Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ed Lyon as Hippolytus [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2013]
02 Jul 2013

Rameau Hippolyte et Aricie, Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne revitalizes Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie. Baroque tastes were extravagant. Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil, and his successor Louis XV, epitomized the aesthetic: audacity, not gentility, vigour, not timidity.

Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, Glyndebourne

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Ed Lyon as Hippolytus [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2013]

 

When Hippolyte et Aricie was premiered in 1733, it was considered radically inventive. So it's appropriate that Glyndebourne should present Rameau with the same spirit of adventure. William Christie has shown many times before that baroque thrives on daring and panache.

Thus the Prologue in this production starts with a shock calculated to shake things up. Diana, the Goddess is in a refrigerator. But she's the Goddess of frigidity. Why not show her in a Frigidaire? She has a frigid, rigid mindset. For her, feelings should be sealed in air-tight compartments. So Diana comes out of the freezer cabinet. Her colours are those of frost, and the pale moon. Nature, though, is having nothing of artificial cool. In the egg compartment, Cupid is breaking out of a shell, challenging Diana with bright hues and joyously lively song.

Hippolyte, the son of Theseus is in love with Aricie, who has dedicated herself to the service of Diana, the Virgin Queen. Hippolyte's stepmother, Phaedra, lusts after him. Ironically, her husband Theseus is off saving a friend who has committed adultery with the wife of Pluto, Lord of the Underworld. We enter l'Enfer, where hell fire reigns: the reverse of the refrigerator, where overheated workings splutter in darkness and dirt. Is death more colourful than Diana's sterile temple? The denizens of the Underworld have merrier dances. A group of Flies.with elaborate wings, pirouette gleefully. Decay is part of the cycle of Nature. Without it, no rebirth. Theseus calls on his father, Neptune, for help and escapes. The Parques (The Fates) warn "Tu sors de l’infernal Empire, pour trouver les Enfers chez toi."

Rameau writes a tempest into his music, which even now, when we're used to extreme music, is strikingly dramatic. At Glyndebourne, we get strobe lights, Rameau's audiences, who loved mechanical special effects, would have been thrilled by electricity. Neptune is the God of the Ocean, so his minions are "matelots". At Glyndebourne, they appear as a chorus of French sailors. This is perfectly in keeping with the music. Rameau adapts a hornpipe jig. It's meant to be gay (in the old sense of the word) "Tous les cœurs sont matelots ; On quitte le repos : On vole sur les flots;"

Theseus blames his son for his wife's infidelity. Hippolyte follows Aricie into Diana's world. A dead stag hangs from the rafters. Diana, despite her disdain for passion, is also the Goddess of the Hunt, and an agent of death Aricie is initiated into the cult by being blooded. It's not gruesome, though, for Rameau's sense of elegance precludes overt barbarism. At Glyndebourne, Diana's followers are seen in hunting reds, the men's wigs oddly peaked as if they were foxes. Hippolyte disappears in a puff of smoke, presumably dead. Phaedra dies, too. This time, the Underworld is depicted as a morgue, pointedly designed like Diana's chilled-out Temple. But Hippolyte is no more dead than Theseus was when he went into hell. The lovers are reunited happily ever after. In this production, the ghost of Phaedra appears to observe proceedings. It's a nice touch, which fits in with the mood of healing and kindness. No grand showpiece arias here. Instead, the exquisite "Rossignols amoureux" a delicate air for soprano accompanied only by flute, exceptionally beautifully played by a soloist in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Ed Lyon sang Hippolyte, fresh and youthful but no ingénue. Lyon's voice is assertive, suggesting strength in the character beyond the restraints of the text. That's perceptive. With his genes, Hippolyte is no wimp. Christiane Karg sang Aricie with charm and energy. Katharine Watson sang Diana, and Ana Quintans sang a vivacious Cupid. Emmanuelle de Negri sings the crucial Nightingale Song in the guise of a shepherdess. We know that Cupid has triumphed. François Lis was a magnificently characterful Pluto/Jupiter, well supported by Loïc Felix's Tisiphone. Sarah Connolly (Phaedra) and Stéphane Degout (Theseus) were exceptional, wonderfully assured singing and stage presence.

Together with Lis, Connolly and Degout (one of the finest French singers of his generation) sang their parts in the Paris production last year with Emmanuelle Haïm, where the set was a reconstruction of what the opera might have looked like in 1733. That was important because it clearly showed the cast in costumes that were "modern" at the time. Rameau wasn't depicting Greeks or Greek Gods but archetypes in a setting his own audiences could relate to. So much for the notion of period specificity.

True period authenticity is fascinating, for me, anyway. But it doesn't necessarily do much for modern audiences, who might find the succession of dances less easy to take. The Glyndebourne production, directed by Jonathan Kent, with designs by Paul Brown, doesn't actually "update", to use the much misused term, but treats the opera as something fresh and exciting, as it might have seemed to audiences nearly 300 years ago Like the cycle of Nature, life goes on when things renew. The humour is entirely appropriate, and the dances are brightly characterized. One other good moment: when Sarah Connolly descends off the stage as Phaedra preparing to die, the auditorium goes completely dark for much longer than usual. She's such a big star that audiences expect an exit as dramatic as that. She doesn't get to sing any more, but the memory lingers on.

Most credit, however, to William Christie. What animated, vivid playing he draws from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. How the singers seem inspired by his enthusiasm! He's visionary. He understand the baroque and its aesthetic so well that he can teach us a great deal about the idiom. His Rameau Les Indes Galantes (preserved on DVD) is an education. Christie brings out the vivacious, almost anarchic vigour that is at the heart of French baroque. He's worked with Jonathan Kent before (Purcell Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne). My companion said "If this is good enough for Bill Christie, it's good enough for me". By sheer coincidence we bumped into Christie himself a few minutes later, and told him. He beamed. "That's the sort of feedback I like to hear!". I hope it helped to make his day. Certainly, with this performance, he made mine.

Anne Ozorio


Listen to Hippolyte et Aricie podcast

Click here for cast and production information

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):