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 Performances

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

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):