Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

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):