Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ian Bostridge [Photo © Ben Ealovega]
22 Aug 2013

Prom 51: Tippett, Britten & Elgar

This programme of twentieth-century British music burst dazzlingly into life with the blazing flourishes of Michael Tippett’s Fanfare No.5, arranged by Meirion Bowen from music drawn from the composer’s oratorio, The Mask of Time.

Prom 51: Tippett, Britten & Elgar

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ian Bostridge [Photo © Ben Ealovega]

 

It was a fitting choice with which to open a Promenade concert dedicated to the late Sir Colin Davis, who conducted the premiere of Tippett’s monumental oratorio in 1984, and who was to have returned to the Royal Albert Hall on this occasion, the scene of so many unforgettable Proms performances under his baton.

Replacing Davis, who sadly died earlier this year, Daniel Harding led fourteen members of the London Symphony brass section, plus two percussionists, in a vibrant performance in which the knotty dialogues between the contending voices were crisply delineated before melding satisfyingly in an expansive, homophonic surge towards the triumphant cadence.

This air of confidence and optimism was sustained in the subsequent Concerto for Double String Orchestra — a mood all the more remarkable when one remembers that the work was composed during 1938-1939 as war loomed ever more inevitably. Moreover, the young composer, perhaps more prone to cerebral intellectualism than outpourings of positivism, was himself only slowly forging his own language, hesitantly moving towards musical certainties.

There was certainly nothing tentative about the exuberant contrapuntal outbursts which heralded the first movement. The string players of the LSO delivered Tippett’s flamboyant rhythms with dynamic directness and a fresh, clean tone, as Harding sought to maintain clarity of texture as the flexible lines interwove and danced. Perhaps it was a somewhat too charming and genteel; I would have like a little more boisterousness to balance the lyricism. And, while Harding capably managed the transitions between the many contrasting episodes, more might have been made of the surprising, and wonderful, dovetailing of the end of the fugal section with the return of the main theme.

In the Adagio cantabile Harding placed more emphasis on the adagio than cantabile. The conductor took a risk not only with the tempo, but also with the dynamics, resisting the temptation to let the arching lines grow and swell, restraining the strings to a mezzo piano. The expansive tempo and quiet delicacy resulted in a pathos that was almost Mahlerian, but in a hall of these vast dimensions some of the intensity of the impact was lessened.

The third movement resumed the work’s propulsive energy; again, Harding’s textures were refined and lucid, and leader Carmine Lauri’s opening solo delightfully sweet, as major and minor modes piquantly intertwined. The Northumbrian bagpipe melody which inspired the closing passages was full of grace and air.

The work references a panoply of musical styles and forms — the contrapuntalism of Renaissance polyphony, the Baroque concerto grosso, Beethovenian sonata structures, the anticipatory rhythms and blue notes of jazz, the modality of British folk-song — and while Harding combined these into a pleasing whole he did not quite synthesise the polyphonic debates which drive the music relentlessly forward.

Benjamin Britten’s song cycle, Les Illuminations, also written in 1939, had rather more bite and a challenging tartness. Selecting and ordering some of the poems from French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s eponymous collection — texts very different to the English poetry that the composer had typically set in his songs of the 1930s — Britten seems to have relished the extravagant idiosyncrasies of the, at times, self-indulgent poetry, with its exotic, sensual imagery expressing the young poet’s defiance, excitement and elation in the face of the exhilarating potential of modernity and new frontiers.

Ian Bostridge was totally in tune with the rebellious theatricality, bordering on the surreal, of Britten’s inventive settings. In this commanding performance not one word of Rimbaud’s fragmented, often bizarre, phrases was overlooked or unconsidered. Bostridge’s voice has acquired a greater range and substance at the bottom of late — not ‘weight’ exactly, but an enriching of the colour and timbre — and every gesture was audible, throughout the dynamic spectrum. Often Rimbaud plays with sounds, the onomatopoeic echoes, swishes and crunches serving as a kind of erotic grammar, and Bostridge was unfailingly alert to the way Britten exploits the resonances of the words, confidently articulating the complex linguistic snatches. In this regard, the tenor was well-supported by Harding and the string players of the LSO; the on-going instrumental discourse was full of diverse colours and shades, at times assuming precedence over the voice but never engulfing the vocal utterances.

