Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

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):