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

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots [Image by Classical Opera]
29 Sep 2013

Die Schuldigkeit Des Ersten Gebots

Last week I enjoyed the opportunity to see Bampton Classical Opera’s light-hearted, witty production of Mozart’s earliest opera — La finta semplice — a work which, despite lacking the melodic variety and texture dynamism of the later operas, is still a remarkably accomplished achievement for a boy of merely twelve years of age.

Die Schuldigkeit Des Ersten Gebots by Classical Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above image by Classical Opera

 

In fact, Mozart first put words and music together in an extended dramatic work of substance during the previous year, 1767, and at the Wigmore Hall it was the turn of Classical Opera to present the whizz kid’s juvenilia, offering a rare chance to hear Die Schuldigkeit Des Ersten Gebots — a setting of Ignaz Anton Weiser’s adaptation of an episode from St Mark’s Gospel, which was composed for performance at the Archbishop of Salzburg’s Palace during the period of Lent, when secular plays and opera were forbidden.

The libretto is a righteous allegory, albeit one presented with a dash of wry drollness. A half-hearted Christian lies sleeping, while Mercy, Justice and the Spirit of Christianity engage in a debate, pontificating vociferously in a series of three sententious arias. When the Christian awakens, he is afraid — perhaps he has overheard Justice’s severe moralising? — but comfort is at hand, in the form of the Spirit of Worldliness who offers him the pleasures of freedom, sensuality and dreams, slyly reassuring him that the warnings he has hearkened are no more than a trap prepared by their common enemy, or a fleeting dream. The Spirit of Christianity seeks to save the wavering Christian from debauchery and damnation, entering disguised as a doctor and warning that ‘spiritual surgery’ is needed. The Christian begins to question him in the hope of learning the elixir of eternal life, but Worldliness, bored by their discussion, declares that the best medicine is gambling, hunting and sexual pleasure. The Christian is, however, impressed by the Christian Spirit’s arguments, and accepts a sealed document in which the ‘miracle cure’ is contained, before Worldliness interrupts and drags off her protégé to a dinner party, leaving the censorious trio to sermonise once more in a concluding ensemble. Whose fault will it be if the Christian is eternally damned? Only his own, they agree.

The action takes place ‘in an agreeable landscape, with a garden and a small wood’; the first performance was probably presented in concert form but with some stylisation and stage setting. Here, COC chose — as is their usual practice — to present the oratorio/cantata in concert performance — the singers’ attire providing the only theatrical signposts: black austerity for Justice and Mercy, glittering creamy gold for the Spirit of Worldliness, and a white coat for the Spirit of Christianity when in medical guise.

But, the plot is simple, the characterisation unambiguous, and the cast told the tale engagingly; and, while the text is often excessively moralistic and highfalutin, the singers made the most of the musical glimpses of the young Mozart’s dry delight in, and tender sympathy for, human shortcomings.

All the cast got through the lengthy recitatives with impressively direct communication and conversational naturalness. Sarah Fox, as Mercy, was particularly assured in this regard, confidently delivering the recitative off-score. In her aria, Mercy objects that men wander from the straight path through lack of willpower and because they do not obey ‘the first commandment’ (the literal translation of the title) — ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God’. Fox sustained the extended melodic lines evenly, but occasionally the large leaps to the upper register lacked a smooth grace.

Mary Bevan was a regal and imperious Spirit of Justice, once her intonation had settled. Bevan injected energy into Justice’s repeated demands that the Christian — ‘the lazy scoundrel’ — should arouse himself from his slumber, a nimble rising figure from the cellos adding a gentle humour as Justice insists that she cannot show tolerance towards souls unworthy of mercy, as it is her duty to reward the righteous and punish the guilty. In the slower second section of the da capo aria, unison string quavers throbbed mordantly, the minor key hinting at the inescapable moment of reckoning that awaits all men.

As the hedonistic Spirit of Worldliness, Ailish Tynan adopted an aptly spirited bearing, her gown and coloratura glittering with equal devilishness. Tynan’s flexible soprano danced through the sprightly rhythms of her aria, executing the coiling runs and trills insouciantly; she demonstrated considerable stamina, and her cadential trills were tight and bright. She exhibited a rich, seductive sheen, although occasionally her voice was less well-focused in the lower register.

Allan Clayton was admirable as the faltering Christian; awakening from his dream, his tenor was movingly earnest and open, as he was reminded of the torments of Hell and Judgement by rushing strings and sharp dotted rhythms. With tender delicacy, Clayton conveyed the vacillations and waverings of the Christian’s soul, complemented by some gentle string playing and a notably agile and accurate, horn obbligato played with assurance and sensitivity by Gavin Edwards. The elaborated vocal repetitions of the da capo were fluid and flexible, Clayton’s melodic lines evenly sustained and well-supported.

Robert Murray sang the Christian Spirit’s opening number, and his ‘diagnostic aria’, with directness and firmness, confidently compassing the upper reaches, extravagantly ornamenting the cadences and demonstrating excellent length of line in the running semi-quaver passages. Murray’s account of the ‘operation’ which would literally ‘make’ humans could have been even more mischievous, but the asides had a playful shrouded quality.

The overture, while not a bad symphonic effort for an eleven-year-old, is a rather repetitive ritornello structure and somewhat uninventive, melodically and harmonically. Though performed with elegance by the players of the Orchestra of Classical Opera, with striking dynamic contrasts, I felt the rather thick scoring demanded a lighter touch, and a faster pace, than conductor Ian Page provided — indeed, there was several places where the tempo seemed rather slow, resulting in a lack of dramatic momentum and musical nimbleness. Page did, however, bring clarity to the inner textures, foregrounding interesting accompaniment motifs, many of which significantly contribute to the musical characterisation.

The youthful composer frequently responded pictorially to the text, painting the words mimetically, and the instrumentalists under the baton of Ian Page were responsive to such details. ‘An enraged lion roars’ as punchy horns growl accompanied by scurrying strings, for example, and at Christianity’s mention of the ‘hideous howling’ emitting from the chasm of Hell a veritable orchestral tumult ensued culminating in eerie harmonic twists as ‘if one of the damned himself/ were to rise up from his grave’!

Although the spirit of mischievous irony which this spiced up Lenten entertainment surely infers was not always sufficiently indulged, there is a childlike sincerity about this work which Classical Opera deftly captured.

This month, the company release a recording of a new partnership with Signum Records, Die Schuldigkeit Des Ersten Gebots — the first enterprise in a new partnership with Signum Records. The two-disc set includes an exclusive feature film on the making of the recording, as well as additional French and Italian translations of the notes, synopsis and libretto, which are provided in English and German in the accompanying liner booklet. Clayton and Fox reprise their roles and they are joined by Andrew Kennedy (Spirit of Christianity), Sophie Bevan (Spirit of Worldliness) and Cora Burggraaf (Justice). Ian Page conducts.

Classical Opera perform more Mozart at the Wigmore Hall on 31 December, and on 30 January and 8 May next year; while on 13 March, they travel across town to Cadogan Hall for a performance of an opera composed at the opposite end of Mozart’s life, La clemenza di Tito.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Justice, Mary Bevan (soprano); The Spirit of Christianity, Robert Murray (tenor); Mercy, Sarah Fox (soprano); The half-hearted Christian, Allan Clayton (tenor); The Spirit of Worldliness, Ailish Tynan (soprano); conductor, Ian Page; The Orchestra of Classical Opera; continuo, Christopher Bucknall (harpsichord), Andrew Skidmore (cello), Cecelia Bruggemeyer (double bass). Classical Opera Company. Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 24th September 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):