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

Britten Sinfonia
09 Nov 2013

Barbican Britten

The mantle of tenor Peter Pears’ legacy hung heavily over his immediate ‘successors’, as they performed music that had been composed by Benjamin Britten for the man to whom he avowed, ‘I write every note with your heavenly voice in my head’.

Barbican Britten

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Britten Sinfonia

 

However, Robert Tear, John Vickers, Philip Langridge and others established themselves as worthy and independent heirs, forging interpretations which were original, insightful and distinctive. Today we are fortunate to have a stellar crop of tenors who bring unique and fresh insights to Britten’s music, but it is a rare combination of cerebral insight and visceral but controlled passion which characterises Ian Bostridge’s responses and which makes his performances so captivating.

Written for the 1936 Norwich Festival, Britten’s orchestral song cycle Our Hunting Fathers certainly demands of its soloist both intellectual perspicacity and emotional immersion, two erudite, philosophical poems by W.H. Auden — Britten’s perennial collaborator during the 1930s — framing three energised Anglo-Saxon texts, the latter modernised by Auden. As Britten anticipated, the first performance, by the LPO and soloist Sophie Wyss, was not well-received: superficially the poetry examines man’s relationship with the animal kingdom, but there exists a both a political dimension and a less obvious sexual sub-text which the local audience were slow to perceive or appreciate, Auden’s complex imagery and verbal dexterity proving overly recondite.

This performance by Ian Bostridge, accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Paul Daniel, brought clarity and focus to the superficially obscure poetry, brilliantly conveying the musical structure which unites the diversity of styles required to communicate the varied sentiments of the texts.

In the opening recitative of the ‘Prologue’, marked sempre ad lib., Bostridge’s tone was restrained, perfectly emulating the parsonical mood of the words; the dry orchestral accompaniment facilitated the supremacy of the vocal line. Daniel encouraged the woodwind — who played superbly throughout the evening — in their interjections which contrast with the sustained string chords, casting light on significant lines of text: ‘the poles between which our desire unceasingly is discharged.’ At the image of the ‘extraordinary compulsion of the deluge and earthquake’, Bostridge’s rising minor ninths were deeply poignant, the sustained ppp string chord with trilling side drum and snares surging to an explosive fff.

‘Rats Away!’ is an anonymous medieval text which depicts animals as vermin, the primarily wind-based orchestration and scurrying musical material presenting an unsentimental, hard-edged world.

Bostridge’s virtuosic dexterity was evident in his florid melismatic variant of the opening orchestral gestures; he projected the scalic figure, ‘Rats!’, with clarity and precision combined with cadenza-like energy — aspiring with propulsive vigour towards the climactic, sustained high A — while Daniel drew forth a shrill timbre from the tremolando strings and flutter-tonguing woodwind. A contrasting mood was established in the central section, the voice articulating a sort of invocatory prayer in discourse with a legato solo viola (Clare Finnimore); here, Bostridge shaped the passage with consummate control, incisively accenting the leaping octaves which announce the names of the Evangelists and driving towards the intervallic expansiveness of the climactic phrase, ‘That these names were utter’d in’. The insistent repetitions of the three-note ‘Rats!’ motif in the recapitulation were terrifyingly dynamic, and the tenor’s final throw-away ‘Amen’, dropping from high decorative exclamations to a low D, after a laden pause, sardonically emphasised the satirical nature of the religious statements in the text — a cynicism which was further confirmed by the motivic continuations of the unison strings, which Daniel guided into ambiguous dissolution.

In ‘Messalina’ we move from public to private domains, as the singer mourns the loss of his pet monkey. Bostridge’s drooping lament, ‘Ay, ay me, alas, heigh ho!’, richly resonated with the hollowness of the divided strings’ opening 5ths, the singer’s glissandi falling 7ths both musically precise and ardently expressive. The narrative lines, ‘Thus doth Messalina go/ Up and down the house a-cry’, possessed a folk-like naivety, as the solo woodwind melodies intertwined with the voice. The elaborate, melismatic cries of ‘Fie!’ were electrifying: Bostridge was not afraid to push his voice to the limits through the tumbling major/minor thirds, the quiet registral expanse of soaring molto espressivo e vibrato strings above deep tuba and trombone expressed both the wide scope of emotions experienced and the chasm of grief. The tenor’s stabbing crotchets, ‘Fie!’, dissipated into despair and some beautiful solos from horn, bassoon and alto saxophone, the latter lyrically played by Christian Forshaw, led us without pause into Britten’s setting of Thomas Ravenscroft’s ‘Dance of Death’ — ‘Hawking for the Partridge’.

