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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Pelleas and Melisande by Edmund Blair Leighton [Photo © Williamson Art Gallery & Museum courtesy of BBC]
17 Jul 2012

BBC Prom 3: Pelléas et Mélisande

21st-century opera played on period instruments; a ‘drama-less’ opera; a Dali-esque crimson chaise longue, stranded on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall.

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Pelléas: Phillip Addis; Mélisande: Karen Vourc’h; Golaud: Laurent Naouri; Arkel: Sir John Tomlinson; Geneviève: Elodie Méchain; Yniold: Dima Bawab; Shepherd/Doctor: Nahuel Di Pierro. Monteverdi Choir. Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London. Prom 3, Sunday 15 July 2012.

Above: Pelleas and Melisande by Edmund Blair Leighton [Photo © Williamson Art Gallery & Museum courtesy of BBC]

 

Not, one might think, a recipe for success, but this stunning concert performance of Debussy’s enigmatic opera Pelléas et Mélisande under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner repeatedly trounced expectations and preconceptions.

‘Nothing happens’ is one charge sometimes levelled at Pelléas et Mélisande; but while it’s true that literal ‘action’ and physical movement are restrained, the opera matches The Turn of the Screw in its gradual but incessant escalation of emotional intensity to an almost unbearable concentration of passion. And, as in Britten’s opera, it is principally the orchestra which elucidates the affecting and disturbing upsurges of emotion, and their tragic, poignant consequences.

Eliot Gardiner demonstrated a masterly appreciation of the way the subdued sonorities and gentle articulation of period instruments could perfectly convey the shadowy elusiveness and obscurities of Debussy’s score. The instrumental fabric was beautifully blended: orchestral motifs — such as the oboe’s opening arabesques depicting Mélisande’s elusive diffidence — were gracefully etched; delicate, half-whispered gestures, bloomed into swelling torrents of sound. The combination of control and flexibility was impressive as the shifting tonal colours, floating modulations, rhythmic elasticity, half-cadences and flowing, interweaving inner parts conjured a darkly brooding restlessness. The short scenes never seemed fragmented; instead, an air of timelessness was created as we moved from dark forest to enchanted well to gloomy castle. The transition from the second to third scenes in Act 3, as we rose from the subterranean castle vaults to the glaring daylight of the castle terrace was exhilarating.

Initially, the soloists — dressed in standard, modern evening attire — seemed a little unsure whether this was to be a stationary concert performance or a more dynamic semi-staged presentation. Rarefied and enigmatic the opera may be, but detachment and aloofness can be taken too far: it makes little sense for two characters engaged in an intense but hushed exchange of allusive, suggestive remarks to be placed on opposite sides of the stage, or for one to speak to the back of the other. However, movement and gesture gradually became both more natural and more imaginative; this was in no small part due to the engaging physicality and sensuousness of Karen Vourc’h’s Mélisande. Her brief syllables of song as she combed her hair at the window in Act 3 throbbed with impulsive energy and joy. She also revealed here her reserves of vocal strength, which for much of the evening she kept under wrap, preferring to employ a more muted but excited breathless tone to convey Mélisande’s inscrutable vulnerability. In fact, occasionally she seemed a little underpowered in the vast arena, but as one would expect of a native speaker, Vourc’h’s diction was crystal clear and the text elegantly shaped, the deliberate ordinariness of Maeterlinck’s language deepening the obscurity of its meaning.

Canadian baritone, Phillip Addis, was equally at home with the French text; indeed, many of the exceptional cast were first assembled at the Opéra Comique in 2010, and there was a confidence and strong sense of familiarity about the whole performance. Addis was suitably fresh and lithe of voice as a youthful, athletic Pelléas: innocently fervent and bright of tone to begin with, he grew to a fiery outpouring of love in the Act 4 love duet, finding the ideal timbre to negotiate the high range.

Both vocally and physically Laurent Nouri had enormous presence; even when seated he projected consummate authority and self-assurance. His powerful bass-baritone was subtly graded and coloured in a reading that confirmed that it is Golaud as much as the lovers who are tortured by his cruelty.

Sir John Tomlinson’s Arkel was resonant but not without a fitting fragility. Elodie Méchain possesses a pure, ringing contralto, and her lyrical projection of Geneviève’s declamation was truly moving. A gamine, sweet-toned Dima Bawab was convincing as Yniold.

The will be plenty of hyperbole, bombast and bravado during this ‘Olympic’ Promenade season; but, on this evening Eliot Gardiner reminded us of the genuine potency of refined understatement.

Claire Seymour

Click here for streaming audio of this performance.

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):