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

40 minutes with Barbara Hannigan...in rehearsal

One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the ‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber music to orchestral rehearsals.

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sir Andrew Davis [Photo by Dario Acosta Photography]
17 Aug 2013

Prom 45: Tiippett’s The Midsummer Marriage

Sir Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage has a lot of things against it, it requires a large cast including dancers and a large chorus and orchestra, the plot with its elements of Jungian analysis is confusing, the composer's libretto with its colloquial elements now sounds rather dated and frankly a bit embarrassing.

Michael Tippett : The Midsummer Marriage

A review by Robert Hugill

BBC Prom 45, Royal Albert Hall, London 16th August 2013

Above: Sir Andrew Davis [Photo by Dario Acosta Photography]

 

But you only have to listen to the music to be entranced. From the opening moments of Sir Andrew Davis's performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall on 16 August 2013, you knew that you were in for a very special occasion. The BBC had assembled a very strong cast, with Paul Groves and Erin Wall as the Mark and Jenifer, David Wilson-Johnson (standing in for Peter Sidhom) as King Fisher, Ailish Tynan and Allan Clayton as Bella and Jack, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Sosostris, and Madeleine Shaw and David Soar as the Ancients, with the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Chorus. The performance was billed as semi-staged, directed by Kenneth Richardson.

The stars of the show, though, were undoubtedly Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, bringing out all of Tippett's dancing rhythms and giving a lovely sheen to the complex orchestral textures. The music for the entrances of the Ancients, with the celesta, were simply magical. Without any dancers, we were left to our own imaginations for the Ritual Dances, and Davis brought out the full range of drama and danger in these pieces. I had forgotten how richly and imaginatively they were written, but throughout the performance I came back to Tippett's rhythms. Davis clearly loves the opera and he and the orchestra gave us Tippett as his rhapsodic and entrancing best.

The roles of Mark and Jenifer are tricky ones, they are archetypes more than protagonists and once the long first act is over, we hardly see them again. Both singers need to be capable of singing Tippett's complex, rapturous coloratura whilst being able to carry over the large orchestra, a particular requirement with the orchestra on the concert platform. Paul Groves was ideal for Mark. He has what I think of as rather an old fashioned voice, with a focussed edge to it which can cut through orchestral texture without pressing the voice too much and causing the tone to lose focus. He sang with that gorgeous straight tone familiar from his performances as Gerontius, moving flexibly round Tippett's vocal lines and seemingly having no trouble at all rising over the orchestra without pushing the voice. His interaction with the Ancients at the opening was just on the right side of pert and his outburst of 'I love, I love, I love' was rapturous. This was re-captured in the closing moments, when both Mark and Jenifer have a short, but important contribution to crown the proceedings. He looked, perhaps, a little mature for 'a young man of unknown parentage' but this mattered not in a concert performance and his performance was wonderfully ardent and enthusiastic in the right way.

Erin Wall, making her Proms debut, sang with a finely honed, slim but focussed tone. An experienced Fiordiligi, Konstanze and Donna Anna, she floated over the orchestra rather than cutting through it, singing Jenifer's coloratura with beautiful care and attention. Her performance on stage seemed a little stiff, as if she wasn't quite comfortable with the semi-staging. But Jenifer is an awkward character and Joan Sutherland (who created the role) famously did not really understand the opera.

David Wilson-Johnson, standing in at a weeks notice as King Fisher, was returning to a role he'd last sung 25 years ago. You couldn't really tell, Wilson-Johnson gave a masterly performance, full of character. His King Fisher had all the bombast needed and we could hear all the words. This was true of all three singers in the character episodes (Wilson-Johnson, Ailish Tynan and Allan Clayton) and helped to establish the drama. Wilson-Johnson combines singing 20th century music with a career with period ensembles. This shows in his performance where his navigating of the actual notes was nicely accurate and thankfully lacking that element of bluster. Wilson-Johnson is a fine singing actor and his performance was a master-class in how to make character work in a space as big as the Royal Albert Hall.

The lighter couple, Jack and Bella, were equally well cast with Allan Clayton and Ailish Tynan. Tynan brought a delightful pertness to the role, filling out the character and charming entirely. It is Bella who gets some of Tippett's arch colloquialisms, dealt with in dead-pan manner by Tynan. The interchange (between Bella and King Fisher) 'Who's Jack? Oh - he's a honey' remains one of my favourite in all opera and Tynan was equally delightfully in Bella's paen to artificial womanhood, with her mirror and face powder. But Tynan also sang the notes, with a bright focussed tone which brought out the ancestors of Tippett's character and brought Bella alive. Her interactions with Wilson-Johnson were just right, hinting at the long back story to their relationship. Tynan was also ably abetted by Allan Clayton as her boyfriend Jack. Clayton sang with lovely tone and shape, making a mark even though the role is quite small. Clayton is another artist who has impressed in both baroque and contemporary performance. His combination of vocal flexibility and penetrating (in the nicest possible way) tone, being just right for both.

David Soar and Madeleine Shaw were suitably grave and mysterious as the Ancients, with Soar bringing a a nice touch of asperity to the character which set of the dark and dignified tones of his voice. Shaw was equally dark and mysterious but added touches of humour in her interactions with Tynan.

Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Sosostris sang her aria from the organ console above the orchestra, which had a wonderfully dramatic effect especially when combined with the striking kaftan that Wyn-Rogers was wearing. But the placement so far behind the orchestra was a little inhibiting to the sound. Nonetheless, Wyn-Rogers joined the ranks of Helen Watts and Alfreda Hodgson in delivering a fine, dramatic and highly mysterious account of this fascinating but complex aria.

The smaller roles were all finely taken by singers from the BBC Singers, Michael Bundy, Christopher Bowen, Charles Gibbs and Margaret Cameon. The chorus, combining the BBC Singers with the BBC Symphony Chorus, was perhaps slightly larger than ideal but they sang with a will and clearly carried away with the drama. The off-stage chorus in act two was sung by the BBC Singers.

But it is to Davis and the orchestra that I will return in my memory, giving the work a glow and contributing some very fine orchestral playing.

Doing a semi-staging of an opera like The Midsummer Marriage is a thankless task as a large chunk of the action has to be missed off, we had no Strephon and no dancers. But director Kenneth Richardson marshalled his forces imaginatively, giving them entrances and exits and and suggesting the drama. He also benefitted from the fact that his singers clearly interacted with each other and in dramatic terms made it far more than a concert.

This was a long evening (6.30pm to 10.10pm, including two intervals), but a glorious one. The resources needed to perform the opera mean that it is only every likely to be a special occasion work. So we must be doubly glad that the BBC decided to perform it. Andrew Davis and his forces gave us a truly mesmerising account of Tippett's idiosyncratic midsummer rapture.

Robert Hugill


Cast and production information:

Paul Groves: Mark, Erin Wall: Jenifer, David Wilson-Johnson: King Fisher, Ailish Tynan: Bella, Allan Clayton: Jack, Sosostris: Catherine Wyn-Rogers, David Soar: He-Ancient, Madeleine Shaw: She-Ancient, Michael Bundy: Half-Tipsy Man, Christopher Bowen: Dancing Man, Charles Gibbs: A Man, Margaret Cameron: A Girl. BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Sir Andrew Davis: Conductor, Kenneth Richardson: Stage Director. Friday, 16 August 2013, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London

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):