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

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Royal Symphony

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

Kiss Me, Kate: Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome

In 1964, 400 years after the birth of the Bard, the writer Anthony Burgess saw Cole Porter’s musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, a romping variation on The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s comedy, Burgess said, had a ‘good playhouse reek about it’, adding ‘the Bard might be regarded as closer to Cole Porter and Broadway razzmatazz’ than to the scholars who were ‘picking him raw’.

Beat Furrer FAMA - Hörtheater reaches London

Beat Furrer's FAMA came to London at last, with the London Sinfonietta. The piece was hailed as "a miracle" at its premiere at Donaueschingen in 2005 by Die Zeit: State of the Art New Music, recognized by mainstream media, which proves that there is a market for contemporary music lies with lively audiences

Franz Schreker : Die Gezeichneten (Les Stigmatizés). Lyon

Franz Schreker Die Gezeichneten from the Opéra de Lyon last year, now on arte.tv and Opera Platform. The translation, "The stigmatized", doesn't convey the impact of the original title, which is closer to"The Cursed".

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):