O könnt' ich fliegen wie Tauben dahin’ sound.)

One aspect, however, of the present performance could not have been more different from the world of the Victorian choral society, namely the size of the forces involved. This was a chamber Elijah, both in terms of choir and orchestra. The Britten Sinfonia’s instrumental forces included strings scaled at 8:6:4:4:2, wind instruments and timpani, whilst Britten Sinfonia Voices numbered thirty-four in all, quite a contrast with the previous time I had heard the work, from a fully symphonic London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Philharmonic Choir under the baton of Kurt Masur (in German). The soloists were fewer in number too, limited to just the five, including a treble. The Barbican is a smaller venue than the Royal Festival Hall, though it is certainly not a chamber venue, and there were times when I missed the heft that could be imparted by larger forces — not because they are in some dubious sense ‘authentic’, but more on account of the near-Wagnerian dramatic scale they can assist to convey. One’s ears adjust, though, at least to an extent, and clarity provided some degree of compensation.

The Britten Sinfonia is generally acknowledged to be one of this country’s most enterprising ensembles, its programmes regularly proving more interesting, more imaginative, than many longer established groups. Based in Cambridge — during my time there, I attended a good number of its lunchtime and evening performances — it has recently been appointed an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican. Though that appointment will begin in autumn 2012, coinciding with the Sinfonia’s twentieth anniversary, this concert offered Barbican audiences a taste of what will be on offer: obviously not so much in programming terms — Elijah is Elijah — as in musicianship. My only real doubt concerning a fine orchestral performance was a certain stinginess concerning string vibrato during the Overture. Otherwise, all sections of the chamber orchestra emerged with great credit, from the opening sepulchral, stentorian woodwind, to the blaze of the final ‘Amen’. There was some very fine solo work too, for instance from obbligato cello (Caroline Dearnley) in Elijah’s recitative, ‘It is enough,’ and oboe (Alun Darbyshire) in his arioso, ‘For the mountains shall depart’.

Likewise Britten Sinfonia Voices, recently formed under the leadership of Eamonn Douglas, acquitted themselves extremely well. There were indeed times when I had to remind myself that they were relatively few in number. Diction and clarity were excellent; there was never the slightest hint of (pseudo-)Victorian staidness. Only once did I find the choral singing a little tame, in the chorus ‘Baal, we cry to thee,’ but the lack of wildness — and this is Mendelssohn, after all — seemed more a matter of direction by Andreas Delfs than of the singing as such. At any rate, the call of the priests of Baal to their god to ‘hear and answer … Mark how the scorner derideth us!’ soon registered less ‘tastefully’ and with far greater dramatic force.

Delfs I was less sure about. For the most part, his was a capable performance. Only occasionally, most notably during the Overture, did he drive the music too hard. On the other hand, and despite a truly thrilling chorus to conclude the first part, this was not a reading to grip one dramatically as Masur’s had done. The comparison may be odious, but, especially when we are dealing with a work and indeed genre that remain unfashionable, an extra ounce of musico-dramatic conviction can work wonders. It is probably fair to say that Mendelssohn’s inspiration is uneven here, not least in some of the numbers towards the end of the second part, but fiery advocacy can help persuade one otherwise. Some of these numbers dragged, alas, lending an impression of chamber-scale neo-Victoriana, petering-out Stanford rather than invigorating Handel.

There was much, nevertheless, to relish in the solo singing. Simon Keenlyside made an excellent Elijah, not a bluff prophet, but a thoughtful, sometimes even conflicted soul, sensitive to an unusual degree, whether in terms of characterisation or verbal acuity. The pathos to his delivery of ‘It is enough…’ reminded one, despite the language, of Bach: recitative it might be, but Keenlyside — and, I think, Mendelssohn too — brought the music, not for the first time, closer to arioso. Mendelssohn at his most Handelian, in the aria ‘Is not his world like a fire?’ was conveyed with equal success, echoes of the Messiah readily discerned. Lucy Crowe offered a particular highlight with the aria that opens the second part, ‘Hear ye, Israel’. Clear of tone and direct of expression, this was model oratorio singing, as were the contributions from Catherine Wyn-Rogers. Wyn-Rogers had considerable ground to cover, but moved effortlessly between Angel and Queen. The latter — Jezebel, of course — exuded menace and feminine wiles, whilst the Angel’s ‘O rest in the Lord’ revelled, for better or worse, in Mendelssohn at his loveliest. After an unfortunate start, treble William Carne made up lost ground and offered a number of well-turned phrases. The only real disappointment was tenor, Andrew Kennedy. Oddly, his single line as Ahab offered properly dramatic impact, but much of the rest of his performance suffered from an awkward combination of overt emoting and a tendency to croon. Obadiah was bad enough, but the final, tenor aria, ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth,’ sounded as if it were excerpted from a West End musical, vibrato so wide as to disconcert. Fortunately, there was some excellent choral and orchestral playing still to come.

Mark Berry

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):