The tonal arguments of the opening ‘Fanfare’ were deftly settled by Bostridge’s assertive pronouncement, ‘J’ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage’ (Only I have the key to this wild parade), although the thoughtful decrescendo on the final word hinted prophetically at the changes to come, and subsequent repetitions of this refrain invoked darker moods.

‘Villes’, depicting the bustle of city life, was blithely light, the rushing string lines seeming almost airborne, punctuated by gripping pizzicati, until Bostridge relaxed the pace at the close, as the singer has what Britten described as a ‘prayer for a little peace’. The close of the short and pensive ‘Phrase’ — ‘Des chaînes d’or d’étoile à étoile, et je danse’ — floated dreamily, high above the low cellos. Typical in its orchestral diversity and invention, ‘Antique’ was noteworthy for the dry languorous rhythms of the inner strings which provided a mysterious accompaniment to the simple fanfare-like vocal melody and the soft brushing pizzicati of the close.

Bostridge was exuberantly assertive in ‘Royauté’ and despatched the virtuosic twists and runs of ‘Marine’ with ease. The descending, interlacing string figures of ‘Interlude’ and the darkened repetition of the work’s opening line, led to a sensuous, intense rendition of ‘Being Beauteous’ (dedicated to ‘P.N.L.P.’ — Peter Pears), the erotic imagery of the ardent vocal declamation elucidated by the harmonic richness of the strings.

Bostridge totally immersed himself in this work, musically, emotionally and physically, at times leaning (dangerously?) far backwards, elsewhere thrusting his hands nonchalantly in his pockets, sometimes fixing his eye confrontationally on the audience. Willing to throw caution to the winds, Bostridge gave a technically flawless account, the arresting characterisation absolutely convincing. It is hard to imagine a better performance of Britten’s thrilling song-cycle.

Elgar’s Second Symphony, composed in 1911, is a dark and enigmatic work, its inward emotional narrative intermittently exposed but never unambiguously revealed. The composer called it ‘the passionate pilgrimage of a soul’ and it is often regarded as a signature work. Colin Davis’ 2002 recording with the LSO won accolades and a host of awards but here Harding, though offering a sensitive reading alert to the details of timbre, did not quite have the measure of the symphony’s emotional sweep. Ironically, originally Sir Colin Davis was to have conducted the 2 nd Symphony of Sibelius, whose final symphony Harding performed with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra earlier in the Proms season.

The opening of the first movement, with its proud thematic statement, signalled Harding’s appreciation of the majestic nobility of the work but the tempi throughout were on the slow side. While it is true that time and space is needed for the resolution of the complex and changeable harmonic relationships, Harding was less successful in managing the volatile changes of tempo and mood which create forward drive and impulsion (Elgar’s own recordings are characterised by numerous shifts, sometimes violent, sometimes subtle, and dramatic, frequent use of rubato).

The slow movement was passionate and refined, the moments of hushed meditation touchingly gentle; an exquisite oboe solo injected an air of tender nostalgia. But, overall there was a sense of reserve, not exactly aloofness but rather a coolness or formality, as if the emotional depths were not being plummeted.

The racing scherzo, by contrast, wickedly transformed the theme of the first movement into a nightmarish vision of horror, and there was plenty of pomp and majesty in the final ‘Moderato e maestoso’, although here again the recapitulation did not fully achieve a sense of liberating affirmation. But, the final bars were wonderfully contemplative and whispered; a shame, then, that the spell-binding silence that Harding desired was shattered by overly hasty, impatient applause.

Claire Seymour


Programme and production information:

Tippett: The Mask of Time — Fanfare No. 5, Concerto for Double String Orchestra; Britten: Les illuminations; Elgar — Symphony No. 2 in E flat major. Ian Bostridge, tenor; Daniel Harding, conductor; London Symphony Orchestra. Royal Albert Hall, London, Tuesday, 20th 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):