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

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

The Royal Opera House lets everyone in on the act

The Royal Opera House today opens the doors to its transformed new home, following an extensive three-year construction project.

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

Two of Garsington Opera's 2018 productions to reach a wider audience

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce that on Saturday 6 October, BBC Radio 3’s ‘Opera on 3’, will broadcast the production of its first festival world premiere - The Skating Rink by David Sawer set to a libretto by Rory Mullarkey based on a novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Remembering and Representing Dido, Queen of Carthage: an interview with Thomas Guthrie

The first two instalments of the Academy of Ancient Music’s ‘Purcell trilogy’ at the Barbican Hall have posed plentiful questions - creative, cultural and political.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Joyce DiDonato [Photo: MARK ALLAN/BARBICAN]
11 Oct 2014

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Joyce DiDonato (gown designed by Vivienne Westwood) [Photo: MARK ALLAN/BARBICAN]

 

This was a concert performance and the singers were using scores, but it certainly wasn’t a score bound performance, all the singers projected drama as if they were in the opera house. Someone had thought about the dramaturgy. There were entrances and exits and more importantly the performers reacted to each other. Baroque opera does not need a lot of staging to make it work, and here Alcina received just enough. It helped that the cast were all extremely vivid performers; it wasn’t just Joyce DiDonato’s Alcina who prowled round the stage, and she and Alice Coote made their first entrance entwined like the lovers that their characters are.

Bicket and the English Concert gave a sparking account of the overture, brisk but not too rushed with a nice crispness. My main gripe was that there was only one harpsichord, played by Bicket himself, along with a theorbo and for me the continuo just wasn’t strong enough.

The eagle eyed would have spotted that I have not mentioned any chorus. Handel wrote Alcina in 1735 for the theatre at Covent Garden where his rather reduced company had moved after the creation of the rival Opera of the Nobility. To the not-inconsiderable draw of the castrato Cafarelli, Handel was able to add a dance troupe and a small chorus. Alcina has short choruses and dances woven into its texture in a way which few other Handel operas have. Here, the choruses were sung by four of the soloists (Anna Devin, Christine Rice, Ben Johnson and Wojtek Gierlack), with the entire cast singing the very final sequence when Alcina’s victims come alive again.

Though the performance was billed as part of the Joyce DiDonato Artist Spotlight, strictly speaking the leading role in the opera is Ruggiero. To Handel’s audience it was the castrato who had primacy and Handel ensured this. When he adjusted the libretto (which was originally written for the castrato Farinelli’s brother, the composer Riccardo Broschi), he altered the number of arias that each of the principals gets. So that Ruggiero has eight, Alcina has six, and all the others far fewer. But it is Alcina who dominates the opera, and was clearly the character about whom Handel felt strongest. It is she who gets the most interesting range of arias.

Handel was also adept at using the resources available; the role of Oronte was written for a young 21 year old tenor, John Beard, who would go on to create some of Handel’s greatest tenor roles in oratorio. And the character of the boy Oberto was introduced (he’s not in the original), to provide a role for the boy treble, William Savage.

DiDonato was dressed in a Vivienne Westwood creation that was both dramatic and imaginative; like a previous Westwood dress for DiDonato, this one was highly constructed and in each act she appeared with the piece in a different configuration. The dress certainly ensured that DiDonato’s Alcina drew our eyes in the way the sorceress ought. Strictly, Alcina is the villain but clearly Handel had sympathy with her and the interest in the role is how she deals with rejection in love and the waning of her powers. In act one, with Alcina happily in love, I missed the limpidness in the upper register and fluid flexibility. DiDonato’s zwischfach mezzo-soprano gave the simpler passages a highly sculpted quality (which matched the visuals). Everything was perfectly done, but DiDonato’s Alcina had a very distinctive tang to it.

But when the going got tough, DiDonato really showed us her mettle. ‘Ah! mio cor’ was stunning. But though the performance was very moving, I was aware that as a performer DiDonato feels the need to do something expressive with every note. It is not a style that everyone will like, but it is the way she is. If you listen to DiDonato in Handel, that is what you get. Alcina gets to close Act two with her striking scene where she tries and fails to raise the supernatural powers and here having an artist of DiDonato’s character counted as she combined a feel for the music with a strong dramatic sense. Yes, the passagework was vividly done, but it meant something. This continued in the last act where Alcina lets rip with ‘Ma quanto tornerai’, but the aria reflects how conflicted the character has now become, something DiDonato projected.

