Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Frederick Delius, Jelka Rosen (1868-1935)
11 Aug 2012

Edinburgh International Festival - Delius, A Mass of Life

The Edinburgh International Festival got off to a rousing start with Frederick Delius, A Mass of Life, rarely heard because it's scored for huge forces.

Frederick Delius - A Mass of Life

Anna Christy - soprano, Pamela Helen Stephen - mezzo-soprano, Robert Hardy - tenor, Hanno Muller-Brachmann - baritone, Royal National Scottish Orchestra, Edinburgh Festival Chorus. Sir Andrew Davis - conductor, Edinburgh International Festival, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10th August 2012

 

This choice in Edinburgh is a brave tribute to the composer in this anniversary year. Like Bernstein's Mass, heard earlier this week at the Proms, this work is not a Mass in the conventional sense, but a celebration of life from a humanist perspective; Delius uses texts from Nietzsche's Also Spach Zarathustra. This link gives notes on the work by Eric Fenby, amanuensis to the composer, who was a uniquely well placed commentator. There is also on the same page commentary by the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who was an early champion of Delius. Last night's concert also had the distinction of being the only performance in the anniversary year of this rarely performed work which calls for massive forces.

This opening concert of the Edinburgh International Festival saw the well-loved English music specialist Sir Andrew Davis, best known perhaps for his Proms conducting as Chief Conductor of the the BBC Symphony Orchestra, return to these shores but this time to Scotland with the RNSO. He also conducted the South Bank centre's tribute to Delius in January this year They were joined by an international line-up of soloists and with Edinburgh's very own Festival Chorus, marking the combination of celebrating home-grown talent and attracting world-class stars which is the hallmark of the Edinburgh Festival. Sir Andrew received a very warm welcome from a capacity audience, and maintained seemingly effortless control over the mass of performers involved, the stage as well as the hall being absolutely packed.

As a work is important, not only in demonstrating writing for large forces as well as the well-known smaller works, but in setting out Delius' personal philosophy: it is something of a 'Credo' and this makes its title of a 'mass' make more sense, it otherwise arguably being an oratorio about the Nietzschian hero Zarathustra, who has also inspired Strauss. Having rejected conventional Christian beliefs, Delius was very influenced by Nietzsche. It is a work which is 'larger than life' in all senses.

Written in France and inspired by German writings, in both musical and philosophical terms, possibly more than any other single work of his, it argues against viewing Delius as an 'English' composer and instead seeing him as European / international in his influences and identity. The content of the lyrics calls to mind perhaps most readily Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy', but the most obvious musical reference is to Mahler's 'Wunderhorn' influenced large-scale works.

It is not often one thinks this space may be on the small side, but the piece opened with an effect which I can only describe as a 'wall of sound', a joyous blast surging out. This forceful opening broadens out into first an introductory recitative for male voice, with musical accompaniment of a sparkling character, calling to mind a brook running through a forest; and then a 'dance scene' to which all soloists contribute in turn, together with chorus. These, arguably the highlights of the performance, both strongly recall the soundworld of Mahler.

There is then a sudden shattering of the sunny mood, as night falls on this scene, and the hero cries, 'Woe is me' and confronts his own mortality. Here the change of mood was perhaps gradual rather than sudden, not quite having the dramatic tension which would have drawn out the change of mood with immediacy. The melancholy became much more apparent only later in this fourth scene, when in contemplating impending death, Zarathustra is tortured by visions of a spider spinning its web around his corpse.

The second half - which is set on the mountains rather than in the forest - is slower, and more reflective. The first, third and fourth sections have opening instrumental interludes which precede the entry of voices. These are charming in themselves, but also work well to refresh the listener between the musical and philosophical intensity of the sung sections. They perhaps bring a sound more instantly recognisable as Delian, idyllic and lyrical.

As the piece progresses, the baritone's role becomes larger, as he represents Zarathustra, a figure who is arguably semi-autobiographical for Delius, the work becoming in the second half more and more a recitative for him and the orchestra with occasional interjections from the other soloists and support from the chorus. The mood and pace of the opening return in the final section, which gathers pace leading to the unison 'Alle Lust will aller Dinge Ewigkeit' and building further to a triumphant close which then slips, almost Berg-like into the infinite 'Ewigkeit' (endless day).

Hanno Muller-Brachmann, who had the advantage of singing in his first language, was capable as the artist / hero /superman. However it is all the more noticeable that having less airtime and in some ways a lesser part, tenor Robert Murray's singing stood out as clear and incisive and I would single him out for particular commendation. Mezzo-soprano Pamela Helen Stephen has a golden honeyed voice which is a delight to listen to. She was in an eye-catching dress of impressionist colours, referencing a Monet garden and appropriate to the themes of the music. The festival chorus and the orchestral players are to be commended for their stamina in this musical marathon.

Juliet Williams

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):