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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Exaudi [Photo courtesy of Exaudi]
01 Nov 2012

Exaudi, Wigmore Hall

An intriguing blend of old and new marked the tenth anniversary of the British vocal group, Exaudi, juxtaposing the adventurous intricacies and affectations of the late-sixteenth century with the virtuosic refinements of today’s avant garde.

Exaudi, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Exaudi [Photo courtesy of Exaudi]

 

The concert included four new works, commissioned by the group as part of their enterprise to create a contemporary book of Italians madrigals in order, as Weeks declares in a programme note, to “discover what they idea of ‘the madrigal’ might offer the present day, either as a concrete historical phenomenon or as a set of more general principles: perhaps to do with the relationships between individual voices or the singers themselves, or to do with the idea of vocal expression, or simply to do with the humanist, secular impulses underlying the genre”.

The best of the modern were those compositions which drew direct inspiration from the past, spinning a thread to span the centuries and create a dialogue of continuing experimentation and creative expression. Michael Finnissy’s ‘Sesto Libro di Carlo Gesualdo I’ (AATTBB) exploited the sinuous false relations, suspensions and dissonances of the sixteenth-century idiom, dividing the singers into two trios and thereby explicitly intertwining elements of Gesualdo’s original with Finnissy’s own elaborations and developments. The resulting rhetorical gestures fused passionate intensity with tender melancholy, all the while retaining the sensuous undercurrents which typify the Renaissance masters.

Evan Johnson offered ‘Three in, ad abundantiam’, ‘three micro-madrigals’ for two sopranos and one alto, which the composer describes as “tentative supplements; insecure, mumbled marginalia … three denied attempts at entry”. Fragments from Petrarch’s ‘Solo e pensoso’ — articulating, with ironic paradox, the impossibility of communication — appear and dissolve, the sparse textures, frequent silences (here sadly shattered by an intruding mobile ’phone) and disrupted rhythms threatening the dissolution of form itself. The work relies on the technical skill, and courage, of the performers to establish coherence, however tentative, and here they exhibited a dazzling virtuosity.

Christian Wolff’s ‘Ashbery Madrigals’ present three enigmatic texts by poet John Ashbery — ‘Occurrence’, ‘A Penitence’ and ‘Perplexing Ways’; ‘gaps’ and disarming shifts in melody and harmony reflect the poetic ambiguity, the final madrigal diminishing from an energetic combination of eight voices to a plainsong-like unison. For the preceding ‘Sherpa Tensing stands up from the piano, says something quiet, and walks outside’ by Larry Goves, Weeks stepped aside and, as frequently in this recital, allowed the singers to establish their own intimate communication. While the combination of a complex blend of solo voices — the soprano in the stratosphere — and an occasional homophonic texture did recall the Renaissance idiom, the banal repetitions of Matthew Welton’s text seemed strangely at odds with the elevated expressive aspirations of the earliest madrigalists.

The piercing rhetoric of Morgan Hayes’ ‘E Vesuvio monte’ (2010) — with its dense, accumulating dissonances, representing Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption of Vesuvius, contrasting with the delineated individual lines of the eight singers conveying the narrative — and Salvatore Sciarrino’s rarefied ‘Tre Madrigal’ (2008) completed the modern contributions to the programme. Sciarrino’s refined, exquisite settings of the Japanese poet, Bashō, conjured the mysterious glissandi, ululations and micro-tunings of an oriental flute, the singers creating a clear, pure tone which conveyed the poet’s passionate response to the natural world — the waves, the cicada, the red sun — culminating in the stirring ‘hum’ of the autumn wind.

Exaudi opened the concert with a mellifluous rendering of Andrea Gabrieli’s ‘Vieni, vieni Himeneo’ (‘Come, come Hymen’, à8), notable for its open, full tone and judicious use of vibrato, before exploring the bold, diverse experiments of Claudio Monteverdi and Carlo Gesualdo, beginning in the first half with three madrigals from Monteverdi’s early books.

Insouciant decorative motifs characterised ‘Sovra tenere erbette’ (‘On the soft grass’) from the Third Book of 1592, evoking the delicate charm of the pastoral setting; changes of tempi were well-managed, leading to the affecting, slow concluding line, laden with erotic resonance, “Che per desire sento morirmi anch’io” (“that I too am dying of desire”). ‘Vattene pur, crudel’ (‘Go, cruel, go!’) demonstrated the more theatrical mode of the stilo rappresentativo, the slightly dry, restrained timbre at the opening evolving to a more impassioned utterance as the independent voices became ever more florid, before diminishing to an ethereal pianissimo chromatic descent, depicting the lover “in a swoon on earth outstretch’d she lies,/ stiff were her frozen limbs,/ closed were her eyes”. Even within the quiet, delicate dynamic a rich counterpoint of vigour and elasticity conveyed the emotional energy of Tasso’s final verse.

Gesualdo’s ‘Mercè!, grido piangendo’ (‘Mercy! I cry weeping’) opened the second half of the concert, the five singers revealing a supreme confidence as they exploited the rhetorical idiosyncrasies of the idiom, declining to a startling pianissimo to whisper “Ma chi m’ascolta?” (“But who hears me?”). The low register and striking unprepared dissonances of the close revealed the profundity of the treasures of the poet’s heart which he longs to disclose before death. ‘Asciugate I begli occhi’ (‘Dry those lovely eyes’) was characterised by intelligent, delicate understatement, the homophonic texture, sensuous harmonies and slowly accumulating dissonances communicating the text’s poignant blend of grief and ecstasy.

‘Ardita zanzaretta’ (‘Presumptuous gnat’) contrasted a spirited, mocking liveliness with a more serious sobriety, twisting dissonant contortions depicting the gnat’s poison and cruel death, as well as the painful ache of the poet’s love. The singers showed their appreciation of Gesualdo’s expressive eloquence in ‘Languisce al fin’ (‘He who is parting’), coolly layering the voices and allowing the harmony to infer the bittersweet pain of the poet’s fate.

Monteverdi’s ‘Rimanti in pace’ (‘Stay here in peace’) brought the programme to a moving close, embracing both the pain of desire — as the sorrowful Phyllis “fixes her shining eyes” on her beloved Thyrsis and transfixes his heart — and the desolation of loss.

The juxtapositions of style did not always flow fluently; and, Weeks’ enthusiastic explanatory introductions were perhaps unnecessary, further impeding the progression between moods and idioms. However, the insight, sincerity and musical prowess of Exaudi was never in doubt, and the contrasting parts combined to form an impressive and touching whole.

Claire Seymour

Click here for information regarding the performers and programme.

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):