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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle and Bryan Hymel as Robert [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
23 Dec 2012

Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?

Well, so many don’t nowadays, it appears to me, judging by the critical reception of Robert le Diable at the ROH. Rum-ti-tum? We recall Macbeth, Rigoletto, Trov and even Trav being characterised thus, popular fare but risible or blush- making, yet those works now command the highest respect.

Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?

A review by Kenneth Brown

Above: Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle and Bryan Hymel as Robert

Photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

True, Meyerbeer lacks the high melodic genius of Verdi, whose every work is both obviously his yet paradoxically also has its own unique sound world; but I think the problem is not that. We are out of sympathy with the social world for which such works were conceived.

BC20121203_RobertLeDiable_8.gifMarina Poplavskaya as Alice and John Relyea as Bertram

Long, leisurely five-acters? Plots elevated to the level of the hieratic? Above all comfortable plushness, with little apparent intellectual bite? All that suited opera audiences of the time, but something more is needed for survival, and you don’t have to listen very hard to discern it. Skill in the construction of a theatre piece, to start with: how different do the two long scenes between Bertram/Raimbaut and Bertram/Alice sound, for instance, reflecting Bertram’s manipulation of each of these victims and their differing reactions (no pushover, she); how each character is delineated through the music, their unfolding scenas certainly not generic as is the libretto; how atmospheric are the orchestral passages, even though perhaps some might long for Weber.

All this would go for naught, of course, without a fine performance. Do you ever have that feeling, when the lights dim and the first notes arise, that all will be well this evening, and there is nowhere else you would rather be? It was that way on Saturday last, softly bathed in pellucid sound (Daniel Oren conducting) perfectly judged for the auditorium, without that muddiness that often tells you you’re in for a sticky ride; above all the singers had the measure of the style: to my ear French display opera has a certain chic restraint, without the glitz of its Italian counterpart, and whilst Damrau would have been starrier, Ciofi (yes, an Italian) was most touching, every cadence perfectly placed. Poplavskaya excelled herself, with an unusual combination of staunchness and thrilling ease; Hymel paid Meyerbeer the compliment of taking him seriously, and was utterly believable in the role, which he made seem child’s play to sing; Relyea has been seriously undervalued, and Jean-Francois Borras was a delightful new discovery for me. And the Chorus excelled themselves.

RobertLeDiable_1180.gifA scene from Robert le Diable

Which brings me to Laurent Pelly’s production. When it comes to the chorus, modern directors seem to model themselves on Eisenstein. Here there is a difference: Pelly’s chorus is sometimes Greek, hovering en masse, but always in articulated geometrical forms — think Pina Bausch dance, where we see individuals impelled however to move in unison. So in Act 1 we see the knights tightly choreographed but moving like lava when the occasion demands; later they assume a diamond formation, as if grouped in a giant boardgame. Sounds odd, maybe, but it has the effect of throwing the main characters into individual relief, and aiding the flow of the plot.

The nuns’ music surprised me (I must have been confusing them with Casanova’s); it is hard to guess what the original movement must have been, but the costumes were closely modelled on lithographs of that time, the music perhaps self-indulgently long and unvaried, the dancers nicely distinguished even if all in the same plight. Only ten, on this big space? I thought; but then the whole chorus flooded on, swamping the stage, even more deshabilles, and equally frantic, in a splendid coup de théâtre. Costumes might well have been taken from contemporary miniatures; settings from prints of the time (the stage department excelled itself in their manipulation).

I came away elated, thinking that the composer had achieved an integrated piece of work on a high level, with that afterglow you get following a really good meal. I guess that’s what the original audiences felt too. Will Meyerbeer catch on? Don’t put money on it. Maybe you have to be a bourgeois Marxist to like it?!

Kenneth Brown

Click here for additional production information.

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):