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 Performances

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

Bernstein Bemuses in New Mexico

Santa Fe Opera’s Candide is a nearly indefatigable romp that is currently parading on the Crosby Theatre stage, chockfull of inventive ideas.

Santa Fe Floats a Beauteous Butterfly

Two new stars moved triumphantly into the ongoing run of Santa Fe Opera’s mesmerizing rendition of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Götterdämmerung in Munich

What I am about to write must be taken with the proviso that I have not seen, this year or any other, the rest of Andreas Kriegenburg’s Munich Ring. Friends tell me that would have made little difference, yet I cannot know for certain.

A celebration of Parry at the BBC Proms

For Prom 17, Martyn Brabbins, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Chorus of Wales brought together English music written either side of the First World War.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Maurice Greene (Attributed to Joseph Highmore)
10 Nov 2014

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Maurice Greene: Jephtha, Bampton Classical Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Maurice Greene (Attributed to Joseph Highmore)

 

Greene is better known for his church music and anthems than for his contributions to repertoire of a dramatic or theatrical nature, but he did however produce a small number of oratorios, pastorals and festival and moral odes.

Greene’s Jephtha (which was his second oratorio, after The Song of Deborah and Barak of 1732) was first performed in 1737, most probably in the small tavern, The Devil, near Temple Bar where meetings of the Apollo Society (founded by Greene and the Italian musician Bononcini as a rival to the Academy of Ancient Music after an infamous dispute between Bononcini and Handel, and named after the tavern’s famous ‘Apollo Room’) were held. Presumably the work had more than one performance, for it is known that the soprano part for Jephtha’s daughter was re-written for alto at a later date. The work then languished in obscurity until a 1997 performance, given and broadcast by the BBC to mark the 300 th anniversary of Greene’s birth a few months previously. For the latter occasion, Peter Lynan prepared a performing edition, which was used here by Bampton Classical Opera. (And, it is to Lynan’s informative programme article that I am indebted for some of the contextual information about the career of the little-documented Greene here presented.)

Greene set a libretto by John Hoadly (1711-76), the son of Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Bangor (later of Winchester) and Chaplain to the Prince of Wales. Jephtha’s story, given in the Book of Judges, is a rather grim Old Testament tale of torment and sacrifice. The early Hebrew leader is recalled from exile to lead his people against their enemies, the Ammonites; in return for victory for the Israelites, Jephtha vows to sacrifice the first thing that he meets upon returning home. With horrid and inevitable irony, when he returns triumphant he is met by his beloved daughter. Jephtha explains to his daughter that he must comply with his vow and she stoically accepts her fate: the final chorus tells that each year Israel’s daughters will lament in her honour.

Hoadly follows the biblical story closely. (In 1751, when Handel set Jephtha’s story his librettist Morell contrived a quasi-happy ending which saw Jephtha’s daughter spared and her life devoted spiritual contemplation and solitude. In contrast, Greene’s sacrificial daughter willingly accepts her fate and asks only, ‘Let me awhile defer my Fate/ And to the mountains fly;/ There to bewail my Virgin state/ And then return — and die.’ Some have suggested that there is a political context for Greene’s choice of story focusing as it does on the choice between national and personal fortune that a patriotic leader must make, thereby developing a theme which was widely discussed in England during the 1730s and 40s.

Hoadly’s text is fairly static, but it presents some powerful situations and emotional of emotion, and Greene was not un-tuned to the potential for musical characterisation and affekt. The high points come in the second act which affords greater opportunity for heart-wringing and human sacrifice. In this appealing performance by Bampton Classical Opera — probably only the second performance since the time of the work’s composition — the expressive impact and charm of Greene’s score was skilfully and engagingly communicated.

