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 Commentary

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

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.

Natalya Romaniw: 'one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’

There can hardly be a dry eye in the house, at the ‘Theatre in the Woods’ at West Horsley Place - Grange Park Opera’s new home - when, in Act 3 of Janáček's first mature opera, Natalya Romaniw’s Jenůfa realises that the tiny child whose frozen body has been discovered under the ice is her own dead son.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

A Chat With Italian Conductor Riccardo Frizza

Riccardo Frizza is a young Italian conductor whose performances in Europe and the United States are getting rave reviews. He tells us of his love for the operas of Verdi, Bellini, and particularly Donizetti.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

When Performance Gets Political: A Brooklyn Concert Benefiting the ACLU

What’s an artist’s place in politics? That’s the question many were asking after actress Meryl Streep made a pointed speech criticizing President Trump at the Golden Globes. Trump responded directly to Streep, using his preferred communication medium of Twitter to call Streep “overrated.”

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

Battles administration neglects FLO’s assets by defunding the program

The college administration and President Denise Battles’ recent decision to defund the Finger Lakes Opera came as a shock to many and a concern to more. This decision reflects the administration’s blatant disregard for the arts and reveals a mindset that is counterproductive to the mission of the college.

2017 Summer Festival at Lucerne

Lucerne Festival announces its 2017 Summer Festival.

BEMF Chamber Opera Series Presents Splendors of Versailles

The GRAMMY Award-winning BEMF Chamber Opera Series returns with an all-new production inspired by the splendor and music of the palace of Versailles. King Louis XIV transformed his father’s pastoral hunting lodge at Versailles into a lavish palace that served as the seat of government and culture in France.

Center for Contemporary Opera presents Jane Eyre (World Premiere)

Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre, a full-length opera in three acts with a libretto by Diane Osen based on Charlotte Bronte’s novel, will receive its world premiere at The Kaye Playhouse (Hunter College) on Thursday, October 20, 7:30pm with a second performance on Saturday, October 22, 8pm. Jane Eyre is Karchin’s second opera, composed in 2014, following his critically acclaimed one-act comic opera Romulus.

Boston Early Music Festival announces the appointment of Melinda Sullivan to the new position of the Lucy Graham Dance Director

Cambridge, MA–The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) is pleased to announce the appointment of Melinda Sullivan to the new position of the Lucy Graham Dance Director.

2016 Elizabeth Connell Prize Winner Announced

Kseniia Muslanova from the Russian Federation has won the 3rd annual Elizabeth Connell Prize for aspiring dramatic sopranos held at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Sydney Australia on 3 September 2016.

A New Opera Company with a True Story of Forbidden Love

Victory Hall Opera is a new company making its debut in Charlottesville Virginia on August 14, 2016. Its first presentation will be Richard Strauss’s and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Der Rosenkavalier.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Commentary

Gemma Lois Summerfeld
26 Apr 2015

Kathleen Ferrier Awards, Wigmore Hall

Kathleen Ferrier may have been one of the world’s finest contraltos but this year’s Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final, held at the Wigmore Hall, was all about lyric sopranos.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards, Wigmore Hall

By Claire Seymour

Above: Gemma Lois Summerfeld

 

The competition was inaugurated in 1956, three years after the untimely death of the great English contralto, with the aim of honouring Ferrier’s memory by encouraging and supporting — in the words of this year’s jury chairman, Graham Johnson — ‘open-hearted and communicative vocal talent, promising young singers who somehow or other bore the Ferrier stamp while in no sense being imitators’. Held annually, it was originally restricted to singers from the Empire and Commonwealth but is now open to any singer under the age of 29 who has studied for at least one year in the UK or Republic of Ireland.

Preliminary rounds require candidates to demonstrate their accomplishment in song and opera, in varied languages, and to perform music written in the past and during the last fifty years. In the Final, they are required to present at least one English song and to balance song and opera in a recital lasting not more than 20 minutes.

