Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rodrigo [Illustration by Tomi Um]
30 May 2013

Handel’s Rodrigo by Operamission

Nothing inspires fable quite like defeat. The great riddle of Spanish history is how the Christian Visigoths managed to lose the Iberian peninsula to the Moors in one small battle in 711 and took eight hundred years to get it back.

Handel’s Rodrigo by Operamission

A review by John Yohalem

Above: Rodrigo [Illustration by Tomi Um]

 

Myth focuses, as myths do, not on dull defects of administration but on the morals of Rodrigo, the last Visigothic king. A youthful usurper in any case, he was also said to have seduced a certain Florinda, whose father, Julian, governor of Ceuta across in Africa, invited the Moors, newly converted to Islam, to cross the Straits of Gibraltar and avenge the girl’s honor. They did, in a way.

Was there really a Florinda? A Julian? We don’t know, but the story evolved into several operas, most recently Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo , which introduced a young tenor named Domingo to the New York City Opera forty years back. Handel set the story in 1707, merely the second of his forty surviving operas and the first written on his apprentice visit to Italy. In his version, treacherous Rodrigo, inspired by his noble, long-suffering wife, Esilena, abdicates in favor of Florinda’s child, and there is no Arab invasion to clutter the happy ending called for by opera seria convention. Autres temps, autres Moors?

Operamission, which last year presented the New York premiere of Handel’s first surviving opera, the German-language Almira, in a sparkling, astonishing run of performances (the work will be given by the Boston Early Music Festival in June), gave the American premiere of Rodrigo in May. The libretto, a rather tatterdemalion affair with several bits missing (Handel used to cut whole numbers from old operas when he required a last-minute substitution in some newer work), is a twisty skeleton on which the singers must build dramatic excitement. Emotions of love, revenge, conceit and abrupt magnanimity provide the vocal opportunities, and the subtle orchestral accompaniments are varied and surprising.

The through line is Rodrigo: He has sinned and must pay, but subjects should not raise their hands against their king no matter the provocation. (They do anyway for most of Act II.) While fighting them, Rodrigo must achieve his own self-conquest. It’s a pity his first aria is missing: We have the text, in which he advises Florinda to revel in the memory of the pleasures they have shared. Rodrigo’s pride prepares us for his comeuppance, and it would have been interesting to hear Handel depict such unlikely sentiments. Instead, we open (after a very long dance-y overture) with Florinda in a fury, which will remain unappeased till the final scene, when her lover is deposed, her son enthroned and a new lover swears devotion. Florinda’s rage drives the plot every time anyone is willing to compromise, but she’s not the prima donna, a position held by Rodrigo’s sublime wife.

The lobby of the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street is divided into two parts by a curtain, and conversation by the elevators often intrudes on the musical half, while the performance space tests the inventiveness of the company and the tolerance of the audience. This may not be unlike conditions in the small, noisy, candlelit private opera houses of Handel’s time. Operamission also provided no sets or costumes to speak of. The tableaux of Rodrigo’s libretto are more easily placed than were the confusions of Almira last year, and the audience was seated around the room with the fourteen musicians of the Handel Band, led by violinist Joan Plana in the center. The band included baroque oboes, bassoon, cello and bass—there were no brasses in the score, but oboes ingeniously stand in for them in typically Handelian martial numbers. This closeness made the whole score more interesting, intelligible accompaniment: You could distinguish the separate parts chosen to signal different emotions in a way that a modern covered theater pit tends to obscure.

Rodrigo calls for six singers and fully half of them were castrati at the premiere in Florence. Today these roles go to countertenors, and at the Operamission performances, one marveled at the variety of them now singing professionally. Nicholas Tamagna, the Rodrigo, burst onto the scene with a brilliant, trumpet-flavored sound that immediately signaled: I’m the leading man. Tamagna’s brashness set us up to be surprised by the superb melancholy of his singing of later scenes as the king’s fortunes declined and fell. This is a wonderful voice that has delighted me on many occasions, its soft colors as appealing as the brassy ones, and he is a fine actor, but on this occasion his singing was not infrequently a bit below pitch. Christopher Newcomer, as his opponent Evanco (who ends up with Florinda), has a thinner, more soprano sound that ran out of steam in the last act where Handel cruelly assigns him four arias to express a range of gloat and amorous satisfaction. Daniel Bubeck sang the two-aria role of Fernando, a general, with an alto of such sensuous quality that one regretted he was a fighter, not a lover. He was also the only singer of the night who gave us something like a genuine trill. Everyone in the cast could manage Handelian passagework brilliantly, a skill in demand for any church singing, but baroque opera calls for other ornaments as well.

Madeline Bender brought a dark, chesty soprano to the fumious Florinda. She had the full flood of sound for wrath but the baroque repertory seems an uncomfortable fit for her vocal character and her ornamentation was uneven. I’d peg her for the romantic repertory, where the emotions are just as intense and she can let herself go. Dísella Lárusdóttir, the bright-voiced Woglinde in the Met’s recent Ring, sang Esilena, Rodrigo’s long-suffering queen, the largest role in the opera, which may explain why she sang from the score all night, as other singers did occasionally. (Was rehearsal time too brief?) Her soprano made a nice contrast with Bender’s, more metallic and focused, and she does wonderful slow-swelling tones to express her sighs of sympathy and renunciation. But pathetic emotions did not allow much scope to the brightness of her upper register, and when she did ascend to the stratosphere, pitch became wayward. Too, her Italian could use polishing.

John Carlo Pierce, the Giuliano (Florinda’s brother not her father in this version), had the ungrateful tenor role, the lowest in the opera. Handel tenors tend to sound grainy, less heroic or appealing than the tenor protagonists the nineteenth century would invent as their romantic leads, but Pierce has a most agreeable sound, phrased beautifully and ornamented with force and charm.

Jennifer Peterson, who played harpsichord continuo and prompted the singers, devised the edition used on this occasion, a decent realization of imperfect manuscript survivals, and Jeff Caldwell directed the clear but rather sketchy acting. Peterson has spoken of hoping to go right through the Handel operatic canon, a venture that has frustrated previous companies. Her first task, it would seem to me, is to find a more dedicated venue, perhaps a larger one—word of mouth sold out the last of the three performances of Rodrigo.

John Yohalem


Click here for production photos.

Cast and production information:

Esilena: Dísella Lárusdóttir; Florinda: Madeline Bender; Rodrigo: Nicholas Tamagna; Giuliano: John Carlo Pierce; Evanco: Christopher Newcomer; Fernando: Daniel Bubeck. Operamission Handel Band conducted by Joan Plana. At the Gershwin Hotel. New York City. Performance of May 23.

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):