Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Thomas Adès at the Proms [Photo by Chris Christodoulou courtesy of BBC]
19 Jul 2013

Prom 8: Adès’ Totentanz

This remarkably cohesive programme of works by Britten, Lutoslawski and Adès was underpinned by a dark intensity; tragic realism interwoven with transient intimations of hope.

Prom 8: Adès’ Totentanz

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Thomas Adès at the Proms [Photo by Chris Christodoulou courtesy of BBC]

 

A tightly controlled and startlingly vehement rendition of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem opened the Prom, Adès pacing and crafting the three movements in a reading of the score which made a more than usually convincing case for the work. With clarity and precision, the conductor revealed extremes of colour, texture and weight. An intimate but disconsolate ‘Lachrymose’, was followed by a cynical, fleet-footed ‘Dies Irae’, the flute flutter-tonguing pounded by the mocking onslaught of the percussion. The conclusion of the ‘Requiem aeternam’ was beautifully affecting, as Adès found both serenity and sorrow in the return of the fragmented plainchant with which the work begins.

A similar disturbing combination of anguish and restraint characterised Paul Watkin’s magnificent performance of Lutoslawki’s Cello Concerto. From the quiet, monotonous pulses of the long cello solo which commences the work, Watkins kept the undoubtedly powerful emotional resonances of the work on a tight rein, only occasionally allowing the latent ‘suffering’ expressed in Lutoslawski’s intangible musical narrative to be released. Harmonics and glissandi were delicately transparent; strident pizzicato passages were delivered with directness and authority. Adès too focused more on the score’s detailed colourings than on its dynamic heaviness, allowing the cello to be an equal partner with the full orchestral forces, never struggle to articulate. The third movement cantilena was exquisitely lyrical but offered only a temporary repose before the furious rhythmic energy of the final movement welled up, driving the work to its wild conclusion.

In the second half of the programme, Adès conducted the world premiere of his own Totentanz, commissioned by Robin Boyle in memory of Lutoslawski and his wife, Danuta.

Adès’ musical portrait of a ‘Dance of Death’ draws its inspiration from a visual source: a 30-metre-long painted hanging, made in 1463 for the church of St Mary in the German Baltic city of Lübeck, which depicts Death linking hands with a cross-section of individuals, addressing each with his message of unavoidable doom.

In Totentanz, Death, a baritone (Simon Keenlyside) invites in turn a succession of human representatives - including Pope, Emperor, Cardinal, King, Monk, Usurer, Merchant and Parish Clerk - to join his inescapable and deadly dervish, delighting that, ‘When I come, great and small,/ no grieving helps you’. A soprano (Christianne Stotijn) adopts the diverse mortal roles, voicing their resignedly acquiescent replies as they cast off their worldly garb and accept their earth-bound fate. But Death is indifferent to their mortal weakness, ignoring their pitiful laments and turning disdainfully to the next recipient of his solicitation. In this way, Adès avoids a static interplay of invitation and response, creating a tense dialogue and a whirling, accumulating momentum which sucks us into a vortex of unstoppable energy.

At the start, the Preacher invites rich and poor, young and old, to ‘come to see the play’, and the work does have an inherently theatrical quality. Adès asks a great deal of his ‘players’, and the two vocal soloists rose to the challenges negotiating, singly and in duet, the angular, wide-ranging melodies with supreme assurance (although they were amplified - one wonders whether they could have risen above the panoply of percussive pounding without it, or conveyed the text so crisply).

Stotijn found a remarkable range of colours and moods to convey the various human ‘voices’, complemented by an ever-changing orchestral landscape - for example, lyrical gesturing from the violins accompanies the Pope’s submission, while the Cardinal’s mellifluous pleading is complemented by the high timbre of the flute juxtaposed with a grumbling bass. And, the composer avoids repetitiveness by varying Death’s proposition each time. Thus, Death’s proposals - sung with seductive charm by Keenleyside, mingled with imperious contempt - ‘duet’ with a range of instruments and groupings; trembling double bass as he addresses the Emperor, a repetitive pattern played by the celli when his words are directed at the King, a dialogue with trombones as the Monk is called to the dance.

Adès’ timbral invention, his ability to find new, astonishing orchestral colours, should not surprise. One thinks of the piano’s ethereal trembling in Darknesse Visible, or the startling bass oboe melody in Asyla, the latter also making use of cowbells and quarter-tone-flat piano. Here he calls upon an eight-strong percussion team to paint a kaleidoscopic canvas.

From the opening screeches of the piccolo, the astringent harmony, asymmetrical rhythms and percussive outbursts establish the grim reality which inevitably erodes and destroys human aspiration. As the dance proceeds across an increasingly wide harmonic and timbral expanse, an unstoppable accretion of dissonance builds up - almost painfully - culminating in an orchestral apocalypse, like a sonic black hole of terrifying magnificence and appalling horror.

Then, when our capacity for aural assault is totally depleted, the catastrophic silence is gently broken by more tender strains; as Death turns to the lower echelons of the social hierarchy, a gentler, more sentimental mood ensues. The Parish Clerk’s pianissimo melody is hauntingly beautiful and sorrowful. Following the Handworker, Peasant and Maiden, the Child is Death’s last ‘victim’, but now the invitation is more comforting, ‘Til the last day, sleep now: sleep on, consoled’. With the Child’s poignant, unsettling response, ‘O Death, how can I understand?/ I cannot walk, yet I must dance!’, the score hints at a cleansing, major tonality, the harmony and sound-world intimating a quasi-Mahlerian transfiguration. Ultimately the music slips into darkness, the dark, sunken tones of timpani and tuba recalling the spirit of the conclusion of the ‘requiem’ which opened the concert and, to this listener at least, the call of the sea which invites Peter Grimes and Aschenbach to their respective deaths.

In a NYT article, Richard Taruskin praised Adès’ ‘precocious technical sophistication and [an] omnivorous range of references’. In Totentatz these qualities are startlingly evident: the soundscape blends the new and the familiar in a score which first challenges the listener with its visceral impact - inflicting a savage aural and emotional battering - and then salves with bitter-sweet harmonic succour. Despite its emotional directness, the work retains an intriguing, enticing ambiguity.

Claire Seymour


This concert is available for a further five days on BBC Radio 3 online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b036vvk0 ; it will be broadcast on BBC 4 on 28th July.

Production and cast information:

Britten, Sinfonia da Requiem Op.20; Lutoslawski, Cello Concerto; Adès, Totentanz; Paul Watkins, cello; Christianne Dtotijn, mezzo-soprano; Simon Keenlyside, baritone; Thomas Adès, conductor; BBC Symphony Orchestra. Royal Albert Hall, London, Wednesday, 17th 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):