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

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Britten Sinfonia [Photo © Harry Rankin courtesy of Britten Sinfonia]
11 May 2013

Britten Sinfonia with Ian Bostridge

Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.

Britten Sinfonia with Ian Bostridge

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Britten Sinfonia [Photo © Harry Rankin courtesy of Britten Sinfonia]

 

The Barbican Hall was plunged into darkness as the players edged their way warily across the stage to their desks, trying to avoid potentially hazardous music stands and other stage clutter, while the audience peered and strained to read the programme notes which had irritatingly disappeared from view. With stand lights the only illumination and striking shadows cast by the players’ movements, the Britten Sinfonia began their ruminations on matters nocturnal with the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No.5.

The playing was delicate and precise, the tempo well-judged with subtle use of rubato, and there was a real sense of coherent, confident ensemble playing. This was fortunate, as the Sinfonia was conductor-less and led by their principal violinist, Jacqueline Shave, who — though raised with her desk partner on a platform — must still have been difficult for the other players to discern through the gloom.

Although technically accomplished, the Mahlerian climaxes were a little underwhelming; it’s just not possible to attain the lustrous, penetrating string sound required with such a small number of players. But, there was a clear sense of contour and overall structure, and a haunting ambience was established.

Sadly this mood was quickly dispelled by some unfortunate but obviously necessary house-keeping, as stage was noisily prepared for Henze’s L'heure bleue, a serenade for 16 instruments, which was commissioned by Alte Oper Frankfurt, and premiered in September 2001 by the Ensemble Modern, conducted by Oliver Knussen. Henze described the genesis of the title:

‘Those who live on the shores of the Mediterranean call dusk “the blue hour” because, in summer as in winter, in the evening after the sun has set and before the moon has risen, it suddenly and unexpectedly begins on the western horizon with a kind of opaline blue that slowly darkens in colour.’

Once again, a visual aid was deemed necessary: a discotheque-blue wash swathed the stage, but this was simply a distraction from the Sinfonia’s ravishing evocation of the delicate minutiae of Henze’s impressionistic score. Sensuous colours and rhythms gradually evolved, transformed and mutated as night enveloped day, motifs rising to surface and falling again into the shadows.

The first half closed with three Schubert lieder arranged for the Britten Sinfonia by Detlev Glanert. Ian Bostridge knows and understands these songs so well he must often hear them in his sleep, but here he had to work too hard to balance the vocal line against a frequently overly dense, and rather unvarying, instrumental texture. There simply wasn’t ‘space’ for the text to come through, and Bostridge’s middle and lower register were often swallowed up by the orchestral texture. That said, ‘Waldesnacht’ (Night in the Forest) was fleet of foot, the instrumentalists evocatively capturing the roar of the wind rushing and surging through the trees, the flashes of the flames of sunrise and the ‘eternal murmurings of gentle springs’ — the forces of nature embodying ‘Life’s urge to be free of its fetters/ The struggle of strong, wild impulses’. In ‘Viola’, Bostridge used the repetitions of the theme to create coherence and also imbue the withering violet with ever more pathos and tenderness.

One imagines that the reason for programming Schubert’s posthumously published Notturno for piano trio, which opened the second half, was its title. But, despite continuing the nocturnal theme, the piece added scant musical weight. (Indeed, the programme informed us that sketches suggest the Notturno was originally intended as the slow movement of the B-flat Piano Trio: ‘Why Schubert rejected the movement in favour of the Andante that replaced it is unclear’, we were told, but one might argue, all too understandable.) For this performance, Huw Watkins (piano), Shave and principal cellist, Caroline Dearnley, were seated on the far left of the stage; those audience members in the middle or right of the auditorium must have felt fairly detached from proceedings, especially as the prevailing mood of calm composure did not lend itself to a dramatic, communicative rendition.

Fortunately, Bostridge raised the level of expressivity and musicianship in Britten’s Nocturne for tenor, seven obbligato instrumental soloists and strings. Here Britten’s nuanced scoring allowed the voice, and text, to some across clearly, even in the more dream-like, shaded passages. The individual movements melted into one another as Bostridge conveyed both the rapture and ethereality of night-time worlds. The woodwind soloists were all excellent — the cor anglais was touchingly beautiful in Wilfred Owen’s ‘The Kind Ghosts’, in Keats’ ‘Sleep and Poetry’ clarinet and flute danced an elegant arabesque, and there was some impressively virtuosic bassoon playing. The final movement, a setting of Shakespeare’s ‘When most I wink’ (Sonnet 43) possessed a rhetorical stateliness which was quite troubling, Britten’s setting of the final lines — ‘All days are nights to see till I see thee,/ And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me’ — disturbing in its restless intensity and visceral impact.

The audience delighted in much wonderful singing and fine playing, but we could live without the gimmicks.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Mahler ‘Adagietto’ from Symphony No. 5; Henze L'heure bleue; Schubert arr. Detlev Glanert (London premiere) ‘Lied im Grünen’. ‘Viola’, ‘Waldesnacht’; Schubert Notturno in E flat for Piano Trio; Britten Nocturne

Ian Bostridge tenor, Britten Sinfonia; Jacqueline Shave, violin/director, Barbican Centre, London, Saturday 4 May 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):