Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Fflur Wyn as Iphis [Photo by Bill Cooper]
05 Dec 2012

WNO proves a point with Handel’s Jeptha

They say that there’s nothing worse than a musically-obtuse staging of any opera to put a rookie opera-goer off a composer (or even opera itself) for life.

WNO proves a point with Handel’s Jeptha

A review by Sue Loder

Above: Fflur Wyn as Iphis [Photo by Bill Cooper]


Poor Handel’s marvellous music has suffered in recent years with some truly awful productions just in the UK alone (no names, no pack-drill) where misguided directors just couldn’t bear to trust a master word-painter and consummate entertainer. Some of his finest operas have almost crumbled beneath the autocratic boot of boorish self-aggrandisement or misplaced comedic ambition. Thank heaven then — pardon the allusion — for his later oratorios based on mainly Old Testament themes where the story lines and libretti have largely avoided the hand of The Director mainly because they have not been seen as very stage-able — at least not until the last ten or so years. Thank heaven also then for directors such as Katie Mitchell and companies such as Welsh National who back in 2003 created what must now be regarded as a classic of this genre, oratorio staged as opera: Handel’s Jeptha. This production truly lets the music live and breathe, yet with its 20th century setting in a vaguely mid-European 1940’s wartime, it also usefully reflects the original martial/royalist background of Handel and librettist Morell’s time. They were writing for an audience who perfectly understood the sub-texts; pulling the story into our own time allows today’s audience to ponder our own dilemmas and recent history in relation to the human and religious angst portrayed on the stage.

Revived for at least the second time, and on tour this Autumn, Mitchell’s original production has stood the test of recent times exceedingly well and, since the 2006 outing which boasted truly world-class vocalists (Mark Padmore, Iestyn Davies and Susan Bickley to name but three), all but one of the singers has changed. So, it was a good chance with this final performance of the run to hear the new voices in the roles and look back on old notes and, inevitably, compare.

Interestingly, one of the two most likeable singers at Bristol Hippodrome’s performance on 27th November was the sole returnee from 2006: soprano Fflur Wyn as Jeptha’s daughter Iphis who has now grown into a wonderful young singer in this repertory. She has a silvery shimmer to her voice which remains at all levels of her dynamic range (which is considerable) and her command of the specifics of Handel’s music — the fiendish divisions contrasting with melting legato — is now consummate. Matching her in both these elements of her own, lower-lying, music was mezzo soprano Diana Montague as Jeptha’s wife Storge, who was in marvellous form; her “Scenes of horror, scenes of woe…” were a master-class in dramatic singing.

The male roles of the piece, tenor Robert Murray as Jeptha, countertenor Robin Blaze as Hamor and bass Alan Ewing as Zebul, didn’t fare quite as well although Blaze certainly won the “handelian style” competition outright. His straight, rather green timbre isn’t perhaps to everyone’s taste, but he can certainly sing Handel in a way that brooks no argument. Still looking ridiculously youthful, his many years of experience really showed. Ewing’s portrayal of Jeptha’s half-brother Zebul was dramatically excellent but his bass seemed to struggle somewhat with the passage-work and this detracted from the overall effect. In the title role — and tenors don’t exactly proliferate in Handel’s title roles — Robert Murray, who is not known for his Handel, worked hard to establish this quite tricky character’s personality but seemed in the first Act to be struggling vocally to get his voice around the music. This improved with time, but a tightening of the voice in the higher registers was worrying as this also seemed to affect his legato singing. The “signature” tune of the piece is of course the famous “Waft her, angels, through the skies” which is very high and here, glad to say, Murray gained a quiet, but mellifluous head voice which was workmanlike, if not memorably mesmerising as this music can be in the hands of a true Handelian tenor. Claire Ormshaw, as the deus ex machina Angel who saves Iphis’s life in the dying minutes of the work, sang affectingly and effectively in the short-but-vital role.

In some operas, the chorus can be a mixed blessing but in a Handel oratorio — staged as here, or not — it should be a real ornament and an essential ingredient in the dramatic mix. WNO chorus was simply first class; their acting and their singing would be hard to beat anywhere in the world and they were truly integrated into the action in every way at every turn of events. For most of the run Paul Goodwin had conducted but on this particular night Thomas Blunt took over the WNO orchestra in elegant and effective style and proved most considerate of the singers throughout whilst keeping the tempi accurate and sound most stylish. I have no doubt that this is a production which will open many people’s eyes to the marvels of Handel’s music and perhaps encourage them to re-assess their view of the oratorio as a musical form.

Sue Loder

Click here for cast and 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):