Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



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):