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

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Iestyn Davies [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]
22 May 2012

History Repeating

Iestyn Davies’ Wigmore Hall recital, ‘History Repeating’, may have explored various composers’ engagement with, and reinterpretation and reinvigoration of, music of the past, but Davies himself is very much the countertenor of the moment, and undoubtedly an exciting and fulfilling future lies ahead.

History Repeating

Iestyn Davies, countertenor; Malcolm Martineau, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 7th May 2012.

Above: Iestyn Davies [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]

 

The capacity audience at the Wigmore Hall was expectant, alert and palpably animated as they awaited the opening item: three of Benjamin Britten’s characterful if idiosyncratic realisations of Henry Purcell. From the early 1940s, Britten and Pears had introduced these realisations into their recital programmes; Britten would later declare that he had not appreciated “before I first met Purcell, that words could be set with such ingenuity, with such colour”. These realisations are energetic and restless, if not always idiomatic. But Davies made them sound natural and fluent, the frequent sparseness of Britten’s textures resulting in no loss of expressivity as Davies’ easy, fluid declamation of the text, particularly in the recitative-like passages, delineated the emotional situation directly and truthfully. ‘In the Black Dungeon of Despair’ was particularly transfixing, the chromatic declamations wonderfully shaped, while ‘Sweeter Them Roses’ demonstrated the countertenor’s deftness and agility. Overall it was the small details that were made to tell so affectingly: such as the subtle diminuendo on the closing ‘Hallelujah’ of ‘Lord, what is man’, or the poignant dissonances which draw out the dark sensuality of ‘Sweeter than roses’.

Recently Davies gave the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Four Traditional Songs — comprising settings of ‘A brisk young lad’, ‘Searching for lambs’, ‘The cruel mother’ and ‘The bitter withy’ — a work which was jointly commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Wigmore Hall. Muhly perfectly understands the need to allow space for the text to speak in these folk ballad arrangements, and his minimalist style creates an appropriately reflective, introverted, and at times mysterious, ambience. He also appreciates the wide range of register and colour which Davies’ voice can encompass — from a muscular, strong lower voice to a penetrating yet poignantly sweet high range — and the way that this can be used in the service of story-telling.

Davies knows how to spin an intimate narrative, almost like a confession, drawing the audience ever closer; by the final song the audience was collectively holding its breath, hardly daring to exhale and break the spell. The precision and control were deceptively effortless: it takes enormous skill and discipline to shape such expansive phrases, colouring individual words and subtly altering the dynamics, while maintaining narrative continuity. The vocal line was penetrating but never shrill; incisive and haunting, and at times unsettling, but always beautiful and warm. Pianist Malcolm Martineau complemented the voice economically but expressively - Muhly has described the piano accompaniment as "highly stylized but understated". Indeed, these songs may be sparse but they are also deeply eloquent and touching.

Michael Tippett did not allow Britten a monopoly of song arrangements and editions of early music, including Purcell, and Tippett’s Songs for Ariel which closed the first half of the recital, reveal his own Purcellian inheritance. In ‘Come into these yellow sands’ and ‘Full fathom five’, pianist and countertenor made much of the evolving counterpoint which energises Tippett’s idiom. A bright joyful timbre characterised ‘Where the bee sucks’, Davies nonchalantly evoking Ariel’s freedom of spirit and blissful release.

The second half commenced in more reflective, sombre fashion with Britten’s realisations of J.S. Bach’s Five Spiritual Songs. Here the elegance of Davies’ phrasing, as well as his full rich tone, conveyed both the disturbing and consoling moments in the texts with equal affective power. Again, it was the remarkable yet inconspicuous attention to small nuances which proved so moving: the careful placement of the words, ‘Es ist gnug, Herr’ in ‘Liebster Herr Jesus’, each isolated by the most miniscule of separations, was spine-chilling.

