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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sir Mark Elder, courtesy Ingpen & Williams
10 Aug 2014

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berlioz, Elgar, Grime, Beethoven : Sir Mark Elder, The Hallé, Alice Coote, BBC Prom 31, Royal Albert Hall, London 9th August 2014. A review by Claire Seymour

 

The violins dashed flamboyantly through the brilliant opening passage-work of Berlioz’s overture, Le corsaire, initiating a vibrant - perhaps at times bombastic - account of this impetuous, playful score. Composed during a sojourn in Nice in 1844 (and originally entitled "La Tour de Nice"), the imaginative instrumentation and material of the overture prompted a reviewer of the first performance, at the Cirque Olympique on 19 January 1845, to remark that the work was ‘perhaps the strangest and most peculiar composition to have been created by the imagination of a musician’. If the Hallé did not quite find the requisite timbral brilliance, there was still much exuberance and some fine playing.

I did not feel that Elder was entirely successful in stitching together the various musical ideas into a tight, coherent form, but the slow introduction had a more reflective dignity which contrasted effectively with the ostentation of the principal Allegro theme. There was a breathlessness about the rapidly succeeding moods and idioms, canons giving way to dances, both interrupted by brief reiterations of the thunderbolt chords of the opening. The brass were given free rein at the close and their brazen roar was perhaps indicative of the joyful satisfaction which Berlioz experienced as he looked from his turret room ‘perched on a ledge of the Ponchettes rock, and feasted myself on the glorious view over the Mediterranean and tasted a peace such as I had come to value more than ever’, and as recorded in the composer’s Memoirs. Despite the Byronic resonance of the title, there is no direct link between the poet and Berlioz’s piratical overture, but Elder ensured that a resolute Byronic spirit of invincibility shone through.

A similar richness of experience was conveyed by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote in a nuanced, highly thoughtful performance of Elgar’s Sea Pictures, in which clear, expressive communication of the five poetic texts was matched by ever-modulating vocal tones and shades perfectly attuned to the poetic sentiment.

Sea Pictures, nestled between the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius, was commissioned by the Norwich Festival for performance in 1899. It is the composer’s only song-cycle for voice and orchestra, and the orchestral version was not written until after Elgar’s first rehearsal with the then up-and-coming contralto, Clara Butt, in August 1899. Butt reputedly wore a dress resembling a mermaid; Coote preferred a beautiful blue-green coat-dress more suggestive of Prospero’s island-magic than a maritime nymph, an effect enhanced by the aquamarine glow from the stage-bordering frieze. She certainly employed her vocal alchemy to enchant and transfix all present.

From the opening bars of ‘Sea Slumber-Song’ (text by Roden Noel) the Hallé powerfully evoked the ebb and flow of the unknowable deep, and it was from this surging wash that Coote’s rich mezzo emerged, an organic extension of the lapping orchestral waters. The low hushed phrases, as the ‘Sea murmurs her slumber song, on the shadowy sand’, were warmly projected and a mood of peace was established by the lullaby-rocking and rich vocal hues. Coote’s full, glowing middle and lower register easily countered Elgar’s, at times, weighty brass and wind orchestration.

Matching Coote’s attentiveness to textual detail, Elder encouraged picture-painting from the Hallé, glissandi flourishes from the harp and decorative sextuplet from the violins and flute evoking ‘this elfin land’ and soft timpani trembling echoing the distant, rolling waves. The concluding repetitions, ‘Good night’, were beautifully shaped and placed, and Elder left us elusively chasing a glistening, rising wave.

‘In Haven (Capri)’ was similarly hypnotic and consoling, the siciliano rhythm lulling and relaxed, the gentle accompaniment lightly articulated and effectively supporting the simple text penned by Elgar’s wife, Alice. Coote’s charming vocal line was poised and graceful, coloured by instrumental interjections emerging from the transparent texture. Only in the third stanza - ‘Kiss my lips and softly say:/ “Joy, sea-swept, may fade today;/ Love alone will stay.’ - did the voice swell with emotion, complemented by sonorous playing from the violins.

