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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Edward Evans and Peter Bray [Photo © ROH/ Tristram Kenton]
11 Jul 2013

Britten: The Canticles

First performed at this year’s Brighton Festival and originally designed for the Theatre Royal Brighton, this multi-media staging of Benjamin Britten’s five Canticles by long-standing collaborators Neil Bartlett and Paule Constable, also had an outing at Snape Maltings Aldeburgh in May this year, and has now arrived on the austere stage of the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House.

Britten: The Canticles

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Edward Evans and Peter Bray

Photos © ROH/ Tristram Kenton

 

Twenty-seven years separate the first and last Canticles and in some ways these intimate, dense narratives represent a composing life, exhibiting Britten’s stylistic preoccupations and expressive concerns at various points in his career. There are certainly musical and thematic links between the individual Canticles but, performed as a sequence, do they cohere? In a programme article, Paul Kildea finds common ground in their dramatic concentration, their ‘opulent’ poetic language, and the fact that each Canticle is dedicated, ‘in name or spirit, to one of Britten’s heroes’.

By assigning each Canticle to a different director, Bartlett and Constable perhaps make their task even more difficult; then there is the further problem that, with their varying moods and energies, when performed in sequence the Canticles do not form a naturally persuasive dramatic form.

Bartlett remarks that the Canticles ‘get a great deal out of the simplest musical resources, they excavate extraordinary and multiple levels of sense from their words’. And so they do; the rich textual imagery is translated into densely evocative music, which is why they do not need further visual accompaniment. Indeed, concrete embodiments of Britten’s musical images risk either distracting from the musical performances, or being ignored as the audience focuses inevitably on the medium which expresses the composer’s meaning most directly - especially when it is communicated through vocal and instrumental performances as powerful as those heard here.

Such problems were most apparent in the first Canticle, ‘My Beloved is Mine’, a setting of text adapted from theSong of Solomon. Written for and first performed by Peter Pears, this is a lyrical, joyful celebration of love and sexual passion. Ian Bostridge’s beautifully unfolding raptures faded sweetly into relaxed whisperings; alongside this Bartlett offered a mundane morning routine, as two men (actors Peter Bray and Edward Evans) enjoyed a demure breakfast before departing for a day in the office. Presumably Bartlett wished to suggest a natural, everyday union of the spiritual and the sexual, but the darkness which divided the stage, separating the music from its visual interpretation, embodied the huge chasm between the expressive register of the music and the mime.

Scott Graham’s balletic interpretation of the second Canticle, a retelling of the biblical father-son drama, ‘Abraham and Isaac’, was less intrusive, the tender gestures of his two dancers (Chris Akrill and Gavin Persand) forming a reserved yet affecting dramatization of the narrative as recounted and enacted by the richly blending voices of Bostridge and countertenor Iestyn Davies.

Canticles-12.gifJulius Drake and Ian Bostridge

The third Canticle, ‘Still Falls the Rain’, was accompanied by John Keane’s video illustration of the manufacture of weaponry and the carnage wrought by aerial bombardment juxtaposed with Christian iconography. The visual oppositions and associations were an apt expression of Edith Sitwell’s vehement poem with its bitter diction and insistent repetitions. Moreover, the striking visual contrasts complemented the musical antagonism of voice and horn, as Bostridge’s hesitant, lamenting ‘refrain’ meandered seemingly unaware of Richard Watkins’ eerie horn calls from afar, until the two strands united peacefully at the close. But, the images were an adjunct rather than integral; to be glanced at but not too deeply reflected upon, for it was the music which commanded one attention and shaped one’s emotions.

The fourth Canticle involved no extraneous diversions, and for this reason Constable’s presentation of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ was the most powerfully suggestive. Bostridge and Davies were joined by baritone Benedict Nelson, and the three singers, weary travellers with scuffed suitcases by their sides, reflected hauntingly on their life-journey, which has brought them not knowledge, understanding and faith, rather anxiety, incomprehension and disenchantment.

Britten returned to Eliot in the final Canticle, a setting of ‘The Death of St Narcissus’. Responding to Eliot’s lines, ‘So he became a dancer to God/ Because his flesh was in love with the burning arrows/ He danced on hot sand/ Until the arrows came’, Wendy Houstoun presented a single dancer (Dan Watson) spinning ceaselessly, as if spurred on by the troubling dissonances between Bostridge’s striving melodies and the eloquent interjections of Sally Pryce’s harp. In the final moments, harp and voice were reconciled, as the dancer’s spirals and the harp’s expansive ringing octaves faded into the oblivion of shadows.

Musically this was a stunning performance, underpinned by the intelligent, responsive piano accompaniment of Julius Drake. Singers and instrumentalists unfailingly communicated the urgent drama of each Canticle, sensitively alert to every contradiction and inference. No more was needed.

Claire Seymour


There are two further performances at the Linbury Studio, ROH, on 11th and 12th July, at 7.45pm.

Cast and production information:

Ian Bostridge: tenor; Iestyn Davies: countertenor; Benedict Nelson: baritone; Julius Drake: piano; Richard Watkins: horn; Sally Pryce: harp; Neil Bartlett: Scott Graham: John Keane: Paule Constable: Wendy Houstoun: directors; Edward Evans: Peter Bray: actors; Chris Akrill and Gavin Persand (from Ignition Physical Theatre): Dan Watson: dancers. Royal Opera House, London, Wednesday 10th July 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):