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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

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):