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

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sophie Bevan [Photo © Sussie Ahlburg]
29 Nov 2013

Early Opera Company: Acis and Galatea

Acis and Galatea was one of Handel’s most popular works, frequently revived in his life time and beyond.

Early Opera Company: Acis and Galatea

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sophie Bevan [Photo © Sussie Ahlburg]

 

This vibrant, stylish performance by the Early Opera Company, under the direction of Christian Curnyn, left us in no doubt as to why it was one of the few of Handel’s large-scale works to remain popular after the composer’s death. As the drama swiftly unfolded, the stream of glorious melodies rang forth one after the other, spanning the full dramatic gamut from elation to despair, from fury to resignation.

The first performance of the work in 1718 was a private one, at James Brydges’ elegant house, Cannons, where Handel had been fortunate to gain employment following the closure of the King’s Theatre in 1717. Described as a ‘masque’, Acis and Galatea is typical of the short works on pastoral or mythological subjects which represented a home-grown ‘rejoinder’ in the face of the increasing public taste for Italian opera during the early eighteenth century.

The libretto — which was probably co-authored by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes — is drawn from Dryden’s translation of the thirteenth book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which appeared in London in 1717. It depicts a romance which unites earthly and immortal realms. The sea nymph Galatea is pining for her beloved, Acis; unbeknown to her, the young shepherd is simultaneously searching for her, anxious to be reunited with his cherished Galatea. The rational, worldly-wise Damon warns Acis that he is neglecting his duties, but the impetuous shepherd heeds not his friend, and eventually the lovers are reunited. However, the arrival of the love-struck monster Polyphemus soon spoils the celebrations, for the giant demands that Galatea transfer her affections to himself; when she refuses and Acis rises in fury against the giant, Polyphemus crushes Acis to death under a boulder. Distraught, Galatea is reminded of her divine powers: she transforms the dead Acis into a stream, thus granting him immortality.

Christian Curnyn launched into the overture with verve, the dynamic, animated playing of the instrumentalists setting the high standard of playing that was sustained throughout the evening and establishing a gripping dramatic momentum. Ensemble was exemplary, and the stylish execution, full of intensity but always elegant, was impressive, as the players painted an Arcadian scene.

The influence of Purcell, especially Dido and Aeneas, is evident in the way in which the chorus is intimately involved in the drama. On the rather crowded Wigmore Hall platform, the five singers were seated behind the instrumentalists, forming a well-blended chorus from which they emerged to take their solo roles, thereby both participating in and reflecting on the action.

The opening chorus instituted the mood of Arcadian serenity, the five voices intermingling with ease and simplicity, initially creating a sense of breadth, before the introduction of some relaxed counterpoint and points of imitation. In contrast, ‘Wretched lovers!’, which commences Act 2 was full of foreboding, and in the unaccompanied lament, ‘Mourn all ye muses’, sung over the body of the slain Acis, the consort of voices was touching but not sentimental, particularly at the line, ‘The gentle Acis is no more’.

The soloists were uniformly excellent.

As Galatea, Sophie Bevan produced a luscious Italianate cantilena, her gorgeous tone resonating sensuously throughout the hall. In ‘Hush ye pretty warbling choir’, her nimble vocal line melded sweetly with the sopranino recorder and upper strings. Handel’s technical challenges presented no problem for Bevan: trills were neat, ornaments not excessive. The recitative which precedes her aria of mourning, ‘Heart, the seat of soft desire’, was poignant, and her subsequent earnest command, ‘Rock, thy hollow womb disclose! The bubbling fountain!’ consoling; while the line ‘Lo! it flows’, suggested a touchingly hesitant joy. In this final aria, the sparkling treble recorders of Ian Wilson and Hannah McLaughin, accompanied by mellifluous, undulating strings, wonderfully evoked the magic of the fountain into which Acis has metamorphosed.

Robert Murray demonstrated a lovely sense of line as Acis. He made much of what is essential quite a weak role dramatically, combining passion and lyricism, both assertive and elegant. ‘Where shall I seek the maiden fair?’ was full of the naïve haste of youth; in the second Act, Murray skilfully suggested the shepherd’s growing emotional maturity, shaping the dynamic rises in ‘Love sounds th'alarm’ with intelligence and craftsmanship. His penetrating melody was gratifyingly complemented by Katharina Spreckelsen superb oboe playing.

As Damon, Samuel Boden’s graceful, light tenor provided a pleasing contrast to Murray’s more ardent tone. Boden captured well Damon’s composure and wisdom; ‘Consider, fond Shepard’, in which he attempts to quell Acis’s jealous anger had elegance and presence. Boden sang with sweet, refined tone, especially in an eloquent ‘Consider, fond shepherd’. ‘Would you gain the tender creature’ — an appeal to Polyphemus to essay a gentler line of seduction — would surely have charmed anyone but this unfeeling brute.

To lose one villain was unfortunate, but to lose two could have been potentially disastrous, had Matthew Rose not been available to step into the breach when first Derek Welton, and then his replacement Ashley Riches, were unable to perform the role of Polyphemus. From his first utterance, ‘I rage, I melt, I burn’, Rose filled the auditorium with a rich and profoundly satisfying sound.

Both fearsome and grotesque, in this opening accompanied recitative and throughout the opera he conveyed the essential complexity of the role: are we supposed to laugh at the lovelorn ogre whose gauche compliments and endearments fail to impress, or to protest at his vicious, petulant cruelty which shatters the lovers’ harmony? Probably both; and, in the following aria, ‘O ruddier than the cherry’, Rose conveyed the immensity of the Cyclopean monster’s burning love for Galatea and his fiery hatred for Acis.

Ian Wilson’s delightfully sprightly recorder obbligato reminded us of Ovid’s humorous depiction of Polyphemus as a ferocious goliath who plays an outsized set of shepherd’s pipes! Polyphemus is the dramatic catalyst, disrupting the Elysian bliss, and Rose’s ferocious interjections in the peaceful duet, ‘The flocks shall leave the mountains’, brutally shattered the lovers’ calm avowals of constancy and steadfastness. Curnyn and his performers were justifiably radiant as they acknowledged the appreciative and heartfelt applause. This was a fantastic, engaging performance with not a single weak link. A fabulous evening.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Robert Murray, tenor (as Acis); Sophie Bevan, soprano (as Galatea); Samuel Boden, tenor (as Damon); Matthew Rose, baritone (as Polyphemus); David de Winter, tenor (as Coridon); Christian Curnyn, director, harpsichord. Wigmore Hall, London, 27th 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):