‘Sabbath Morning at Sea’ (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) was by turns more turbulent and more grandiose, Coote responding affectingly to the enlarged tessitura and dynamic range of the song. Elder manipulated the tempo flexibly and the suggestion of unsettled currents was enhanced by crisp triplets from the brass. The impassioned climax was powerful - “And, on that sea commixed with fire,/ Oft drop their eyelids raised too long/ To the full Godhead’s burning!”, the strings rolling forcefully through the wave-like motif from the opening ‘Sea Slumber-Song’.

Graceful woodwind solos complemented Coote’s in ‘Where Corals Lie’ (the verse is by the prodigious Pre-Raphaelite Richard Garnett the younger), particularly at the start of the second stanza, and the closing cadence was imbued with a sense of peace and hope.

Coote’s ability to control the expressive and dramatic form of the Sea Pictures was apparent in the final song, ‘The Swimmer’ (text, Adam Lindsay Gordon) which built from the dramatic orchestral pedal which opens the movement, through fluid recitative and stormy, impassioned song to an ardent climax, as the mezzo avowed her faith in a place ‘where no love wanes’. There was great intensity, suggestive of a yearning for transfiguration in death, and Coote’s soaring, glossy upper register cut effortlessly through thick orchestration which includes percussion and organ. This was a consummate and enthralling performance

In the second half of the concert, an expansive yet vigorous account of Beethoven’s 'Eroica' was prefaced by Near Midnight by the Associate Composer to the Hallé Orchestra, Helen Grime, which was receiving its London premiere having first been heard in May 2012, conducted by Elder, at the Bridgewater Hall.
Taking its inspiration from a poem by D.H. Lawrence, ‘Week-night service’, Grime summons a restless mood, ceaselessly manipulating the orchestral colours in a manner reminiscent of Oliver Knussen:

"The five old bells
Are hurrying and eagerly calling,
Imploring, protesting
They know, but clamorously falling
Into gabbling incoherence, never resting,
Like spattering showers from a bursten sky-rocket dropping
In splashes of sound, endlessly, never stopping".

There is much tumult - the brass section’s strident recurring fanfares were superbly executed and the ostinato repetitions had a disturbing, mechanic brittleness - as well as gloomy shadow and melancholy. The undulating rumblings of double basses and low harp and brass, supplemented by bells, at the start were particularly redolent of nocturnal misgivings. Nonetheless, the quieter third section which is the most moving of the work’s various parts. Here, the tender, meandering string line is supplemented by expressive flourishes from woodwind, harp and celeste The final section, too, sombre and reflective, laden with the static stillness of midnight, brought forward touching solos from the oboe, clarinet, bassoon and muted trumpet. I should very much like to hear this composition again.

Elder had little time for period ‘authenticity’ in an account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major , 'Eroica', which winningly combined majesty and vitality. There was momentum but not haste; romantic feeling but judicious restraint. The scalic and arpeggio-based melodies had eloquence and lyricism, and there was an appropriate bite to the rhythmic motivic development. The ‘Funeral March’ was especially heart-felt and show-cased some wonderful solo-playing by oboist Stéphane Rancourt. The driving motifs of the Scherzo were crisply and cleanly articulated, and dynamic contrasts were used effectively to supplement the feeling of unstoppable forward motion. Throughout the sound was full and resonant, with antiphonal violins and the cellos and double bass sections also separated and spatially opposed. Once more, Elder let the horns rip through the end of the Finale (four of them rather than Beethoven’s indicated trio of valve-less horns); a majestic, celebratory ending to a super evening of music-making.

Claire Seymour

Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano; Mark Elder, conductor; Hallé Orchestra
Berlioz, Overture, Le Corsaire; Elgar, Sea Pictures; Helen Grime, Near Midnight; Beethoven, Symphony No.3 in Eb major, Eroica.
Photo: Sir Mark Elder, courtesy Ingpen & Williams

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):