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

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lucy Crowe [Photo © Harmonia Mundi USA Marco Borgreve]
25 Jan 2014

Francesco Bartolomeo Conti: L’Issipile

Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (1681-1732) isn’t a name that trips off opera-goers’ tongues; similarly neglected is Conti’s last opera L’Issipile, despite the fact that composer (who was also a theorbo player at the Viennese Imperial Court) was the first of several opera composers to set Metastasio’s libretto.

Francesco Bartolomeo Conti: L’Issipile

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lucy Crowe [Photo © Harmonia Mundi USA Marco Borgreve]

 

The dramma per musica was premiered at the Imperial Court Theatre in Vienna during the Carnival of 1732, but was not a great success, and was granted only three performances; perhaps, if the cast of Baroque specialists and instrumentalists presenting the opera at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday evening had been on duty on 7th February 1732, the story might have been different … for this outstanding and utterly absorbing performance by La Nuova Musica and a stellar set of soloists made for a thrilling musical evening.

Metastasio’s opera seria combines two Classical myths: that of Jason and the Argonauts and the tale of the rebellion by the women of Lemnos. Perhaps the violent nature of the subject — the vengeful slaughter of the men of Lemnos — was off-putting for early-eighteenth-century audiences and the Viennese court.

The action unfolds on the island of Lemnos, in the Aegean Sea. The soldiers of Lemnos have won their battle on the neighbouring island, Thrace, but attracted by the wealth and beauty of their enemy’s women, they have delayed their return home. Eventually their King, Thoas, eager to attend the wedding of his daughter, Issipile, to Giasone (Jason), convinces them to wend their way homeward; but, their irate, vengeful wives have hatched a terrible plot to kill their husbands upon their arrival, using the distractions of the festival of Bacchus to mask their vicious intent. Issipile tries to warn her father; she hides him and tells the other women that he has already been killed. This action, however, causes her to be rejected twice: first, by Jason who condemns this act of patricide, and then by the Lemnos women, when they discover the truth.

Eurynome, the leader of the women, is especially angered, as her son, Learchus, has previously been spurned by Issipile and forced to flee from Lemnos following a failed attempt to abduct her; it is rumoured that in desperation he has killed himself in exile. In fact, he has become a pirate and, hearing of Jason’s return, Learchus travels to Lemnos and hides in the palace, planning a second kidnap attempt. However, Issipile’s goodness wins through in the end: the virtuous are saved, the evil punished, the lovers married and Lemnos restored to peace.

An inconsequential tale, but one which inspired Conti to compose substantial arias of great power and passion, interspersed within lengthy, varied recitatives, many of which are accompagnato. High voices dominate and the six roles form effective pairs, the female roles being particularly strongly characterised.

Soprano Lucy Crowe infused Issipile’s virtuosic arias with both intensity and delicacy — often, paradoxically, simultaneously — capturing both the tenderness of her filial devotion and the ache of marital passion. The long aria which closes the first act exemplified the way that Crowe employed both penetration and sweetness — top Cs floated effortlessly, the vocal acrobatics were effortlessly agile — to portray the self-doubt which tinges the heroine’s virtue; the vocal delights were enhanced by striking variations of tempo, stirring harmonies and inventive motifs from the violins.

Crowe was perfectly complemented by the sentimental warmth of tone of soprano Rebecca Bottone, as Rodope. The lyricism and clarity of Bottone’s recitatives was deeply communicative. The Act 1 aria, in which Issipile’s confidante gives the villainous Learchus a lesson in moral philosophy, combined seriousness of intent with a persuasively seductive, luxurious tone. The sequential interplay between voice and strings, and the beautiful, rich earnestness of the soprano’s lower register in the da capo repeat, was profoundly moving; surely such musical reflections and exhortations would deflect a jealous blackguard from his evil ways…

Learchus is an anti-hero of Iago-like proportions. His intrigues and machinations were superbly rendered by countertenor Flavio Ferri-Benedetti; his relentless evil — conveyed by stunning vocal leaps from crystalline heights to resonant depths — was riveting, while his conceited pouting and strutting, embellished with tightly pulsating trills, entertained. The final scene in which Learchus, mid-way through his assassination-abduction mission, recognises his own erroneousness and imprudence and stabs himself in self-chastising remorse, was gripping. (Ferri-Benedetti is clearly the man to go to if you want to learn about Conti: currently completing a doctoral thesis on Metastasian heroines, the countertenor both prepared the edition of the score and provided the English translation of the libretto which was projected onto the wall of the Wigmore Hall cupola.)

And, what a treat for the audience to have two countertenors of such star quality to beguile them. The devil may have all the best tunes, but Lawrence Zazzo, as Giasone, equalled Ferri-Benedetti in the posing and strutting department. Zazzo’s recitatives were particularly fluent and flexible, and he used elegance and graceful evenness of phrase to convey Giasone’s essential honesty and righteousness.

John Mark Ainsley’s unfailingly beautiful, well-centred tone embodied the dignity and fair-mindedness of Thoas, as well as the sincerity and depth of his love for his daughter. His life may have been in danger, but Thoas never wavered, exuding calm composure and confident nobility throughout. Mark Ainsley encompassed the extraordinarily wide range with ease; the melodic arcs were wonderful spun, underpinned in Thoas’s second aria by dense but delicate contrapuntal lines of the strings, the minor tonality adding to the poignancy.

Diana Montague’s resentful Eurynome equalled Thoas in dramatic stature and musical characterisation; her arias were characterised by excellent diction and vocal refinement combined with rhetorical impact. The fury of her Act 1 aria, emphasised by the agitated accompaniment, gave way to more tragic sensibilities at the start of Act 2, guiding the audience to recognise Eurynome’s misfortune as well as her bitterness.

The fourteen instrumentalists of La Nuova Musica, led from the harpsichord by founder and director David Bates, produced playing of fleetness, vivacity and charm. The Sinfonia epitomised the perfectly synchronised panache of the strings’ Italianate lines, and the striking contrasts of dynamics suggested the surprising twists and turns of the drama to follow. In the complex arias, oboe (Leo Duarte) and bassoon (Rebecca Hammond) added colour to the tutti sections; the more contrapuntal accompaniments were incisively articulated. Conti’s recitative is fast-moving, Metastasio’s lines often shared between characters; Bates unfailingly created forward motion and excitement in these exchanges, which the soloists delivered with naturalness and spontaneity. Sudden harmonic swerves and interruptions were emphasised but never mannered.

Concert performance this may have been, but the drama was transfixing. The three hours whizzed by. One longs for a recording.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

La Nuova Musica. David Bates, director; Lucy Crowe, soprano (Issipile); John Mark Ainsley, tenor (Thoas), Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor (Giasone); Flavio Ferri-Benedetti, countertenor (Learchus); Diana Montague, mezzo-soprano (Eurynome); Rebecca Bottone, soprano (Rodope). Wigmore Hall, London, 22nd January 2014.

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):