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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

11 Dec 2013

War Requiem, Chicago Symphony

As part of this year’s tribute to Benjamin Britten the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists recently gave several performances of the composer’s War Requiem.

War Requiem, Chicago Symphony

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: "Two bewildered old ladies stand amid the leveled ruins of the almshouse which was Home; until Jerry dropped his bombs. Total war knows no bounds. Almshouse bombed Feb. 10, Newbury, Berks., England." February 11, 1943 [Source: U.S. National Archives]

 

The featured singers were soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, tenor John Mark Ainsley, and baritone Matthias Goerne. In addition to the Chicago Symphony Chorus expertly prepared by Duain Wolff, the Chicago Children’s Chorus showed the careful supervision of its Artistic Director Josephine Lee. The Orchestra, soloists, and choruses were brought together under the direction of conductor Charles Dutoit.

Britten’s large-scale work was performed with deep respect yet also with the vitality that is needed to render a fresh impression of its predominantly pacifist sentiment. The soft choral repetitions on “Requiem aeternam dona eis” [“Eternal rest grant to them”] at both the beginning and end of the piece established such a requisite tone and allowed for variations by soloists, orchestra, and the choruses within these parameters. In the first solo piece, “What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?,” Mr. Ainsley made an energetic leap into the poetic text by Wilfred Owen. His clear and idiomatic pronunciation underscored the ironic use of words from the realm of prayer and church-services used here to describe gun-and shellfire. Ainsley’s skilled sense of vocal decoration showed in his melismas on the words “prayers” and “rapid” to eluciate the violent sounds of war, just as “wailing” was similarly emphasized as both the sound of a rushing shell and the emotions elicited by its destructive force. High pitches on “held” and “speed” in the third stanza led into a gradual deceleration as Ainsley sang the concluding line, “and each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds,” with a tempo matching the import of the text.

The intervening orchestral and choral passages devoted to the “Kyrie” and the “Dies irae” were played with stately emphasis and with careful attention focused on exposed writing for the brass. The second poem of Owen following immediately features the baritone as solo performer. In “Bugles sang” Mr. Goerne showed sensitivity to modulating his voice in the higher reaches at the start of the poem in Brittten’s scoring, while he ended the piece with an impressive, nearly bass emphasis in “Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.” Between those parts Goerne’s projection on sustained pitches showed an unpleasant waver which tended to diminish his dramatic effect. At the entrance of the soprano and the return to Latin text, the “Liber scriptus” was declaimed with authority and a secure sense of pitch. Ms. Pavlovskaya gave an impressive performance with high notes sung forte on the first and third syllables of each verse culminating in awe before the “Rex tremendae majestatis” (“King of tremendous majesty”) of the final stanza. The concluding verse as an appeal for mercy was sung with an equally effective piano line.

In the first of several duets for tenor and baritone, “Out there we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death,” Ainsley and Goerne traced their vocal lines at times together, at times apart, as they portrayed two soldiers caught up in a combat platoon facing Death. In an emphatic reaction to this chilling prospect, both singers embellished their lines, “we laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.” Ainsley’s final recitation of “for Life, not men” with soft introspection led the pair back to the sober reckoning of war’s generic toll. Following the stately pronouncements of the choral “Recordare” Goerne invested Owen’s poem, “Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,” with sinister force. The metaphor of an arm for a “gun towering toward Heaven” was caught in the baritone’s chilling curse demanding that this limb be separated “from our soul.”

In each of the next few numbers for chorus and soloists bells sound at the conclusion as if in dignified recognition that individual participants of the conflict are commended to the earth. Ainsley’s elegy for a fallen soldier, “Move him into the sun,” was especially poignant for his emphasis on the “fatuous” sunbeams which can no longer break this sleep. The next duet for baritone and tenor, introduced with distinctive performances by the CSO woodwinds, was held together expertly under Dutoit’s leadership. The narration by the soloists of the story of Abram and Isaac was punctuated by the children’s chorus singing the Latin “Offertory.” In this ironic statement on the Old Testament sacrifice being fulfilled through the horrors of war, the ensemble worked together as seamlessly as in the following “Sanctus.” Here Pavlovskaya performed with full chorus in her declaration to the deity. Embellishments taken on “sanctus” and “in nomine Domini” as well as a rising melisma on “in excelsis” (“in the highest”) were executed at full voice with the chorus providing an echoing background. In the final duet for baritone and tenor, “Let us sleep now,” an increasing complexity of melodic line was again supported by the choral forces in their growing appeal for peace. The final shudder of “Amen” united the ensemble in this epitaph for an end to conflicts.

Salvatore Calomino

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):