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

Das Rheingold, Opera North

Das Rheingold is, of course, the reddest in tooth and claw of all Wagner’s dramas - which is saying something.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Scintillating Strauss in Saint Louis

If you like your Ariadne on Naxos productions as playful as a box of puppies, then Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is the address for you.

Saint Louis Takes On ‘The Scottish Opera’

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis took forty years before attempting Verdi’s Macbeth but judging by the excellence of the current production, it was well worth the wait.

Anatomy Theater: A Most Unusual New Opera

On June 16, 2016, Los Angeles Opera with Beth Morrison Projects presented the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang's Anatomy Theater at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT).

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Jenůfa, ENO

The sharp angles and oddly tilting perspectives of Charles Edwards’ set for David Alden’s production of Jenůfa at ENO suggest a community resting precariously on the security and certainty of its customs, soon to slide from this precipice into social and moral anarchy.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Florilegium
29 Oct 2013

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

At the heart of this Wigmore Hall recital were two sacred vocal works for solo countertenor and small instrumental forces, recently recorded by Florilegium and Robin Blaze to considerable critical acclaim: J.S. Bach’s cantata ‘Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust’ and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s ‘Salve Regina’.

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Florilegium

 

‘Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust’ (Delightful rest, beloved pleasure of the soul) was composed by Bach for performance in St Thomas’s Church, Leipzig, on the sixth Sunday after Trinity and was first heard on 28 July 1726. The text speaks of the desire to lead a virtuous in order to enter Heaven. The opening aria, with its lilting, flowing rhythms, was endowed with a tender, pastoral mood, the oboe d’amore (Alexandra Bellamy) blending soothingly with the strings and organ. Robin Blaze’s pure, even vocal line complemented the instrumental timbre and his delivery was confident and focused, although the text was not always enunciated with absolute clarity. Blaze spun sustained legato lines, particularly in the piano passages, but at times I found the countertenor’s tendency to heighten a particular word or phrase with a sudden crescendo or dynamic emphasis created an overly stark contrast of tone and diminished the effect of the effortlessly unfolding melodic contours.

Expressive contrasts of this nature were, however, put to good use in the following recitative, ‘Die Welt, das Sündenhaus’ (The world, that house of sin), which paints a picture of a sinful earth in league with the devil. Blaze almost snarled as he presented a vision of man who ‘sucht durch Hass und Neid/ Des Satans Bild an sich zu tragen’ (seeks through hate and spite/ The devil’s image e’er to cherish), while his humble address, ‘Gerechter Gott, wie weit ist doch der Mensch von dir entfernet’ (O righteous God, how far in truth is man from thee divided), was hushed and distant, aptly conveying meekness and regret.

The second aria, ‘Wie jammern mich doch die verkehrten Herzen’ (What sorrow fills me for these wayward spirits) opened with a dry preface, indicative of the speaker’s grief for the ‘wayward spirits’ who have ignored the Word of God. With the continuo line silent, Blaze struggled at times to blend with the rather sparse, and unusual, instrumental texture of two-part organ (now taking an obliggato role) with violins and violas in unison; in the lower pitched passages the countertenor sometimes lacked impact, although Blaze demonstrated virtuosic agility in the more florid passage work.

The following recitative, ‘Wer sollte sich demnach/ Wohl hier zu leben wünschen’ (Who shall, therefore, desire to live in this existence) was dark and eerie; the still chords of the strings and continuo plunged to a lower register to haunting effect, while the strings brought bright movement to the singer’s earnest plea, ‘bei Gott zu leben,/ Der selbst die Liebe heißt’ ([my heart] seeks alone with God its dwelling,/ Who is himself called love).

The rather bleak text of the final aria, ‘Mir ekelt mehr zu leben’ (I am sick to death of living), was mitigated by the glowing warmth of the oboe d’amore and the delicate traceries of the organ’s florid ornamentation (played with assurance by Terence Charlston) which together beautiful embodied the comforts and glory of Heaven. Blaze’s vocal phrases were impassioned but controlled, the lines graceful and flowing, the text imbued with meaning without recourse to melodrama.

Pergolesi’s ‘Salve Regina’ — originally in C Minor for soprano but later adapted for countertenor in F Minor — was composed during the last years of the composer’s short life, when he was in the employ of the Duke of Maddaloni. Suffering from tuberculosis, Pergolesi at times withdrew to a Franciscan monastery in Pozzuoli, Naples, and the ‘Salve Regina’ was written during the composer’s final retreat.

Here, Robin Blaze adopted a more theatrical mode, bringing greater urgency to the text which eulogises the Virgin Mary in a series of contrasting movements. Following a plangent string introduction, the singer issued resonant entreaties to the Virgin, to cast her blessing and mercy on the ‘poor banished children of Eve’ who languish on earth. Blaze’s elongated lyrical lines were deeply expressive of the mourning of mankind, ‘in hac lacrimarum valle’ (weeping in this valley of tears). He brought initially a surprising vigour to his plea, ‘Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventis tui’ (show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus), then allowed the melody to evolve with poise and sweetness.

A heartfelt cry, ‘O clemens’, opened the final aria, as Blaze conveyed the sincere and solemn emotions of the text, before a final whispered declaration of reverence. Overall, this was a well-considered interpretation, one which balanced dramatic intensity with elegant grace, and which revealed Blaze’s wide-ranging technical expertise.

The vocal items were nested within various instrumental works. In the opening item, Telemann’s Overture in A Minor for Recorder and strings, director Ashley Solomon used an engagingly wide range of dynamics and impressively shaped crescendos to draw in the listener; the melodic lines had an extensive fluidity, while the ‘Air à Italien’ benefited from some markedly vigorous accents from the cello which acted as a springboard for the dance.

Throughout the evening, the instrumental support from the members of Florilegium was unfailingly sensitive and idiomatic: textures were homogenous and mellifluous, and a shared awareness of stylistically appropriate ‘good taste’ was ever-present. What was perhaps lacking was a dash of the spontaneous or unpredictable, and, at times, greater rhythmic verve and vigour — although Jennifer Morsches’ pizzicato cello utterances did much to brighten and enliven. That said, the facility and virtuosity of all, and the sweetness of tone — invigorated with occasional harmonic piquancy — ensured the audience’s considered and appreciative attentiveness. The running semiquavers of Handel’s Sonata in Bb for solo violin and strings were injected with drama. And, the Andante of Telemann’s Concerto in E for flute, oboe d’amore, viola d’amore and strings possessed a beautifully airy weightlessness, while the subsequent Allegro showcased the expressive presence and eloquence of Alexandra Bellamy’s oboe d’amore playing.

Claire Seymour


Programme and performers:

Telemann — Suite in A minor TWV55:A3; J.S. Bach — Cantata BWV170 ‘Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust’; Handel — Sonata a 5 in Bb HWV288; Pergolesi — Salve Regina in F minor; Telemann — Concerto in E for flute, oboe d’amore and viola d’amore TWV53:E1

Florilegium — Ashley Solomon (Director), flute/recorder; Robin Blaze, countertenor; Alexandra Bellamy, oboe d’amore; Bojan Cicic, violin 1/viola d’amore; Sophie Barber, violin 2; Magdalena Loth-Hill, violin 3; Malgorzata Ziemkiewicz, viola; Jennifer Morsches, cello; Carina Cosgrave, bass; Terence Charlston, harpsichord/chamber organ. Robin Blaze, countertenor. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 23rd October 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):