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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marin Alsop [Photo by Grant Leighton]
19 Aug 2013

Prom 47: Brahms — A German Requiem

In the first of her two visits to the Royal Albert Hall this summer, Marin Alsop led the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and its associated Choir through three nineteenth-century works which are united by their romantic intensity and progression from darkness to light.

Prom 47: Brahms - A German Requiem

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Marin Alsop [Photo by Grant Leighton]

 

It was apparent from the first quiet, probing pulses of the basses, accompanying the gentle rise and fall of cellos and violas, that the choice of period-instruments for Brahms’ German Requiem — a work of magnificent power and spiritual grandeur — was a wise one. Above this mild, mellifluous platform every word of the Choir of Enlightment’s calm opening pronouncement was crystalline. This is not a liturgical mass for the dead but rather a personal testament designed to console the living — it was composed after the death of the composer’s mother, and inspired also by memories of his beloved friend, Richard Schumann — and Brahms’ ‘message’ was nobly evident in the Choir’s opening words: ‘Selig sind, die da Leid tragen,/ den sie sollen getröstet werden’ (Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted). Alsop consistently gave the text — garnered by the composer himself from Luther’s German Bible and from the Apocrypha — room to speak without undue force, and the result was a remarkably intense quietude matched elsewhere by an equally dignified and moving radiance.

The second movement, ‘Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras’ (For all flesh is as grass), began with fateful gravity, the timpani’s dark, funereal pulses sensitively articulated by Adrian Bending. Legend has it that a pre-premiere run-through of the first three movements of the Requiem were somewhat sabotaged by the relentless fortissimo pounding of an over-enthusiastic timpanist; here, and throughout the work, Bending offered a master-class in percussion playing, achieving tense restraint, insistent power, and building to perfectly judged, thrilling climaxes. The movement roved through alternating passages of despair and resignation before the Choir’s grandiloquent outburst, ‘Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Weigkeit’ (But the Word of the Lord endureth for ever).

Baritone Henk Neven intoned the opening words of the third movement, 'Herr, lehre doch mich,/ dass ein End emit mir haben muss’ (Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days), with composure tinged with anxiety. Deftly crafting the humbling exchanges between soloist and chorus, in which Neven wonderfully conveyed both the fears and hopes which define human mortality, Alsop effectively controlled the structure and accumulating tension, before the latter was released by the timpani’s affirmative pedal Ds in the vigorous, up-lifting — but never bombastic — fugal conclusion, ‘Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand,/ und keine Qual rühret sie an’ (But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall be torment touch them).

After the joyous simplicity of the subsequent assuring chorus, ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zebaoth’ (How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts), the radiant purity of soprano Rachel Harnish’s graceful, floating lines wonderfully expressed the restful comforts of the text, a quiet confession of the composer’s faith. Neven’s interchanges with the Choir in ‘Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt’ (‘Now we have no dwelling place’) resumed the forward motion, the chorale-like rhythms and blend of traditional and fresh harmonies driving the music purposefully towards the fugal conclusion. In the final movement Alsop reasserted the solemn, but sweet, nobility of the opening bars; the quiet benediction of the close, ‘Selig sind die Toten’ (Blessed are the dead) was deeply affecting.

This was a wonderful performance in which Alsop drew forth the underpinning mood of the Lutheran chorales which are the foundation for so many of the melodies, sustaining a consistent aura of lyrical splendour and combining the movements, which can sometimes feel disparate and lacking a clear dramatic progression, into a convincing whole.

The programme began with Brahms’ Tragic Overture. Alsop captured the sombre mood but did not quite sustain the momentum, especially in the slower developmental central section, and she struggled to gather the various, sometimes extensive, episodes into a structurally coherent whole. Here the choice of period instruments seemed less successful, not fully able to summon the oppressive weight or dynamic contrasts of the composer’s orchestral canvas. The textures were crisp, however, and there was some beautifully relaxed piano playing from the horns and woodwind. The surge towards the terse conclusion was fittingly stormy.

Schumann’s Fourth Symphony completed the programme, in which Alsop’s tempi were brisker and this helped to define the thematic links between the movements and create a strong sense of a unified whole. Those who disparage the composer’s overly dense instrumentation were here refuted by the lightness and clarity of the OAE’s orchestral conversations and the even balance of timbres. The dark brooding of the double basses (all eight of them) was neatly countered by the sheer sonorities of the upper strings and woodwind solos. An enchanting oboe solo from Michael Niesemann introduced the second movement, a graceful Romance in which the violins found a translucent elegance, inspired by some wonderful playing by leader Kati Debretzeni. A spirited Scherzo gave way to more temperate Trios, before an upwelling into the robust, exuberant Finale, in which Alsop — who conducted from memory throughout the concert — demonstrated an energetic enthusiasm which bodes well for September 7th, when she will become the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms.

There was much fine playing from the OAE. But, it was the precision and thoughtful poise of the Choir of Enlightenment which lifted this performance from ‘good’ to something special.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Brahms: Tragic Overture; Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor; Brahms: A German Requiem; Rachel Harnisch, soprano; He nk Neven, baritone; Marin Alsop, conductor; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Choir of the Enlightenment. Royal Albert Hall, London, Saturday, 17th August 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):