Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

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):