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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

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):