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

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

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):