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 Reviews

Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry

As a whole, this concert proved a curious affair. It probably made more sense in the context of Thomas Adès’s series of Beethoven and Barry concerts with the Britten Sinfonia. The idea of a night off from the symphonic Beethoven to turn to chamber works was, in principle, a good one, but the sole Gerald Barry piece here seemed oddly out of place – and not in a productive, provocative way. Even the Beethoven pieces did not really seem to fit together especially well. A lovely performance of the op.16 Quintet nevertheless made the evening worthwhile.

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

No Time in Eternity: Iestyn Davies discusses Purcell and Nyman

Revolution, repetition, rhetoric. On my way to meet countertenor Iestyn Davies, I ponder if these are the elements that might form connecting threads between the music of Henry Purcell and Michael Nyman, whose works will be brought together later this month when Davies joins the viol consort Fretwork for a thought-provoking recital at Milton Court Concert Hall.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

Garsington's Douglas Boyd on Strauss and Skating Rinks

‘On August 3, 1941, the day that Capriccio was finished, 682 Jews were killed in Chernovtsy, Romania; 1,500 in Jelgava, Latvia; and several hundred in Stanisławów, Ukraine. On October 28, 1942, the day of the opera’s premiere in Munich, the first convoy of Jews from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 90 percent of them went to the gas chamber.’

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

10 Aug 2014

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Handel : Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival, Lewes, West Sussex England, 9th August 2014

A review by Robert Hugill

 

For their first revival of the production, Glyndebourne brought back conductor Olivier Dantone, and assembled a cast which showcased the modern counter-tenor revival by including a total of four in the cast. . Unusually for a modern performance of a Handel opera, all the male characters were played by men. Iestyn Davies was Rinaldo, with Tim Mead as Goffredo, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Eustazio and James Laing as the Christian Magus. Christina Landshamer was Almirena, Karina Gauvan was Armida and Joshua Hopkins was Argante. The designer was Gideon Davey, lighting was by Robert Carsen and Peter Van Praet, movement director was Philippe Giraudeau and the revival director was Bruno Ravella. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was in the pit.

The basic premises of the staging were set out during the wonderfully crisp and involving account of the overture. A young schoolboy, Rinaldo (Iestyn Davies) was being bullied by his fellows and tormented by a pair of teachers. Suddenly a group of knights appear (dressed in a combination of school uniforms and breast-plates). For the rest of the opera, the setting is the school; Armida's domain is the dormitory, the Christian Magus is the chemistry master. But the action is pure schoolboy fantasy. The Knights are led by the sympathetic teacher, Goffredo (Tim Mead), whilst the two bad teachers, Armida (Karina Gauvin) and Argante (Joshua Hopkins) have a cohort of furies who seemed to be girls from St. Trinian's on LSD. Rinaldo's love interest was a fellow school girl, Almirena (Christina Landshamer).

Any production of Rinaldo needs to be entertaining and spectacular. The plot is full of holes and the way that Handel brought in arias from previous works means that we have some superb music often in unsuitable places. Carsen and Davey brought in spectacle, albeit in unusual ways. The blackboards in the school sported magic writing, and repeatedly seem to form portals to the magic world. Armida made her first entrance through one, and as did the the vision of the sirens.

But sometimes the desire for spectacle and humour got in the way of the opera; the finale of act one, Rinaldo's "Venti turbini" was accompanied by the Knights preparing their steeds, bicycles, to great comic effect. Davies sang the final section riding a bicycle mid-air. A great visual effect, and very funny, but somehow at odds with Handel's music. The long action sequence in act three clearly caused problems, Handel wrote some terrific music here but what we saw was visually uninteresting, though sometimes very funny, and the culminating battle was a bizarrely funny football game. Carsen's stagecraft was not in doubt and but the production seemed to highlight the deficiencies of the drama rather than help them.

The only really fully rounded character in Handel's opera is the evil sorceress Armida. Here Karina Gauvin was in great form and went well on the way to stealing the show. Re-invented by Carsen as an evil, leather clad dominatrix, Gauvin's Armida used all the voluptuousness of her leather-clad fuller figure, but combined this with some spectacular singing. From the moment of her first entrance, "Furie terribili", Gauvin's singing had passion and energy, combined with a strong technique. All the details in the arias were there; not only the profound beauty and poignancy of "Ah Crudel" when Davies's Rinaldo rejects her in act two, but the vivid rage aria "Vo' fa guerra". With some singers, there could have been a danger that the highly coloured theatrical concept of the character might overshadow the musical elements, but not with Gauvin. What we got was a wonderfully integrated, and brilliantly sung performance. This Armida was someone you loved to hate and thrilled to listen to.

