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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

From Where the Wild Things Are [Photo by Mark Allan / Barbican]
10 Nov 2012

Oliver Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Marking Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday came a BBC Total Immersion weekend at the Barbican: a double-bill of Knussen’s two operas written in collaboration with Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are and Higgledy Piggledy Pop! on Saturday, followed by a day of two chamber concerts, a film, and an orchestral concert conducted by the composer himself on Sunday.

Oliver Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!

A review by Mark Berry

Above: From Where the Wild Things Are

Photos by Mark

 

This co-production of the two operas with the Aldeburgh Festival and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association was a delight. Netia Jones employs a cunning, loving mix of animation and live action to retain as much as humanly possible of Sendak’s celebrated drawings. Sometimes we see more of one than the other, though the principal characters — the boy Max in Where the Wild Things Are and Jennie the Sealyham Terrier in Higglety Pigglety Pop! — are ‘real’ throughout. How much lies their — or our? — imagination? What is real anyway? The use of animation for the monsters save at the beginning and end of the first opera — we see the singers go behind a screen and emerge at the end, and of course we hear the, throughout — heightens our questioning. The screen in neatly reversed in Higglety Pigglety Pop! so that we see the secondary characters both on stage and on film. Again, what is real? Are not both varieties of apparition and/or depiction? In the land of the Mother Goose World Theatre, all the world’s a stage — a tribute, surely, as much to Stravinsky and his Rake’s Progress tribute to Mozart, the latter parodied in Knussen’s final scene, as to Ravel. (Both Higglety and Don Giovanni end 'outside' their dramas, in bright if tarnished D major.) The repetitions of that gala performance, the time-honoured tradition of a play within a play, unsettle as they should. What do they mean? When will they stop? Again, what, and who, is ‘real’? That is very much the stuff of imaginary worlds, strongest for some in childhood, but for many of us just as powerful in subsequent stages of our lives.

Crucially, the sense of fantasy in libretto and production is at the very least equally present in Knussen’s scores, kinship with Ravel especially apparent in Where the Wild Things Are. And we all know who composed the most perfect operatic depiction of childhood. Stravinsky sometimes seems close too, for instance in the fiercer rhythmically driven music of the second scene (Mama and her hoover), the Symphony in Three Movements coming to my mind. And the musical material itself of course delightfully pays tribute both to Debussy’s La boîte à joujoux and most memorably to Boris Godunov, direct quotation reminiscing of the Tsar’s ill-fated coronation when Max is crowned King of all Wild Things.

WTWTA_03.gifA scene from Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Ryan Wigglesworth’s direction was palpably alive to this sense of orchestral wonder and fantasy, his programme notes an exemplary tribute from one composer-conductor to another from whom he has learned a great deal. The tone of performance darkened in tandem with that of the score for Higglety Pigglety Pop! Detail was meaningful without exaggeration, for instance in the subtle pointing up of certain intervals associated with different characters. Those with ears to hear would do so, consciously or otherwise. Moreover, the orchestra’s response was as assured, as disciplined, as generous as the conductor’s direction. The Britten Sinfonia was throughout on outstanding form, thoroughly inside Knussen’s idiom, unfailingly precise without sacrifice to warmth of tone. Despite relatively chamber-like forces, at least in the string section (6.6.4.4.4), one often felt that was hearing a larger orchestra, for this was anything but a small-scale performance. Indeed, accustomed as I am to hearing the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, there were many times when I should not have been surprised to discover that I had in fact been hearing the LSO.

Claire Booth headed a fine cast for Where the Wild Things Are, her Max as quicksilver on stage as vocally. Lucy Schaufer proved every inch her equal as Jennie in Higglety Pigglety Pop! Very much the singing actress, her deeper mezzo tones were perfectly suited to the darkened tones of the score. There is something a little dangerous about Jennie and the acting world of ‘experience’ for which she forsakes her comfortable home — yet in a sense all children must at some point act similarly. All members of the two casts, however, were richly deserving of praise, a particular favourite of mine Graeme Danby’s surreal, apparently innocent Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards. These performances came across as true company efforts, a state of affairs doubtless deepened by ‘experience’ in Aldeburgh and Los Angeles.

Mark Berry


Where the Wild Things Are

Max: Claire Booth; Mama/Voice of Tzippy: Susan Bickley; Moishe: Christopher Lemmings; Emil: Graeme Broadbent; Aaron: Jonathan Gunthorpe; Bernard: Graeme Danby; Tzippy: Charlotte McDougall

Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Jane: Lucy Schaufer; The Potted Plant/Baby: Susanna Andersson; Rhoda/Voice of Baby’s Mother: Claire Booth; Cat-Milkman/High Voice of Ash Tree: Christopher Lemmings; Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards: Graeme Danby; Lion/Low Voice of Ash Tree: Graeme Broadbent

Netia Jones (director, designs); Britten Sinfonia/Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor). Barbican Hall, Saturday 3 November 2012.

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):