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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

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.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh, 1968, photographer Hans Wild
16 Jun 2014

Britten: Owen Wingrave, Aldeburgh Music Festival

An ideal choice for this year's Aldeburgh Music Festival, Britten's Owen Wingrave. From a very early age, Britten was incensed by bullying and repression.

Britten: Owen Wingrave, Aldeburgh Music Festival

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh, 1968 [Photo by Hans Wild]

 

Indeed, the protection of innocence and the condemnation of cruelty runs through nearly all Britten's work, powerfully informing his whole creative persona. Owen Wingrave is critical to any real appreciation of what Britten stood for.

The Aldeburgh Music Festival and the Britten-Pears Foundation are wise to stage Owen Wingrave again, in the same place where the composer conducted the first public performance back in 1970. In 1914, men marched to war because they were led to believe that they were fighting "the war to end all wars". One hundred years later, those who believe in military solutions seem to have learned nothing from a century of almost incessant warfare. More than ever, we need Owen Wingrave and Britten's passionate opposition to mindless conformity.

Owen Wingrave was commissioned for television. Nearly a quarter of a million people watched it when it was first broadcast by the BBC in 1972, reaching audiences far beyond any opera house. That in itself is a statement about its significance. Composers wrote for film almost as soon as technology added sound to movies. Britten enjoyed going to the cinema, and spent his war years working for the GPO Film Unit. In Owen Wingrave, music and an understanding of film technique go together. The abstraction of music can be expressed through devices like split frames and juxtaposed images. On the physical stage, such things aren't easy to carry off. At Aldeburgh, director Neil Bartlett has chosen a minimalist set, enhanced by dramatic light effects (Ian Scott). This reflects the austerity in the music, which in turn reflects the stark moral situation Owen is faced with. "Listen to the house!" the female singers repeat, their lines intertwining, as if a knot - or noose - were being drawn tight. For the house does speak - "creaks and rustles, groans and moans" .The oppressiveness is almost palpable. "The "boom of the cannonade", created by percussion and low brass is so sinister that we could be hearing a thousand years of ghosts marching relentlessly towards death. The spirit of Paramore looms so large in the music that we don't need to see the house to feel its malign presence. Better the dark shadows and spartan set, so our imaginations can conjure up unseen images of horror.

In the original film, portraits of Wingraves past line the walls, menacingly, and come alive, leaping at Owen, like the present members of his family scold him, singly and in unison. On film, that's plausible, on stage it would be contrived. Bartlett, and choreographer and movement director Struan Leslie, use a group of young soldiers as a silent chorus. They operate in tight formation, as befits soldiers, but their movements also reflect figures in the music: a very subtle effect, which justifies their value in the production. They're also useful for technical reasons - they move such furniture as there is on the bare stage, "building" the haunted room by reversing the panels that serve as walls. Most perceptive of all, the soldiers are young, inspiring more sympathy than if they mere replicas of wizened old Wingraves, ghosts perhaps of young men sent to early deaths. Victims and perpetrators, harnessed together in perpetuity, like the ghosts in the haunted room, like Owen and Paramore.

The stark staging has a further advantage in that it throws extra focus on the singers and on the Britten-Pears Orchestra, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, designated Music Director at the ENO when Edward Gardner moves on. Britten, Nagano and Richard Hickox hover over Wigglesworth, but he gives a good account of the music, stressing the clarity of the writing for solo instruments versus larger groups. Excellent experience for the young players in this orchestra, many of whom will go on to play in larger ensembles.

Ross Ramgobin sings Owen. Again, one retains memories of Gerald Finley and above all, Jacques Imbrailo, who created the part ten years ago when he was still a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists programme at the Royal Opera House. Imbrailo is perhaps the ideal Owen, since his voice shimmers with preternatural purity, but Ramgobin does well against such competition, which says a lot in his favour. Ramgobin's voice is agile and light, with a much more convincingly youthful timbre than Benjamin Luxon and Peter Coleman-Wright.

Susan Bullock sings Miss Jane Wingrave. The part contains sharp edges, to emphasize the character's sterile frustration. Bullock creates the effect of strangled tension without tightening throat or chest, but articulates her words with rapier-sharp diction. Catherine Backhouse sings a pert Kate, and Janis Kelly sings her mother Mrs Julian. Isaiah Bell sang Lechmere unusually well, his voice adding colours to the part, which could otherwise be interpreted as bland and callow. A singer to watch. Jonathan Summers sings Spencer Coyle and Samantha Crawford sings his wife, artfully suggesting the dynamic between the couple, where he controls and she is left to flutter prettily, but bleakly along. Richard Berkeley-Steele sang General Sir Philip Wingrave and James Way sang the Ballad singer, again with more personality (a good thing) than the part might otherwise attract.

Anne Ozorio

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):