Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Jul 2012

Pierre Boulez : Le marteau sans maître BBC Proms

Pierre Boulez Le marteau sans maître is important as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, says conductor François-Xavier Roth, who conducted it with members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in BBC Prom 17.

Pierre Boulez : Le marteau sans maître

Members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Hilary Summers (alto), Guy Eshad (flute), Ori Kam (viola) Caroline Delume (guitar),Bishara Harouni (piano). Adrian Salloum (xylorimba), Pedro Manel Torrejón González (vibraphone), Noya Schleien (percussion), François-Xavier Roth (conductor).

27th July 2012, Royal Albert Hall, London.

 

Ironically, though Daniel Barenboim's Proms series features Beethoven, its greatest achievement long term may be bringing Boulez to mainstream audiences. Barenboim is a man of courage and principle. He's confronted social injustice, and now he's challenging musical prejudice.

Although the singer (Hilary Summers) sings in only four of the nine sequences of Boulez's Le marteau sans maître , it is a work infused with the concept of voice, a kind of meta-song. "Whereas Pierrot Lunaire is a theatre piece with instrumental accompaniment, the voice always prepondering," said Boulez in a description of the piece. "Le marteau sans maître stems from the cell of a poem which is eventually absorbed in toto". As a young man, Boulez was drawn to the poetry of René Char and wrote three major cycles based on his work. "Le marteau sans maître is thus crucial to any understanding of Boulez's output.

Char was a surrealist In his poetry, images are compressed, as if by homeopathic distillation. The poet's brief phrases don't reveal meaning in the usual sense, but force the reader to respond intuitiuvely. "Sudddenly", said Boulez, "You recognize yourself.... the illuminating paragraph seems simultaneously to take possession of you, and to increase your potential, your grasp and your power beyond anything you had dreamed possible".

In Le marteau sans maître, Char's words are crystalized still further so their very relationship with obvious meaning dissolves into the music itself, like a droplet spreading concentric cirles in a pool of water. Words are used for musical quality, such as alliteration. Boulez specifies that the singer is not a soloist. She sits with the ensemble, so the flow between players is uninterrupted. At the end, she intones abstract sound, almost the sound of body rhythms, and the flute (Guy Eshed) sings on her behalf, as had the viola (Ori Kam) before It's significant that Char was anti-fascist long before the German occupation. On a very deep level, Boulez is reiterating Char's beliefs in the value of the individual against the mass. He uses a strict, almost mathematical structure of three internal cycles within the nine pieces and other more subtle interrelationships. From this almost ritual formality, however, springs freedom of invention. Hence, the concept of hammer without a master.

Yet how that "hammer" is wielded ! Instead of blasts of massed brass and percussion, the "aural violence" of the orchestral palette, Boulez uses a small ensemble, where instruments are carefully balanced in terms of pitch and timbre. Lines are short, with lively traceries of individual notes rather than full tutti. Nor does he demand Lachenmann-esque distortions. These players aren't there to show off, but to co-operate. Boulez also emplys instruments that suggest, but don't copy, instruments from non-western cultures. The guitar (Caroline Delume), suggesting the Japanese koto, xylomarimba (Adrian Salloum) and vibraphone (Pedro Manuel Torrejon Gonzales) suggesting gamelan and the African balafon. They exist, not as exotics, because they can express the non-dogmatic nature of the piece and its sparkling fragments, merrily moving together. Even the percussion (Noya Schleien) employs no heavy timpani but a brushes, a gong, maracas, bongos. On this occasion I was struck by how Le marteau sans maître picks up on Messiaen's concepts. In a dawn chorus, many birds sing, but each is individual, and an astute listener can pick them out. In many ways Le marteau sans maître is also a precursor of Messiaen's Sept Haïkaï.

By choosing to showcase Le marteau sans maître in this Proms series, Barenboim is again making an extra-musical statement. This piece gives the musicians much more room to engage than the more complex Dérive 2 at the start of the series and it much more suited to their strengths. Performance is a journey not an end in itself, as a deep reading of this piece might suggest. François-Xavier Roth is a charismatic, slightly eccentric personality (in the best creative sense). He's sensitive to Boulez's idiom, and his rapport with the players was good. In Le marteau sans maître, everyone's a player if they're listening.

Anne Ozorio

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):