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

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Prom 67: The Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mahler’s Third

Mahler and I, at least in the concert hall, parted company over a decade ago - and with his Third Symphony it has been an even longer abandonment, fifteen years. Reviewing can nurture great love for music; but it can also become so obsessive for a single composer it can make one profoundly unresponsive to their music. This was my tragedy with Mahler.

A Landmark Revival of Sullivan's Haddon Hall

With The Gondoliers of 1889, the main period of Arthur Sullivan's celebrated collaboration with W. S. Gilbert came to an end, and with it the golden age of British operetta. Sullivan was accordingly at liberty to compose more serious and emotional operas, as he had long desired, and turned first to the moribund tradition of "Grand Opera" with Ivanhoe (1891).

Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth

Famously, controversy is the stuff of Bayreuth, be it artistic, philosophic or political. As well occasionally a Bayreuth production can simply be illuminating, as is the Barrie Kosky production of Wagner’s only comedy, Die Meistersinger.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Daughter of Jephthah by Alexandre Cabanel (1879) [Source: WikiPaintings]
17 Jan 2014

The Sixteen: Jephtha

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen brought Handel's final oratorio, Jephtha, to the Barbican (14 January 2014) preparatory to recording the work.

George Frideric Handel:: Jephtha Jephtha: James Gilchrist, Storge: Susan Bickley, Iphis: Sophie Bevan, Hamor: Robin Blaze, Zebul: Matthew Brook, Angel: Grace Davidson, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers: conductor,Tuesday 14 January 2014, The Barbican Centre, London

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: The Daughter of Jephthah by Alexandre Cabanel (1879) [Source: WikiPaintings]

 

The cast of experienced Handelians included James Gilchrist in the title role, with Susan Bickley as his wife Storge, Sophie Bevan as his daughter Iphis, Robin Blaze as her fiancée Hamor and Matthew Brook as Jephtha's brother Zebul. The result was a finely dramatic performance which bodes well for the recording, to be released later this year on the Coro label.

Handel's oratorio, with a libretto by Revd Thomas Morrell, was written not for the stage but for concert performance, and the intention was to point a moral via uplifting music. An important key to the libretto is Jephtha's family's reaction to the events. For this to work, they must be established as characters and so the first three scenes give us a sequence of arias, one for each of the five main characters, ending with a duet for the lovers Hamor and Iphis. It is not the most dramatic of sequences, and can be tricky to make work on stage.

One of the virtues of the Barbican performance was how each of the five singers, Matthew Brook, James Gilchrist, Susan Bickley, Robin Blaze and Sophie Bevan made their character count and made us feel that they and their music really mattered dramatically. This was particularly true with Robin Blaze's character Hamor. He is necessary in order to give Iphis a life that she will miss, but Hamor's actual music rarely takes plot or drama forward. Blaze brought a vivid sense of character to his performance.

Handel emphasises the group nature of the characters by giving, Iphis, Hamor, Storge and Jephtha a quartet of reaction to Jephtha's vow in Act 2; a remarkable and prescient piece of writing which is a genuine quartet with four different vocal characters. When Handel revived the work in 1753 he trimmed the end of Act 3 after the angel's appearance (Winton Dean is very dismissive of the arias at this point) and instead introduced a quintet. This was the version performed at the Barbican. This quintet is not a genuine one, instead it is a duet for Iphis and Hamor with a contributory coro from Storge, Jephtha and Zebul. A construction familiar from the conclusions of some of Handel's Italian operas.

James Gilchrist made an intense Jephtha, perhaps not quite so much the self-absorbed zealot that he was on stage at the Buxton Festival, but still with a profound sense of the character's inward religious certainty. Gilchrist is a fine and stylish Handelian, his opening aria, Virtue my soul, was fluidly fluent and sung with vivid, bright tone. But when the real drama started, with Jephtha's vow, Gilchrist sang the accompagnato with a powerful intensity. With His mighty arm at the beginning of Act 2, though a more conventional piece which Gilchrist sang with decisive confidence and fine passagework, he also brought a compelling intensity to it. In the recitative and aria, "Open thy marble jaws, O tomb", when Jephtha sees his daughter and realizes the result of his vow, Gilchrist combined drama with great musicality and made us hang on to every note.

