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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

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):