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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

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):