Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

'So sweet is the pain': Roberta Invernizzi at Wigmore Hall

In this BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented Italian songs from the first half of seventeenth-century, exploring love and loyalty, loss and lies, and demonstrating consummate declamatory mastery.

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

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):