Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kathleen Ferrier
02 May 2012

The Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2012

This year’s Kathleen Ferrier Awards final was both a competition and a celebration, marking as it did the centenary anniversary of the great singer’s birth.

The Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2012

Wigmore Hall, London Friday 27 April 2012

Above: Kathleen Ferrier

 

First held in 1956, following Ferrier’s tragically early death on 22 April 1952, the competition has supported many young singers in their early years of training and, since 2009, has also offered additional support to its prize winners in the form of sponsoring a series of recitals around the UK, giving these singers public platforms to develop their recital skills. Recent prize recipients have included Emma Bell, Kate Royal, Elizabeth Watts, Martene Grimson, Andrew Kennedy and Robert Murray, and many others who have gone on to win considerable international acclaim.

The demands of the competition are rigorous: both first round and semi-final must include an operatic aria and art song, and singers must show appreciation of the musical and technical characteristics of different periods and styles. The final must contain at least one song in English and present a balance between opera and song.

Natalya-3.gifNatalya Romaniw [Photo by Patrick Allen, Opera Omnia, courtesy of Hazard Chase Limited]

This year’s winner, Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw, offered a daring programme which played to her strengths — a big, richly coloured tone and a confident, mature dramatic presence. Opening with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Atchevo eta pryezhdye nye znala’ from Iolanta she exhibited a beautiful vocal lustre and a natural instinct for phrase shape, carefully modulating the dynamic expression to communicate textual meaning. Strauss’s ‘Ständchen’ showed off the glistening, exhilarating sheen of her upper notes, and its power, while the same composer’s ‘Ruhe meine seele’ demonstrated that Romaniw can sustain a centred, pleasing line in the lower register too. Jonathan Dove’s ‘Between your sheets’ was imaginative and adventurous programming, and here Romaniw adopted a more intimate tone, sensitively conveying the words. But, it was back into extrovert mode for Britten’s ‘Tell me the Truth about Love’: fortunately, she did not indulge in cabaret hyperbole, but enjoyed sharing the wit and humour of the song with the audience, in an appealing, engaging rendition which deservedly garnered the song prize for Romaniw too.

Baritone Ben McAteer and soprano Ruth Jenkins shared second prize. I felt that McAteer’s communication of the text, as he effortlessly embodied a range of characters in different dramatic and emotional situations, put him in the running for first prize. Whether outpouring Romantic angst or relishing the ironic wit of Classicism, every word was crystal clear and every musical gesture perfectly matched to the sentiments of the text. The gradation of dramatic moods in Schumann’s ‘Belsazar’ was superb, the phrase endings beautifully crafted, while ‘Kogda bï zhizn domashnim krugom’ from Eugene Onegin demonstrated the relaxed flexibility of McAteer’s warm baritone. Hamilton Harty’s setting of the traditional Irish song, ‘My Lagan Love’, made a moving conclusion to his programme; the tempo was audaciously slow, McAteer’s dark pianissimo deeply expressive, and the rhetorical power of the song instinctively conveyed.

Ruth Jenkins demonstrated variety of tone and a broad tessitura in an interesting programme which embraced Schubert, Wolf, Handel, James Macmillan and the Icelandic composer, Sigfús Einarsson. Seeming a little nervous at the start, Jenkins struggled to control her vibrato in the long sustained notes that open Schubert’s ‘Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen’, but she did show that she knows how to build through individual phrases to shape coherent larger structures. Her intonation settled, however, and Einarsson’s ‘Draumalandio’ was notable for its wistful, gentle ambience. Gaining confidence, Jenkins brought a translucent quality to the tranquil rocking intervals of Macmillan’s ‘The Children’. She skilfully controlled the repetitive vocal line, which, like a child’s song, employs only a few basic intervals, tenderly conveying the innocence of the child in contrast to the more sophisticated gestures of the sparse piano accompaniment.

There were three other finalists. Soprano Eleanor Dennis demonstrated plenty of sparkle in ‘Come Scoglio’ and a burnished lower range in Britten’s ‘Nocturne’ from On This Island. She blended folky gestures with virtuosity in Eva Dell’Acqua’s ‘Villanelle’ but, while this was an accurately performed programme Dennis, in the difficult ‘opening slot’, did not always have the stage presence to fully engage the audience. Dennis’s accompanist, Craig White, was awarded the accompanist’s prize.

The same lack of stage impact also characterised soprano Robyn Allegra Parton’s performance. Although her rendering of Quilter’s ‘Love’s Philosophy’ was exuberant, and ‘My heart leaps up’ from Britten’s Albert Herring carefully shaped, Parton’s performance was accurate, poised and pleasing rather than exciting and impactful.

The limitations of the countertenor repertoire inevitably affected Russell Harcourt’s programming; but while he attempted to introduce variety, juxtaposing Handel with Heggie, Harcourt’s light graceful voice ultimately lacked diversity of colour. This proved problematic in Bach’s renowned ‘Erbarme dich’ from the St. Matthew Passion, where he was unable to impose his presence in the strophic repetitions, following the long piano ‘between-verse’ passages. A burgeoning theatricality was evident in Handel’s ‘Vivi tiranno’ from Rodelinda, however, as well as superb breath control and an effective rhetorical style.

I’m sure we will be hearing much more from all these accomplished singers in future. And, the centenary celebrations continue at the Wigmore Hall on 28 June, when six recent winners — singers Sarah-Jane Brandon, Anna Stéphany, Ben Johnson, Jonathan McGovern, and pianists James Baillieu and John Read — come together to perform a programme of songs, duets and ensembles from Kathleen Ferrier’s repertoire, devised by Graham Johnson.

Claire Seymour

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):