The other large role is the title role, Rinaldo with eight arias and a duet with each of the sopranos. Davies's performance was a dramatic and musical tour de force, completely matching Gauvin and ensuring that the drama was balanced. Davies showed himself entirely adept at coping the demands of the rather uneven libretto. When Armida kidnaps Almirena, Davies has a pair of arias almost back to back both essentially covering the same emotional ground (the entirely wonderful "Cara sposa" and the different but still lovely "Cor ingrato". But you never felt that Davies was doing so, he brought a wonderful variety of tone and emotions to them. The virtuoso act one finale was brilliantly done even though Davies spent part of the aria on a flying bike. Rinaldo's later arias are equally spectacular, and Davies acquitted himself brilliantly, being wonderfully martial in "Or la tromba". Almost as importantly, he brought light and shade to the character. In this version of the story Rinaldo is unbelievably moral, he is never tempted by Armida and this is the story's weakness (Carsen's re-invention with Armida as the evil teacher works well here). The beauty of Davies's Rinaldo was that we never really noticed this weakness, he created a complete character.

Joshua Hopkins was a wonderfully vivid Argante, stitching the character's arias (taken from a variety of sources) into something like a coherent character. His opening aria was finely and arrestingly done, much cloak twirling accompanied the equally vivid account of the vocal line. Argante might not be the most well drawn of villains, but Hopkins made him almost believable and a good foil for Gauvin.

It was not Christina Landshamer's fault that Handel's original Almirena was clearly a singer of minor talents, so that the heroine of the opera gets so few arias. But the fact that Carsen and Davey dressed her in such an unflattering costume (a girl's pinafore dress which becomes voluminous and sweeps to the floor, looking four sizes too big), and had a preference for staging her arias with the singer a long way up stage, meant that for the first two acts Almirena hardly registered as a character. That said, Lanshamer was musically superb in her showpieces; the act one "Augelletti" was full of brilliant trills and sung with just the right amount of charm, whilst Act Two's "Lascia io pianga" was superb and brought a tear to the eye. Only in the last act did this build into something like a sense of character.Landshamer made you realise that in another opera, she could be a very powerful Handel heroine. Her duet with Davies in act one had great delight and charm, and here we could appreciate the naivety of two teenagers in love.

Tim Mead made a fine upstanding Goffredo, singing his arias with poise and polish. He has the voice, bearing and physique for such a fine upstanding role, unfortunately Handel and his librettist never really allow the character to come off the page, and Carsen's staging did not help here. Mead did his best and was noble and upstanding in just the right way, and sang with great beauty of tone and an admirable firmness.

It says a lot of Anthony Roth Costanzo's personal abilities that he managed to charm as Eustazio, a role which is entirely superfluous. You could probably cut Eustazio's arias and not lose an inch of dramatic coherence. Costanzo has a bright, quite narrow focussed timbre but he used it well and captured our attention in his arias. James Laing was the Christian Magus, and had great fun with his jaunty aria.

The smaller roles were all taken by members of the Glyndebourne Chorus, Niel Joubert was the firm toned Herald. Anna Rajah and Rachel Taylor were the delightful Sirens in one of the loveliest numbers in the opera when the Sirens tempt Rinaldo, whilst Charlotte Beament was a Woman.

Handel was showing off in the orchestra too, determined to make a great effect on the Londoners in 1711. Under Olivier Dantone, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment made a big effect . There were some fabulous individual solos but alo a wonderfully vivid and crisply dramatic overall effect. Dantone kept things moving, This was a moderately brisk performance and his singers and instrumentalists could clearly cope with the brilliant tempi; But the more emotional moments relaxed too.

One rather annoying logistical note; quite wisely there were two intervals, but the first interval was short and the second interval was the long dinner interval. This meant that the long interval came late in the evening, just before the short final act; surely not the best place for it.

However grumpy I felt about some of Carsen's comic effects, it was clear that not only the level of stagecraft was very high, but that Carsen's staging hit home with the majority of the audience. Like Handel's original audience, many people around me at Glyndebourne were clearly there to enjoy the total effect rather than to worry about the niceties of Handelian opera seria. So there was only one thing to do, relax and enjoy the show; which I did.

Robert Hugill

Handel Rinaldo
Goffredo: Tim Mead, Rinaldo: Iestyn Davies, Almirena: Christina Landshamer, Eustazio: Anthony Roth Costanzo, Herald: Niel Jouber, Argante: Joshua Hopkins, Armida: Karina Gauvin, Woman: Charlotte Beament, Sirens: Anna Rajah and Rachel Taylor, Christian Magus: James Laing Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenmment, Conductor:Ottavio Dantone, Director: Robert Carsen; Designer: Gideon Davey, Lighting: Robert Carsen & Peter Van Praet; Movement: Philippe Giraudeau; Revival director Bruno Ravella, Glyndebourne Festival Opera
9 August 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):