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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Verdi standing
10 Jul 2013

Macbeth, Blackheath Halls

Since its inception in 2006, the annual community opera at Blackheath Halls has become a favourite fixture in the local summer calendar.

Macbeth, Blackheath Halls

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Verdi standing

 

Children from nearby primary schools, avid amateur singers and actors from the local community and the instrumentalists of the Blackheath Halls Orchestra are joined by a cast of stellar professionals and young soloists from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; the standards reached are remarkably high and the experience, for performers and audience, alike richly rewarding.

Previous years have seen the community ensemble adopt the guise of Spanish bandits (Carmen, 2007), Parisian freethinkers (La Bohème, 2008), pastoral nymphs (Orpheus and Eurydice, 2009) and Russian serfs (Eugene Onegin, 2011). This year it was all witchery and warfare, as director Christopher Rolls unveiled a fast-paced, thrilling production of Verdi’s Macbeth, transferring Shakespeare’s tragic drama of self-destructive deceit and ambition to the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of a modern-day battlefield and banquet room.

This was an effective shift - and presumably shrewd financially too, cutting down considerably on the chorus’s costume costs. Similarly, electing for a ‘Gothic minimalist’ approach to the staging allowed the well-known story - played in the round - to unfold directly and without distraction. A deep darkness embraced the Hall, creating an apt sense of intimacy; the crimson velvet of the stage curtain, illuminated now and then by beams of blood-red light (Lighting Designer, Mark Howland), intimated the violent evil at the heart of the drama.

In the centre of the black-carpeted floor stood a circular raised dais (Designer Oliver Townsend), which would later become the platform for a series of murders and deaths, the visual repetitions suggesting an unbreakable pattern of betrayal and violence.

Throughout, the community chorus was in fine voice: confident, alert and well-coordinated, they had clearly been well-drilled by the director, his assistant Natalie Katsou and Musical Director, Nicholas Jenkins. If the white-draped witches initially lacked a little menace and bite, the war-worn combatants were convincingly wrecked and weary from their military exertions, and the banqueting aristocrats, celebrating their new leader’s prowess and good fortune sang with a gleam which matched their glossy black ball-gowns.

Quentin Hayes was a tense, introverted Macbeth; compact of physique, he prowled the floor first with proud majesty, then suspicious apprehension. Dark of tone, his baritone swelled impressively at moments of intense anger and despair. Miriam Murphy was his ruthless Queen, and she brought all her experience of the role to bear (she has previously sung Lady Macbeth at Opera Holland Park and the Royal Opera House), presenting a focused, controlled study of callous calculation and mental disintegration. Powerful but never strident, Murphy negotiated the wide-ranging compass with ease, displaying an even focus across the registers. At the top she was potent and incisive, conveying the persuasive confidence of Lady Macbeth; in the lower depths she revealed an appealing smoky timbre which hinted at inner emotions kept in check by a rigid self-will.

Matthew Rose was a superb Banquo, serious and sincere. Convincingly destroyed by disillusionment as Macbeth’s malicious scheme unfolded, Rose’s final aria was troubling and moving. Susanna Buckle (Lady-in-Waiting) and Simon Dyer (Doctor) provided a sensitive commentary during the somnambulant Queen’s disintegration, while Thomas Drew was a vibrant, positive Malcolm. All three have been or are students at Trinity Laban, where Rose will himself become a visiting teacher later this year.

Making up the strong cast were Charne Rochford, a clear, ringing Macduff, and Tony Brewer as King Duncan. Assaulted off-stage, this King surprised his alarmed subjects, appearing blood-soaked upon on the stage before staggering the length of the Hall to collapse in death throes upon the dais at the end of Act 1. Unfortunately, this necessitated a ‘resurrection’, and his subsequent slow walk from the auditorium was one of the few moments when the mood of sombre intensity slipped.

Nicholas Jenkins led his players through a rousing reading of the score and gave constant encouragement and clear direction to the entire cast. If the intonation wasn’t always spot on, then the summer heat and crowded venue were probably partly to blame. The small string forces were sometimes overwhelmed, but played with precision; and there were some lovely solos from clarinet, bassoon and piccolo.

This community project was launched by General Manager, Keith Murray, and is driven by the passion and invention of Rose Ballantyne. In this ‘age of austerity’, such ventures are undoubtedly a long way down funding bodies’ list of priorities, and it takes considerable energy and commitment to get a project like this off the ground, let alone to attain such tremendous standards of professionalism year upon year. For the members of the adult and children’s choruses, the experience will have been immensely edifying and invigorating, and perhaps for some, life-changing. No doubt, they are already looking forward to next year.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Macbeth: Quentin Hayes; Lady Macbeth: Miriam Murphy; Banquo: Matthew Rose; Macduff: Charne Rochford; Malcolm: Thomas Drew; Lad-in-Waiting: Susanna Buckle; Doctor: Simon Dyer; Servant: Andrew Crozier; Assassin: David Calpan; Herald: George Lusty; King Duncan: Tony Brewer; Director: Christophe Rolls; Designer: Oliver Townsend; Musical Director: Nicholas Jenkins; Halls Chorus and Orchestra. Blackheath Halls Opera, London, Tuesday, 9th 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):