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

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne

Having been privileged already to see in little over two months two great productions of Die Meistersinger, one in Paris (Stefan Herheim) and one in Munich (David Bösch), I was unable to resist the prospect of a third staging, at Glyndebourne.

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):