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

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

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):