Davies found himself in unfamiliar countertenor territory for the next item, Schubert’s lied, ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’. In fact, his timbre gave a song where voice type and manner are innately provocative, an added piquancy. For, the singer must embody two differently gendered roles: first, a maiden who pleas for death to pass her by, and then Death himself, who reassures that it is rest not terror that he brings. The shift from the maiden’s high register to Death’s lower realms is further complicated by the countertenor timbre — one might describe the effect as a serious version of more familiar comic, en travesti subversions. Davies’ lower range is muscular, even tenorial, which made the sepulchral descent through a D Minor scale and the chilly repeated Ds to which Death’s melody repeatedly returns, deadening and bleak. Although there was little of the emotive vocal strain at the close that is inevitable when the song is sung by a woman, Davies was able to convincingly convey both the agitation of the maiden in the first stanza and Death’s knelling reply, making the intermingling of personae even more unsettling. Martineau’s funereal piano prelude was transformed into a hymn-like postlude, further highlighting the ambiguities of the text.

Brahms’ Fünf Gesänge Op.72 is the last of four sets of songs composed during 1875-77. The first song, ‘Alte Liebe’, has a text by Candidus which speaks of the memories of young love — sentiments which undoubtedly resonated personally for Brahms. Martineau proved himself a sensitive and intelligent accompanist in these songs, in which the vocal line and accompaniment textures are intricately interwoven. Davies’ slow vocal phrases unfolded expressively over Martineau’s gentle, low register arpeggios, but harmonic intensification rapidly injected restless passion, before subsiding to a resigned close, with falling fifths resounding emptily in the piano accompaniment.

Translated as ‘Invincible’, ‘Unüberwindlich’, the fifth of the Op.72 set, is Goethe's drinking song, comparing women to wine. Both pianist and singer displayed a sharp wit and light spirit, making much of the humorous word-painting and ironic musical quotation (a motif from Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord Sonata in D (Longo 214). The performers enjoyed the drawn out octaves between the voice and piano which mark the several oaths sworn during the song, and the conclusion was suitably uproarious.

Herbert Howells, nostalgic song, O My Deir Hert, was performed with particular sweetness, Davies’ luminous tone aptly conveying the faith and passion of the Luther-inspired text.

During his last months in America in the mid-1940s, Britten assuaged his homesickness by producing many arrangements of folk songs of the British Isles, which he and Pears performed as encores. Britten noted at the time that they created a “’wow’ wherever they have been performed so far!”, and Davies kept up this tradition! The relaxed joyfulness of ‘That yongë child’ was followed by an exquisitely crafted rendering of ‘The Ash Grove’, the vocal melody enhanced by Martineau’s delicate accompaniment, commencing high above the voice, then sinking deep below before rising to ethereal heights once again for the close. ‘Oliver Cromwell’, a setting of a traditional Suffolk nursery rhyme, places a comically malicious text over a smirking piano accompaniment, in a vibrant folk style. The final lines are: “If you want any more, you can sing it yourself, Hee-haw, sing it yourself.” The audience undoubtedly wanted much more, but Davies’ artistry rendered any other contributions unthinkable!

Davies seems to have it all. His tone is pure and centred, unfailingly beautiful across all registers, never ceasing to make an expressive or dramatic impact. Intonation is near perfect, technical demands are effortlessly despatched, and Davies communicates directly with his audience, confident and direct in a range of styles and forms. There is no undue fussiness but subtle details are perceived, considered and strikingly conveyed. Such innate musicality and unassuming mastery are rare, and to be treasured; as are the apparent joy and delight both experienced and shared — which the exultant Wigmore Hall clientele clearly understood.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Henry Purcell: ‘Lord, what is man’ (realised by Britten); ‘In the black, dismal dungeon of despair’; ‘Sweeter than roses’
Nico Muhly: Four Traditional Songs (UK premiere)
Michael Tippett: Songs for Ariel
J.S. Bach: Five Spiritual Songs (Geistliche Lieder)
Franz Schubert: ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’
Johannes Brahms: ‘Alte Liebe’; ‘Unüberwindlich’
Herbert Howells: ‘O my deir hert’
Benjamin Britten: ‘That yongë child’; ‘The ash grove’; ‘Oliver Cromwell’

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):