Handel closes Act 2 with a truly remarkable sequence, Jephtha's accompagnato "Deeper and deeper still" followed by the chorus "How dark, O Lord, are Thy decrees". Gilchrist made the accompagnato fine-grained but dramatic, bringing a vivid power to his voice when necessary. Gilchrist brought flexibility and power to the role, with a certain focussed intensity and the result, in Deeper and deeper still, was finely moving. Act 3 opens with Jephtha's sequence of aria, "Hide thou thy hated beams", accompagnato and aria, "Waft her angels" with the latter aria being rightly famous. We were not disappointed here and Gilchrist sang with a lovely sense of line and profoundly beautifully tone. The fine expressiveness of the opening was transformed when Gilchrist unleashed real power in the middle section.

From the outset, Susan Bickley showed commitment and identification with her character, creating Storge from the first notes she sang. Her first aria, In gentle murmurs will I mourn was fabulously fluent but with an affecting edge to the timbre of her voice. Later in the act Handel and Morrell allow Storge to really develop with Scenes of horror, scenes of woe. Here Bickley started the aria with great technical poise and a nicely vivid feeling, then gradually developed so that the da capo was intense indeed. In Act 2, on hearing the result of Jephtha's vow, Storge has an accompagnato and aria which opens First perish though, and perish all the world and her Bickley virtually spat the words out. But one of the virtues of her performance was that, though she had a clear sense of the drama, it was always with the confines of what Handel wrote; she used the music to achieve her ends quite vividly without ever distorting the vocal line.

Sophie Bevan brought a grave and sombre beauty to the role of Iphis. The character gets some charming and pastoral music, but there was little sense of the flirtatious tone which some singers use. Instead Bevan was thoughtful from the first. Take the heart you fondly gave in Act 1 was graceful yet sober. Later in the act The smiling dawn of happy days was lively and full of wholesome charm, plus there was some fabulous passage-work. In Act 2, Tune the soft melodious lute was sung with fine grained beauty, complemented with some fine flute playing Welcome as the cheerful light when she greets her father was simply lovely, a fine counterpoint to Jephtha's dramatic reaction. Her reaction to the vow in that act was an accompagnato full of resigned acceptance followed by a plangently sung aria, Happy they which was direct, simple and very moving. Her farewell in Act 3, Farewell, ye limpid springs and floods was finely done, again full of a grave and sombre beauty.

Robin Blaze's account of Hamor's first aria," Dull delay, in piercing anguish" was surprisingly characterful and full of an appealing and gentle ardour which characterized his whole performance. Blaze's and Bevan's duet in Act 1 was full of charm with the two voices moving finely in concert, complemented by rhythmic interest in the strings. Hamor's aria at the beginning of Act 2, Up the dreadful steep ascending, after he has recounted the outcome of the battle, was sung by Blaze with great technical facility, but he was also very vivid, making the aria seem dramatically valid rather than holding things up. This was also true of On me let blind mistaken zeal, Hamor's reaction to the results of Jephtha's vow, and which Blaze made you feel that the piece really mattered.

Matthew Brook's Zebul got his big moment at the beginning, with his accompagnato and aria "Pour forth no more unheeded prayers". Brook sang with great commitment and a nicely focussed, grainy baritone voice. His later contributions were restricted to recitative, the quintet, but no less fine for that.

The quartet was superbly done, the four singers Bevan, Bickley, Blaze and Gilchrist giving full power to Handel's remarkable writing.Grace Davidson, from the choir, was the Angel, giving a nicely poised account of her aria.

The Sixteen sang with their familiar commitment and energy. The choruses in Jephtha are not the showiest that Handel wrote, instead we get some writing of extraordinary power and intensity to which the chorus responded with fine control and brilliant sense of drama. The chorus which closes Act 2 has a very striking structure and her the singers gave us a performance of grave and sober beauty.

Christophers and the orchestra brought a nice rhythmic crispness and great vividness to the playing from the first notes of the overture with some notable solo moments for various instruments. Christophers used harp, theorbo, harpsichord and organ for the continue which gave us a nice variety of textures, though I am not sure whether the inclusion of a harp in the line-up would please purists.

The programme book included a fine essay by Ruth Smith and came complete with printed words, no projected surtitles here thank goodness. The performance was done with a single interval, after Act 1, and I have to say that I still think that these pieces work best with two intervals.

This was a finely compelling performance of one of Handel's major works and I certainly look forward to the recording. It was dedicated to the memory of Winton Dean, the great writer on Handel (and many other things) who died last year

Robert Hugill

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):