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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Southbank Centre
11 Feb 2013

Erik Satie, Socrate and Igor Stravinsky. Renard and other works

This concert was part of a greater weekend of concerts at the Southbank Centre looking at Paris during the second and third decades of the twentieth century, the weekend itself part of the year-long Rest is Noise season.

Erik Satie, Socrate and Igor Stravinsky. Renard and other works

A review by Mark Berry

Above: The Southbank Centre

 

An arresting opening — which I initially feared would irritate, but which actually worked very well — was provided by Harriet Walter’s narration, replete with East Coast accent, presenting a first-person sketch, written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, of the life of Winnaretta Singer. Daughter of the inventor of the sewing machine, Isaac Singer, Winnaretta went on to become the celebrated musical patroness, Princess Edmund de Polignac, commissioning both Socrate and Renard, though Diaghilev’s machinations and Stravinsky’s duplicity — at least according to this account — meant that her salon would not host the latter work’s premiere. Walter’s delivery of the script was just as excellent as one would expect from this fine actress: never overdone, effortlessly convincing. I wondered a little about the Princess’s, or rather Wertenbaker’s, claim that patrons go unsung. Not in my lectures they do not; indeed, I sometimes wonder whether I over-emphasise their role. I also wondered whether a male patron would have received quite so sympathetic a treatment: might we not at least have been led to think, ‘why should someone inherit all that money in the first place?’ But those are quibbles, and the narration, heard before Socrate and before Renard seemed to go down well with the audience.

Satie’s Socrate: oh dear. I tried; I really did. Doubtless some will say that was the problem. But for me, its sole redeeming feature was the excellence of the performances from Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert de Leeuw. Cool, white, monotonous, with the occasional subtle colouring of the vocal line: soprano and pianist were really beyond reproach. However, a work, like so much of Satie, which seems set up to forestall criticism — whatever you say against it, someone will respone, ‘well that is the point’ — had better be of Stravinskian quality if, as, for instance The Rake’s Progress does, it attempts that disabling tactic. Frankly, it makes one long even for the dullest of Stravinsky: Apollo, or Orpheus, say. Its lengthy ‘setting’ of Plato — is it really a ‘setting’ at all, when it seems to respond no more to the text than Rossini does in much of his Stabat Mater? — droans on and on, until, by the time the third part, ‘La Mort de Socrate’ opens, one feels as if one has been suffering the same composer’s Vexations. What a strange conception of ancient Greece this is; it almost makes one sympathise with Nietzsche’s venom against Socrates. The artists, admirably controlled throughout, made the most of the slight suggestion of drama as we heard of the poison’s arrival, but if the best one can say about something is that it is somewhat less tedious than the music of Philip Glass, perhaps it is time to wonder whether Satie has an Emperor, let alone clothes.

Stravinsky’s invention thus struck the hall like a thunderbolt. It always does, at least in good performances, and these performances were certainly that. A string quartet (Jonathan Morton, Joan Atherton, Paul Silverthorne, Tim Gill, all standing save for the cellist) drawn from the London Sinfonietta brought us the composer’s astonishing Three Pieces. The work’s strangeness, its utter dissociation from anything one might consider to constitute a string quartet repertoire and tradition still shocks — and certainly did so here. Defiantly post-Rite of Spring, this is in many senses a far more radical break with ‘tradition’, as unique as Le Roi des étoiles. Tightly focused rhythms and — as soon as one bothered to listen — a profusion of melody were hallmarks of this account. The final piece brought a sense of the hieratic, but what a contrast it made with the mere tedium of Satie. Here was music. Timothy Lines offered strong performances of the Three Pieces for clarinet, written five years later in 1919. If the first offered a gentler, one is almost tempted to say pastoral, sound-world, it remained utterly Stravinskian in its evident ‘construction’. And in any case, there was nothing remotely gentle about its joyous successor, nor to the third, which seemed to anticipate the world of Renard. The performance was rich in tonal and dynamic differentiation, rhythm propelling the notes and their ‘meaning’. The 1920 Concertino for string quartet followed, though oddly the programme had no notes on it. Again, the utterly individual approach of the composer not only to the medium of the string quartet but to stringed instruments themselves was immediately announced. A kaleidoscope of what Stravinsky would have hated one to call ‘moods’ — unless, of course, he arbitrarily decided to use the word, as in his Norwegian Moods — revealed itself during the work’s brief span. Here was concision to rival Webern, yet long before Stravinsky’s serialist turn. It sounded almost akin to a mechanised Beethoven Bagatelle.

Hannigan turned director for the wonderful burlesque, Renard, given in concert performance, Colour and rhythm were very much to the fore in a performance for which she seemed to act more as enabler than dictator. Old Stravinsky hands that the London Sinfonietta are, that is doubtless the right way around. Thematic consistency during and after the opening March was especially noteworthy; this was no mere collection of episodes. Even when the Cock turned languid, ‘Sizhu na dubu...’ (‘I’m on my perch...’), rhythmic underpinning remained tight. There was room for seduction too, from the Fox with his cake. But above all what struck was the visceral nature of Stravinsky’s score, so truthful a representation of the or at least a childhood imagination. The London Sinfonietta’s performance could not be faulted; the four vocal soloists proved fine advocates too. If the tenors perhaps captured greater attention, that is probably more a reflection of score than performance. Why do we not hear this work more often?

Mark Berry


Satie: Socrate; Stravinsky: Three Pieces for string quartet, Three Pieces for clarinet, Concertino, Renard.

Barbara Hannigan (soprano/director), Daniel Norman (tenor); Edgaras Montvidas (tenor); Roderick Williams (bass); John Molloy (bass); Reinbert de Leeuw (piano); Timothy Lines (clarinet); Harriet Walter (narrator);Timberlake Wertenbaker (script writer); London Sinfonietta. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Sunday 10 February 2013.

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):