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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

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):