The role of Jephtha was sung by John-Colyn Gyeantey. The tenor’s confident high range was instantly apparent, and although his voice seemed a little tight and lacking in support initially, as he warmed up and relaxed, Gyeantey’s lyricism and expressive phrasing came to the fore. His Act 1 aria, ‘Pity soothing melts the Soul’ was graceful and gentle, and his tone warmed still further in the extensive, low-lying lines of ‘Thou sweetest joy’ in Act 2. As the First Elder of Gilread, Nicholas Merryweather embodied imperious stateliness, making every world of text clearly audible. Merryweather’s baritone was rich and strong, with dark tone, but unfortunately it rather overwhelmed Ben Williamson’s Second Elder, whose countertenor struggled to project in their recitative duets. It was not until Williamson’s aria, ‘Against these new alarms’, that we were able to enjoy his flexible phrasing and silky legato, and admire his strong upper register.

Soprano Rosalind Coad performed the only female solo role, as Jephtha’s unfortunate daughter. In 2013 Coad won the Oxford Lieder Young Artist Platform Award and was also awarded 2nd prize in the Bampton Classical Opera Competition, and here she revealed a lucid, strong soprano which immediately convinced that such acclaim was deserved. She floated lightly through the more elaborate numbers — cascading in unison with the violins in the Act 2 ‘Ah! My foreboding fears — and sang with astonishing delicacy and breath control in the arias of pathos and tenderness, such as ‘if I thy Grief, thy Tears employ’. When Coad was joined by the chorus soloist in ‘Awake each joyful strain’, the female voices blended pleasing.

The singers were accompanied on period instruments by the Bampton Classical Players, led by Adrian Chandler and conducted with unfussy precision by Gilly French. The slow overture had stately gravitas, the heavy dotted rhythms perhaps portentous of the tragedy to come, while in the following Allegro there was much characterful violin playing supported by a strong, supple bass line, while the woodwind interjections cut cleanly through the vigorous string interplay. Greene employs some interesting harmonic juxtapositions and modulations and these were judiciously emphasised.

I was impressed by the agility of the violin playing, and by the range of colours and textures achieved by the small string section. The dialogues between instruments and voices — in the accompanied recitatives and in the arias — were vivid and melodious. The strings were kept busy but the wind contributed chiefly in the choruses (of which there are several in each of the two acts), offering a pleasing contrast of colour in, for example the chorus ‘Thou, universal Lord’. The recorders of Joel Raymond and Oonagh Lee were poignantly sweet during the Act 2 duet, ‘Awake joyful strain’. Paul Sharp and Simon Monday provided punchy trumpet interjections in the closing Act 1 chorus and in the Symphony which begins Act 2. The Players intonation was consistently good.

Throughout the oratorio, the continuo accompaniments of James Johnstone (harpsichord) and Gareth Deats (cello) gave the singers clear, sympathetic support, but were also not themselves without vivacity and imagination. (As was particularly evident during the rapid passagework which accompanies Jephtha’s first Act 2 aria, Deats was not unduly troubled by the strapping on his left-hand little finger!).

Perhaps the venue was less than helpful to the singers’ balance and projection. The nave is high and while the choral singing of Cantandam was joyful and robust at times one felt that some of the tone was lost in the vaulted arches. I wondered too whether placing the soloists in the centre rather than to the side might have improved the balance.

But these are small quibbles. Richard Graves, writing in the Musical Times in 1955, said of Greene, ‘So many of his works lie almost totally forgotten. When we at last turn to them, we shall find them full of unexpected beauty and charm, and as fresh as on the day they were written’. Such freshness and charm were pleasingly evident in Bampton Classical Opera’s performance of Jephtha; one wonders what further delights might be unearthed from among Greene’s neglected oeuvre.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Jephtha, John-Colyn Gyeantey; Daughter, Rosalind Coad; First Elder of Gilead, Nicholas Merryweather; Second Elder of Gilead, Ben Williamson; Conductor, Gilly French; Cantandum; Bampton Classical Players (on period instruments). SJE Arts at St John the Evangelist, Oxford. Sunday 2nd November 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):