The tenor’s initial roll call of predators — ‘Beauty, Timble, Trover, Damsel’ — was savage, the tight tarantella rhythm a parody of the traditional hunting song. Bostridge whistled through his teeth, the repeated rising 9th, ‘Whurrrrret!’, penetrating and discomforting; indeed, the sense of a self-gratifying pleasure in violence is given an ominous twist in the subsequent passage, where the isolation and repetition of the words ‘Travel Jew’ portentously equates the ritual killing of animals with the ‘Jew-hunting’ perpetrated by Nazi Germany — as ever, Bostridge was alert to every nuance and inference of the text, and to the musical opportunities for its expression. Daniel drew forth the multitude of onomatopoeic motifs — the woodwinds’ staccato flurry of feathers, the horn’s rasping glissandi of alarm — creating a mood of terror and hysteria.

The conductor sustained the insistent rhythms of the ‘Dance of Death’ in the concluding ‘Epilogue and Funeral March’; the ostinato xylophone soullessly suggested man’s inability to break out of the endless cycle of cruelty and despair. This movement possesses a disturbing tension and ambiguity, and Bostridge and Daniel made much of the contrasts between Auden’s two stanzas, exploiting Britten’s interjections and imitative sounds.

Auden’s first stanza describes the traditional self-assurance of man, who pities the animals’ undirected innocence and whose own love, the driving power which motivates the individual, is tempered by reason. However, in the second stanza Auden proposes a ‘modern’ view of a love which leads to guilt and self-regard, adapting lines from Lenin to ask us to imagine a man who has modified his ‘southern gestures’ and makes it his ambition only ‘To hunger, work illegally,/ And be anonymous?’

Bostridge’s extended melisma, contrasting powerfully with the composure of the preceding syllabic lines, was finely crafted: initially restrained — recalling the opening of the ‘Prologue’ — then flowering exquisitely into an impassioned arioso. In the concluding funeral march, Daniel fashioned a controlled disintegration, as the bass faded away leaving hard col legno and pizzicato strings to offer the final inconclusive, pessimistic utterances.

Elsewhere in the programme the prodigious talents of the Britten Sinfonia — individually and collectively — were much on display. A pacy reading of Britten’s arrangement of Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor allowed the strings to demonstrate their responsive appreciation of the composer’s rhythmic vitality and impulsiveness, as well as their feeling for colour and dynamic range. Daniel’s flexible, free direction suggested that he is a dancer manqué, so lithe and unconstrained were his gestures.

Young pianist, Lara Melda — the winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2010 — was a dazzling soloist in Britten’s Young Apollo (for piano, string quartet and string orchestra), sparkling through the rising scales in scintillating fashion above gleaming, brilliant strings. Her reading was full of the bright optimism of youth; fittingly, for the work was first performed in Toronto in 1939 with the 25-year-old composer himself at the keyboard.

Tippett’s Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli was engagingly theatrical, the textures rich and the elaborate ornamentations lavishly conveyed. Soloists Thomas Gould (violin), Miranda Dale (violin) and Caroline Dearnley (cello) were superb, Gould in particular galvanising all the instrumentalists to offer an uplifting, deeply committed performance.

Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes bears the sub-title ‘A Time There Was’ — an allusion to Thomas Hardy’s Winter Words — and the inscription, ‘lovingly and reverently dedicate to the memory of Percy Grainger’. At first glance, it might be felt that Britten and Grainger have little in common, but a penetratingly creative engagement with English folk-song links the two disparate personalities, and in this performance Daniel demonstrated a discerning appreciation of the relationship between the simple, straightforward folk-song melodies and the, at times, disruptive accompaniments. The final movement, a setting of ‘Lord Melbourne’ which was collected by Grainger, was imbued with a draining dejection, redolent of Hardy’s verse.

Claire Seymour

‘Barbican Britten’ continues until 24th November — see www.barbican.org.uk for further details.


Programme and performers:

Henry Purcell, arr. Benjamin Britten, Chacony in G Minor; Benjamin Britten, Young Apollo Op.16; Michael Tippett,Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli; Benjamin Britten, Our Hunting Fathers, Op.8; Benjamin Britten, Suite on English Folk Tunes (A Time There Was). Ian Bostridge, tenor; Lara Melda, piano; Paul Daniel, conductor; Britten Sinfonia. Barbican Centre, London, Friday 8th November 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):