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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

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):