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

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

La Juive in Lyon

Though all big opera is called grand opera, French grand opera itself is a very specific genre. It is an ephemeral style not at all easy to bring to life. For example . . .

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):