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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

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):