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

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

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):