Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Lucy Crowe [Photo © Marco Borggreve]
22 May 2014

English Concert, Wigmore Hall

With the FIFA World Cup just three weeks away perhaps it is permissible to use a sporting metaphor, for this performance by The English Concert at the Wigmore Hall — part of the ensemble’s 40th anniversary celebrations — really was a game of two halves.

English Concert, Wigmore Hall

A review Claire Seymour

Above: Lucy Crowe [Photo © Marco Borggreve]

 

Led by their current Artistic Director, Harry Bicket, The English Concert invited one of their regular guest soloists, soprano Lucy Crowe, to explore cantatas and arias composed by Georg Frederic Handel during his Italian sojourn of 1707-09, framing the vocal numbers with Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. For Handel, this was a period of astonishing creative energy and musical invention, and the selected works demonstrated the melodic grace, rhetorical power and innate dramatic judgement that characterises the operas and oratorios composed in the subsequent years.

‘Dietro l’orme fuggaci’ dates from late May 1707, when Handel was resident at the Ruspoli family’s summer villa in Vignanello. Adapted from Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, it tells of the sorceress Armida’s fury, forgiveness and suffering after her lover Rinaldo has deserted her. Swift movement through a sequence of recitative (with extended use of accompagnato) and florid arias creates a tense dramatic energy.

Lucy Crowe seemed uncharacteristically out-of-sorts, however, with the tempos and transitions between movements unsettled and hasty. The opening recitative, in which a narrator establishes the situation and introduces the bitter, grieving Armida, lies quite low, and the thin accompanying texture didn’t offer Crowe much support. As she vented the sorceress’s wrath in the succeeding aria, ‘Ah! crudele, e pur ten’ vai’, Crowe seemed to skate over the elaborate runs and flights rather than sing through them; and the pitch was not always fully centred, particularly in the passages where chromatic nuances and twists depict Armida’s anguished love. Despite some melodic inaccuracies, idiomatic ornaments and some imaginative re-interpretations embellished the da capo repeat.

The secco recitative in which Armida laments her unwavering devotion was more controlled, and the headlong rush into the orchestral outburst which commences the accompagnato, ‘O voi, dell’incostante’, full of excitement. But, once again, the haste with which Crowe sped through the final words, ‘Ah! no, fermate’ , as Armida retracts her request to the gods to send sea monsters to consume her betrayer, risked turning melodrama into farce. The large leaps of the ensuing aria, ‘Venti fermata’, demonstrated Crowe’s vocal agility and she negotiated the disjunct line fluently, the flowing triplets mimicking the rolling waves which threaten to submerge Rinaldo. At phrase endings, the soprano chose at times to rise an octave higher than notated, her bright clear tone highlighting Armida’s tenderness and emotional ambivalence.

The orchestral lilt was quite subdued in the closing Siciliana, above which Crowe glistened, applying judicious decorations and dissonant appoggiaturas to the cantabile line. The higher register felt more comfortable, and as the movement gradually quietened, closing with just ripieno strings, Crowe demonstrated her ability to sing softly and purely at the top. Her final call to the God of Love to free her from her devotion to the traitorous Rinaldo was moving, but overall Crowe did not quite master the psychological ambiguity of this cantata.

After the interval, ‘Alpestre montre’ saw the soprano back on form. Written in Venice during the winter of 1708-09, the cantata presents a desperate man, alone in a mountain forest, searching for the beloved to whom he yearns to confess his love, consoling himself that death may at least end his torment.

The dry staccato quavers of the two obbligato violins at the opening of the first aria, ‘Io so ben ch’il vostro orrore’, evoked the unending onward tread of the wanderer. Reflecting on the shadowy gloom of the forest, which mirrors his inner desolation, Crowe produced sostenuto singing of great eloquence, sustaining an unfailingly legato line and using melisma expressively. Bicket made much of the nuanced accompanying textures, with their motivic echoes and shifting colours. In the following short recitative, Crowe’s sensitive declamation emphasised the composer’s impressive heightening of the text.

I found the tempo of the second aria, ‘Almen dopo il fato mio’, in which the young man longs for death, much too fast, although the string timbre was mellifluous. Crowe exhibited superb breath control, singing richly through the expansive lines and spanning the large leaps cleanly.

Things went from good to better in the final vocal contribution: three arias from Handel’s second Italian opera, Agrippina (1710). In Poppea’s ‘Vaghe perle’ Crowe acted with body and voice, flirtatiously batting her eyelids and casually spilling stratospheric ornamentations and trills, as the sensuous Poppea admires herself in a looking-glass. Agrippina’s scheming confidence presented a dramatic contrast in the following ‘Ogni vento’; the accompanying triplet rhythms were assured, the string tone full, and together with the exuberant vocal line conveyed Agrippina’s faith that her murderous plan will run smoothly.

‘Se giunge un dispetto’, in which Poppea warns that she is a woman not to be scorned, saw both singer and ensemble take furious flight, in some incredibly long and florid melismas and supporting passagework. Crowe’s technique was flawless: superbly controlled coloratura, imaginative adornments in the da capo, and a bright resonance at the top.

The concertos which form Vivaldi’s Four Seasons framed the vocal items, and were similarly uneven. While Simon Standage and the players of The English Concert produced stylish playing that was tasteful and never mannered, there was little to excite in ‘La Primavera’ or ‘L’Estate’, and the Largo of the former was marred by over-enthusiastic viola interjections, the repeated down-bow punctuations overly aggressive and intrusive. Perhaps the recordings of Kennedy or Fabio Biondi and the Europa Galante have familiarized the ear to greater rhetoric and dynamism, but Standage, though technical impeccable, seemed to lack presence. Eloquent cello contributions and the bright timbre of Alex McCartney’s baroque guitar enlivened the outer movements of ‘L’Estate’.

‘L’Autunno’ was, by contrast, a revelation, full of rhythmic bite and vitality, with incisive passagework and impressive double-stopping from Standage. Dark sound worlds were conjured in the Adagio molto — as the harvesters all lulled to sleep by the breeze. Overall, the ensemble was much more convincingly synchronized than in the first two concerti. Similarly engaging, and unnerving, was the dry coldness of the opening staccato quavers of ‘L’Inverno’. Both Standage and the accompanying instrumentalists displayed remarkable agility and clarity in the plummeting scalic runs with which the concerto concludes.

So, it was an oddly uneven concert; but Poppea’s feisty audacity was worth waiting for.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

The English Concert: Harry Bicket, director, harpsichord; Simon Standage, violin; Lucy Crowe, soprano. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 21st May 2014.

Handel — Cantata: ‘Dietro l’orme fuggaci’ (‘Armida abbandonata’) HWV105; Cantata: ‘Alpestre monte’ HWV81; Arias from Agrippina HWV6; Vivaldi — The Four Seasons

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):