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 Reviews

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

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.

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):