Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

A revelatory Die schöne Müllerin from Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout

‘By the year 2006, half the performances of the piano music of Haydn, Mozart and the early Beethoven will be played on replicas of 18th-century instruments. Then I’d give it another 20 or 30 years for the invasion of period instruments to have taken over late Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Schumann as well. If that prediction seems far out to you, consider how improbable it seemed in 1946 that by the mid-’70s Bach on the harpsichord would have developed from exoticism to norm.’

O19: Fiery, Full-Throated Semele

I don’t know what the rest of Operadom is doing to cast Baroque opera at the moment, for the world’s most superlative Handel specialists all seem to have converged on Opera Philadelphia’s stylish Semele.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):