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

Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry

As a whole, this concert proved a curious affair. It probably made more sense in the context of Thomas Adès’s series of Beethoven and Barry concerts with the Britten Sinfonia. The idea of a night off from the symphonic Beethoven to turn to chamber works was, in principle, a good one, but the sole Gerald Barry piece here seemed oddly out of place – and not in a productive, provocative way. Even the Beethoven pieces did not really seem to fit together especially well. A lovely performance of the op.16 Quintet nevertheless made the evening worthwhile.

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Michel Lambert [Source: Wikipedia]
24 Dec 2013

Les Arts Florissants: Airs sérieux et à boire

In this unusual programme of late-seventeenth-century airs de cour, Les Arts Florissants presented a flowing sequence of songs for solo and ensemble voices with chamber accompaniment, the intimacy of the Wigmore Hall neatly mimicking the privacy of the royal chambers of Louis XIV in which the courtly compositions were originally performed.

Les Arts Florissants: Airs sérieux et à boire

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Michel Lambert [Source: Wikipedia]

 

The career of singer and theorbo player Michel Lambert may be a mere footnote to that of his more prominent son-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Lully, but it was Lambert who — having initially arrived at the court as a ballet dancer — served the King as Maitre de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi for 36 years until his death in 1696. Working in collaboration with Lully, the King’s perennial favourite, Lambert devised and produced lavish entertainments — the imposing dramatic works and church compositions that we most readily associate with the monarch’s reign. But, in addition, he also composed approximately 300 songs, numbers which are often self-consciously idealistic or sardonically witty — fodder to flatter the monarch and his fawning courtiers.

Adopting a quasi-operatic approach, Les Arts Florissants, almost imperceptibly directed from the harpsichord by William Christie, interspersed Lambert’s airs with songs by his contemporaries — Marc-Antoine Charpentier, François Couperin, Joseph Chabanceau de la Barre and Honoré d’Ambruys — weaving a seamless dramatic thread. They thus enacted an inventive, exuberant tale of love, lust and loyalty, in which the wedding plans of soprano Emmanuelle de Negri and baritone Marc Mauillon were interrupted by the amorous interventions of tenor Cyril Auvity and mezzo soprano Anna Reinhold, with bass Lisandro Abadie wryly commenting on the occasionally dissolute goings-on.

The air de cour was eventually subsumed by the rising tide of French opera; perhaps Les Art Florissants were arguing for the significance of Lambert’s dramatic airs in the development of the French opera tradition that would come to fruition at the hands of Lully and Rameau. Thus, the musical delights were served up as theatrical feast for our delectation, highlighting not the individual nature of each song, but linking the parts in a continuous progression. This ‘staging’ did have the advantage of introducing some variety — of pace, context and texture — into a series of songs which are broadly consistent in idiom and ambience, and also allowed for broader musical sweeps without the interruptions of audience applause.

Yet, often the playful antics — lovelorn swooning, secret embraces — seemed distracting and unnecessary. These courtly airs are intimate and subtle, rather than self-indulgently theatrical. Rick Jones’s programme notes suggest that in the satirical airs à boire the essence can be reduced to the mocking maxim, ‘Love is pain, therefore kill me’. But, it seems to me that there is a closer relationship between the poetry and its musical expression: that the sentiments of these melancholy, at times explicit, lyric poems — which admittedly do frequently express the anguish of the spurned or dejected lover, one who is almost without hope — are those of genuine loss and regret. Too much tom-foolery risks diminishing the unaffected emotional intensity conveyed by Lambert’s polished style in which, through scrupulous repetitions, elegant ornamentations and affecting chromaticism, text, voices and instruments fuse inseparably.