There was a strong interaction between DiDonato’s Alcina and Alice Coote’s Ruggiero, they projected a believable relationship. The roles that Handel wrote for Cafarelli clearly suite the range of Coote’s voice and she sings them superbly, with everything within the range of the voice. There was never any sense in the da capos of the singer pushing the vocal line into more familiar territory, as can happen, and Coote’s ornamentation was all nicely within the compass of the arias and generally a filling in and elaboration. That said Coote is also, like DiDonato, a very distinctive singer in this repertoire and projects a very personal way with the Handelian vocal line, one which for me echoes singers of the past like Janet Baker (which is no bad thing).

Ruggiero is rather passive for much of the opera. In Act Three Coote did bring the house down with the show piece ‘Sta nell’ircana’ with its wonderful pair of horns (but I’d worry about a Ruggiero who wasn’t able to do that). Where Coote counted was in the earlier acts, where she brought a great sense of character to Ruggiero’s arias giving us the feel of a rather nice but dim hero in love, and struggling with it. Coote is another singer who does something’ with the vocal line but again she is very expressive with it and I can listen to hear brand of Handel all day.

Whilst the role of Morgana only gets four arias, Handel clearly intended the role to balance that of Alcina and Morgana has the biggest show piece in Act one, the aria ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’. And here it was Anna Christy who brought the house down. Her performance was technically brilliant but also very characterful, no mean feat in such complex music. Throughout the opera, Christy projected her sheer delight in the character. Morgana is the most complex character in the opera, she is one of Handel’s glorious coquettes. This is a line which can be traced through Poppea in Agrippina, Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare and Atalanta in Serse, and all delight. Here Christy delighted, as she displayed Morgana’s complexity and delightful charm, combined with fine technical poise. Her bright, yet warm soprano was nicely contrasted to Coote and DiDonato’s voices which helped the contrasts in the opera. I might add that Christy was very visibly pregnant (a wrinkle which would add spice to the plot indeed!).

Bradamente, who spends most of the opera disguised as a man, was written originally for a singer who specialised in playing men. She must have also had a very strong technique, her first two arias both have incredibly fast passagework which Christine Rice rendered with a lovely vividness and evenness. She brought a great sense of personality to the character, I loved her touches of bewilderment in the opening scene when Bradamante realises that, as a man, Morgana is in love with him! Rice, throughout, projected a very strong sense of character and interaction with the other singers.

Morgana’s rejected love interest is Oronte, sung by tenor Ben Johnson. He displayed a fine vigorous tenor voice which very much suited the music. We mustn’t forget that the original Oronte was a very robust singer. But Johnson combined robustness with a fine technique and a lovely feeling for Oronte’s bewilderment as his lover rejects him. Perhaps things got a little too laboured in his act two aria, but he recovered in act three.

There was no sense of Anna Devin being boyish as Oberto, after all she is singing Morgana in this opera with the Russian National Orchestra. Oberto’s first two arias are both relatively simple and effective, and both were nicely projected by Devin. She held our attention in a role which is not dramatically relevant and relies on the singer’s personality. Then in the Act Three aria she let rip in mesmerising fashion.

Wojtek Gierlach only got one aria as Melisso, but he sang this with vigorous commitment and throughout the opera was vividly characterful in his recitative.

Throughout we had some lovely playing from the English Concert, with some glorious solo moments including a couple of cadenzas at the end of arias. The smaller scale, continuo arias were all sensitively played, and in the larger scale pieces there were many instrumental moments to treasure. The textures of Handel’s combinations of voice with string figuration, such is in Ruggiero’s Act two Il mio tresor, were magically done.

This was a finely involving performance. Given uncut, with two intervals, it lasted nearly four hours but never felt long. Despite the starry names, this felt like an ensemble piece with everyone pulling the drama though of course it was DiDonato’s Alcina who dominated as she rightly should.

The performance was the first on a tour, which continues: Sunday, 12 October 2014, Palacio de Congresos Y Auditorio de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain; Tuesday, 14 October 2014, Auditorio Nacional de Musica, Madrid, Spain; Friday, 17 October 2014, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria; Monday, 20 October 2014, Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris, France; Sunday, 26 October 2014, Carnegie Hall, New York, USA 2PM

Robert Hugill

Cast and production information:

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina; Alice Coote: Ruggiero, Anna Christy: Morgana, Christine Rice: Bradamante, Ben Johnson: Oronte, Wojtek Gierlach: Melisso, Anna Devin: Oberto. English Concert. Harry Bicket: Conductor. Barbican Hall, London 10 October 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):