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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ulrike Hofbauer as Almira and cast [Photo by Kathy Wittman courtesy of Boston Early Music Festival]
28 Jun 2013

Händel’s First Opera at the Boston Early Music Festival

We’ll never know exactly how Handel’s first opera, Almira, Königin von Castilien, appeared at its 1705 premiere in Hamburg.

Händel’s First Opera at the Boston Early Music Festival

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Ulrike Hofbauer as Almira and cast [Photo by Kathy Wittman courtesy of Boston Early Music Festival]

 

But a new production at the Boston Early Music Festival (seen June 14) would seem to come pretty close, particularly in an age of modernized settings and abstract aesthetics. The opera, with a somewhat longwinded libretto by Friedrich Christian Feustking as adapted from the Venetian original L’Almira by Giulio Pancieri, is rarely performed, particularly stateside. While Handel’s score only hints at the sophistication of his later period, he reveals at only 19 years old a flair for melodic invention and an early ability to penetrate the characters’ emotional worlds. The story revolves around a fictional Queen, Almira, of the Spanish region Castile, who according to her father’s will must marry a relative of the Prince of Segovia, Consalvo. However, she loves her servant, Fernando, and has no interest in the Prince’s son, Osman—who for his part has no problem leaving one princess to chase another (the obscurely characterized Bellante). Following the rather abrupt arrival of another suitor, the King of Mauritania, all ends happily when it is discovered that Fernando is Consalvo’s long lost son.

Director and set designer Gilbert Blin recreates the mayhem of a love-ridden Spanish court with a touch of formal elegance. The characters assume statuesque presences while adopting gestures appropriate to the period. Almira, who receives several arias underscoring her pain and fragility, is supported by two female servants during her first number “Chi più mi piace io voglio” as she pines over her true love, while Edilia, Osman’s spurned love, is given room to focus on high-lying firework coloratura in her “Der Himmel wird straffen…” as dancers form an expressive backdrop. Less effective was Blin’s attempt to insert a dose of farce into a libretto that only scratches the surface of comedy. An appropriate atmosphere of slapstick colors the scene in which Almira mistakes an incomplete letter by Fernando as being for Edilia while Osman hides under the table, but the decision to cast the character of Tabarco—a rather inconsequential servant to Fernando—as a bumbling jester was more heavy-handed than amusing.

The score, which lasts approximately four hours in most modern editions, includes several dance sequences and interludes, as in keeping with Hamburg convention of the time. Choreography by Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante heighten a sense of authenticity with numbers such as the opening Chaconne and Sarabande which feature sword-waving warriors, as developed in collaboration with an expert in the Spanish school of classical fencing. Costumes by Anna Watkins create a throwback in time with fitted gallant fare for the men and deliciously handcrafted gowns and ruffs for the women which look straight out of a Velasquez painting. Even the rather odd scene featuring a procession of three continents—Europe, Asia and Africa (no suitors from the Americas are hanging in the wings) —stood out as one of the final act’s most engaging moments with its polished choreography and colorful uniforms.

The evening of course rested on the musical execution of the cast and orchestra, which held themselves to the highest intellectual and artistic standards. German soprano Ulrike Hofbauer brought a finely controlled, transparent voice to the title role, endowing the da capo of her throbbing aria “Geloso, tormento” with strikingly elegant ornamentation. In the role of Edilia, Amanda Forsythe was a commanding presence, evoking the princess’ emotional extremes with sharp musicality and thespian grace. Of the male singers, tenors Colin Balzer and Zachary Wilder gave stand-out performances as Fernando and Osman. Christian Immler brought and Tyler Duncan were also strong in the roles of Consalvo and Raymondo, the disguised King of Mauretania who wins Edilia to his side. Jason McStoots made the most of the bufooned Tabarco, tripping over furniture and belting out his notes, and Valerie Vinzant rounded out the cast well as Bellante, who marries Osman. Concert master Robert Mealy, who devised an edition of the score specifically for the new production, led the festival orchestra in a tight reading that nevertheless breathed with the singers, allowing for a sense of drama and spontaneity in an opera devised more easily for the laisser-faire viewing habits of the 18th-century than modern convention.

Rebecca Schmid

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):