However, this misgiving aside (and judging from the audience’s jubilant reception, I suspect my reservations were shared by few!), musical standards were unwaveringly superb, voices and instruments in perfect balance. In Lambert’s ‘Le repos, l’ombre, le silence’ (Stillness, gloom, silence) the simplicity of the airy texture, with treble and bass lines widely spaced, emphasised the confidential, complicit mood; while the intertwining voices in ‘Ah, qui voudra désormais s’engager’ (Ah, who now will ever wish to pledge his love?) and ‘Il faut mourir plutôt que de changer’ (’Tis better to die than e’er to change) created restless exigency. Auvity’s solo rendition of Lambert’s ‘Iris n’est plus’ revealed an expressive flexibility in tone, rhythm and response to the text that provided an engaging contrast to the more homogeneous approach of the other singers, who tended towards an open, full and even style of delivery — undoubtedly beautiful but rather more ‘operatic’, projecting outwards, than Auvity’s beguiling manner of drawing the audience in.

Reinhold and Mauillon gave a deeply moving performance of ‘Le doux silence de nos bois’ (The soft silence of the woods) by Honoré d’Ambruys. Above the repeating rising bass line, the mezzo soprano’s opulent legato radiantly embraced the ornate melodic line while the tenor provided sweet yet more grainy foundations, suggesting in the first stanza the happiness of youth, ‘the time for tender loves and pleasures’ and, in the second, the gentle melancholy of regret.

Compositions by Marc-Antoine Charpentier introduced a lighter, more ribald tone, most particularly in ‘Intermèdes nouveaux du Mariage forcé’, incidental music for Molière’s farcical drama Le Mariage force in which the elegant rhythms of the minuet and gavotte were overwhelmed by the grotesque antics of the three male singers as Charpentier parodies the theatrical style and excesses of his Italian rivals. Auvity, Mauillon and Abadie delighted in the parodic vein, their ‘belle symphonie’ a mocking medley of onomatopoeic whelps and woofs; joined by de Negri and Reinhold, they formed parodic homage to the Soul of Music and Genius of Harmony aloft in the Wigmore Hall cupola, an ironic visual accompaniment to Charpentier’s final line: ‘Oh! Le jolie concert et la belle harmonie!’

William Christie’s ever-urbane accompaniments — all stylish grace notes and refined countermelodies — were never intrusive. Theorbo player, Thomas Dunford displayed effortless virtuosity, and for once the instrument’s intricacies were clearly audible, a superb balance being maintained throughout. Complementing Dunford’s agile embellishments, the string lines of Myriam Rignol (viola da gamba) and violinists Florence Malgoire and Tami Troman entwined tastefully and lamentingly with the voices. The rhythmic suppleness of Rignol’s varying chaconne line in the two-part air, ‘Quand une âme est bien atteinte’ (Once a soul is captivated) wonderfully captured the changes of affekt.

The only air employing all five voices was the final song by Lambert, a setting of Jean de la Fontaine’s ‘Tout l’Univers obéit à ‘l’amour’ in which de Negri’s pure soprano soared above the other voices before all came to rest with the fittingly homophonous closing line, ‘Aimez, aimez le reste n’est rien’.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

William Christie, director; Emmanuelle de Negri, soprano; Anna Reinhold, mezzo-soprano; Cyril Auvity, high tenor; Marc Mauillon, baritone; Lisandro Abadie, bass. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday 19th December 2013.

Lambert, ‘D’un feu secret je me sens consommer’, ‘Le repos, l’ombre, le silence’, ‘Ah! qui voudra désormais s’engager?’, ‘Il faut mourir plustost que de changer’; Couperin, ‘Épitaphe d’un paresseux’, ‘Les Pellerines’; Lambert, ‘Iris n’est plus’, ‘Bien que l’amour’; Chabanceau de la Barre, ‘Quand une âme est bien atteinte’; Charpentier, ‘Intermède nouveau from Le Mariage forcé’; Lambert, ‘Chantez, chantez petits oiseaux’, ‘Pour vos beaux yeux, Iris’, ‘Que d’amans separez languissent nuit et jour; d’Ambruys, ‘Le doux silence de nos bois’; Charpentier, ‘Ayant bu du vin clairet’, ‘Auprès du feu l’on fait l’amour, ‘Vos petits yeux’; Lambert, ‘Jugez de ma douleur’, ‘Il est vrai, l’amour est charmant’, ‘Tout l’univers obéit à l’Amour’.

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):