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

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

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.

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):