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 Performances

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

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.

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.

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.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

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.

Janáček’s 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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Return of Jephtha by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini [Source: Wikipedia]
02 Oct 2012

Handel Jephtha, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera have revived Katie Mitchell’s 2003 production of Handel’s Jephtha, with Robert Murray in the title role and a new focus for the drama.

George Frederick Handel : Jephtha

Jephtha:Robert Murray, Storge:Diana Montague, Iphis:Fflur Wyn, Hamor:Robin Blaze, Angel:Claire Ormshaw, Director:Katie Mitchell, Revival Director:Robin Tebbutt, Designer:Vicki Mortimer, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, Conductor:Paul Goodwin

Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff, Wales, 22nd September 2012

Above: The Return of Jephtha by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini [Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for a photo gallery of this production.

 

The revival, now directed by Robin Tebbutt, opened at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Now, the first thing to say is that Jephtha is not strictly an opera. It was written for performance in the theatre, but as a concert piece. Using a familiar biblical story, the work was intended to point a moral and be uplifting. Handel’s librettist, the Revd Thomas Morrell, was also a scholar and translator of Greek drama. In his compressing and re-casting of the biblical story Morrell introduced elements from Greed dramas. Not feeling bound by the classical unities of time and place, Morrell’s libretto ranges more freely and can feel modern at times. But another important feature of Handelian oratorio was what one might term the tableaux element. The say the dialogue is pared down to minimum, providing the audience with a series of set pieces and relying on Handel’s music and the audience’s knowledge of the plot to fill in the emotional gaps.

This means that, though Handel’s genius is innately dramatic, a sequence of long arias and even longer choruses with little dialogue is not easy to stage. At the Buxton Opera Festival this summer the director Frederic Wake-Walker staged Jephtha in a pared down, semi-abstract fashion, which evoked powerful reactions (both positive and negative). Katie Mitchell chose to fill in the background to the story, providing a detailed scenario which took place whilst the music was happening. As with Mitchell’s other opera productions, there was much busyness and coming and going, almost as if Mitchell felt that she could not leave the music to itself very often. Her production of Jephtha was placed in a war torn 1940’s society. The setting, designed by Vicki Mortimer, used two different spaces in a grand mansion which was badly bombed. There were few private moments, the chorus was on stage for much of the time and even in the quieter moments, servants came and went and Fflur Wyn’s Iphis was constantly chaperoned.

The result emphasised the role of Jephtha (Robert Murray) and his wife Storge (Diana Montague) as public figures, leaders of a war torn country. Nothing they could do was entirely private. The drawback to this was that sometimes, you wished that singers could be let alone. Diana Montague’s delivery of Scenes of Horror was brilliantly intense, but I’m not sure having her pawed over by her ladies in waiting made the drama any stronger. On the other hand, Mitchell developed the relationship between Iphis (Wynn) and Hamor (Robin Blaze) in a way which helped the drama. The role of Hamor can be seen as something of a cypher; he needs to be there simply to give Iphis a reminder of what she is missing when she remains ever virgin at the end.

But here, in the first duet there was a distinct feeling of anticipation as Wyn showed Blaze her wedding outfit. Then in the second act Blaze gave Wyn a ring. Both singers managed to make the relationship charmingly clear and give a real impression of love snatched in war time.

And there were moments of calm. When Murray made his vow in act one, he was alone with just the Angel present (Claire Ormshaw’s angel featured far more in the drama than in the libretto). In fact the angel whispered the words of the vow into his ear. It was a moment of calm, which enhanced the quiet intensity of Murray’s delivery.

And during the quartet, Mitchell had the four singer (Alan Ewing, Diana Montague, Fflur Wyn and Robin Blaze) gathered round Murray, who was poised to sign the document condemning his daughter; again, a moment of stasis which emphasised this extraordinary moment. Extraordinary in many ways, notably as one of Handel’s rare ensemble numbers, here sung with a feeling of intensity and a fine sense of line.

But the most extra-ordinary moment in the entire drama was when Murray sang Waft her angels. He sang it not as an invocation to God, but quietly into his daughter’s ear whilst he held her and then bound her eyes, with the chorus looking on in horror.

The draw back with Mitchells’ approach was that sometimes the music did not match what she wanted from the drama. I can forgive the numerous stage noises and bells in the earlier acts. But in act three both Blaze and Montague had explosively vocal spoken (even shouted) outbursts, clearly remedying what Mitchell felt was lacking in the music. Then when Murray finally pushed Wyn from off stage to be executed, he shouted ‘Go, go go’, which disturbed the mood, the music and drama.

Murray was a very human hero, very much an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. In his first aria his passagework was rather uneven, but by his second he had found form. He was not intense zealot, but exhibited a dogged faith, trying to do the right thing. Wearing a series of 1940’s boxy overcoats, he cut a solid, rather stolid figure. His vow was given out of desperation rather than fervour. And, as I have said, Waft her angels was extraordinary, delivered with quiet control with Murray exhibiting some of the most beautiful singing of the evening.

His voice had a tendency to develop a strong vibrato under pressure, a characteristic which you could find expressive of intrusive depending on taste.

As his wife, Diana Montague was a warm, dignified figure but clearly with her emotions on a thread. So that Scene of horror and her act three outburst were indicators of anxieties bubbling under. Both arias were sung with great beauty and affine sense of line, illuminating Storge’s stage of mind.

Wyn made a delightful Iphis for the first half of the drama, bringing out the character with very real charm and presence, plus some very find singing of Handel’s vocal lines. Robin Blaze was similarly in fine voice, and the two sparked a very real relationship. In fact Blaze seemed to be on great form, blazing forth brilliantly in the upper register. For the second half of the drama, both singer found a darker vein with Wyn displaying some very powerful dramatic reserves.

Alan Ewing made a brave attempt at Jephtha’s brother Zebul. Though he conveyed Zebul’s nobleness and essential decency, Ewing did have a tendency to bluster his way through the arias.

Claire Ormshaw was a very sympathetic Angel, a character whom Mitchell made very much the presiding genius of the drama.

The chorus were committed participants in all the drama, providing many of the small roles with which Mitchell articulated the story. They did this with convincing flair. The choruses were sung with quite a big sound, with the odd moment of untidiness. But the converse was of course that the choruses developed real power at moments of high drama.

Under Paul Goodwin, the WNO orchestra provided clean lively accompaniment. Not quite historically informed, but certainly rather stylish; though the opening of the overture did take some time to settle. There were odd ensemble problems, particularly when complex choruses required busy stage action.

A harpsichord was credited, but I barely heard it. Certainly the overture seemed lacking in audible keyboard continuo. If modern instruments are to be used then a solution needs to be found to provide keyboard continuo suitable. And there were also moments where organ was used as continuo in the recitatives instead of harpsichord.

Mitchell’s production, as revived by Robin Tebbutt, brought out the sheer horror of what Jephtha’s action meant in a contemporary society. The very real and detailed setting gave a corrective backdrop to the mythic action. The cast for this revival provided some fine Handelian singing indeed and some powerfully intense drama.

Robert Hugill

Click here for a video trailer of this production.

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):