Programming is, therefore, crucial. And, this is where the sole male competitor came unstuck. Hungarian tenor Gyula Rab demonstrated a strong, handsome voice in his final item, ‘Ecco, ridente in cielo’ from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, with pleasing Italianate colouring, but this was preceded by two rather leaden Liszt songs from Tre sonetti di Petrarca in which, despite communicating well with accompanist Paul McKenzie, the 28-year-old Rab sounded under pressure and strained at the top. More problematic still was Britten’s arrangement of Purcell’s ‘Sweeter than roses’. Rab worked hard — but therein lay the problem, for the result was cumbersome and overly weighty, lacking the necessary elasticity and cleanness which the idiom requires. Rab could not hide his own disappointment with his performance but he can take heart that he has an exciting summer ahead: he returns to the Glyndebourne Festival, where he was a Chorus member in 2013, for Carmen and Poliuto, taking the role of A Christian and understudying Nearco in the latter.

That left five sopranos to battle it out. Soraya Mafi had the difficult task of opening the evening. The 26-year-old graduated from the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School in 2014 and makes her debut with ENO in The Pirates of Penzance later this month, but that did not stop the nerves kicking in and Mafi seemed somewhat disengaged in Mozart’s ‘L’amerò sarò costante’ from Il re pastore; despite the warm shine and stylish decorations she did not consistently communicate the heartfelt sincerity of Aminta’s devotions. However, in Hugo Wolf’s ‘Er ist’s’ from the Mörike-Liederbuch Mafi’s soprano bloomed thrillingly to announce the arrival of spring, and the fine-spun phrases of Julius Harrison’s ‘Philomel’ were crystalline above accompanist Ian Tindale’s magical rippling accompaniment. Tindale, who conjured tremendous energy in the Wolf song and whose introduction to Liszt’s ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ was wonderfully eloquent, was the deserving recipient of the Accompanist’s Prize. In the Liszt song, Mafi again demonstrated impressive technical control and powerful projection while in her final item, Strauss’s ‘Frühlingsstimmen’, her bright gleam came into its own as she raced through the glittery roulades with stylish panache.

Suzanne Fischer, a 27-year-old Britten-Pears Young Artist, brought drama to ‘Villes’, the first of three songs from Britten’s Les Illuminations, but found the rapidly enunciated text a challenge too far, though in the song’s less hasty final episode she revealed an appealing lower register. The third song of Britten’s cycle, ‘Phase and Antique’, was more composed, but Fischer had not quite mastered the interpretative demands. She began her programme with Constanze’s ‘Ach, ich liebte’ from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, in which a variety of vocal colours persuasively conveyed emotion, while Schubert’s ‘Suleika II’ saw both Fischer and her accompanist Nicholas Fletcher scale the virtuosic challenges impressively, demonstrating clarity of line and considerable dexterity respectively. Fischer was a suave and confident Musetta in ‘Quando m’en vo soletta’ from La bohème, her waltzing phrases blending coquettish charm and tenderness.

Given the predominance of soprano voices, the decision by 24-year-old Gemma Lois Summerfield to open her programme with two less familiar songs by Sibelius was a welcome one. In ‘Diamanten på Marssnön’ (A diamond on the March snow) her rich velvety tone was alluringly set against Sebastian Wybrew’s sparkling accompaniment. Summerfield shaped the phrases with assurance and control. To my uneducated ears, her Finnish sounded idiomatic and in ‘Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte’ she told related the tale of the girl who, returning from meeting her lover, must confront her angry mother most engagingly. Similarly, each verse of Mendelssohn’s strophic ‘Hexenlied’ was nuanced as she whipped through the imagery of broomsticks, goats, dragons and Beelzebub. Here, and in Copland’s ‘Heart! We will forget him!’ from 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson, Summerfield moved with effortless legato between registers, her lovely burnished lower voice complemented by a glossy top. Frau Fluth’s monologue from Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor was stunningly capricious and sparkling — a highlight of the evening.

Alice Privett, a 27-year-old graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, opened the post-interval sequence with Massenet’s ‘Je suis encore tout étourdie’; she got confidently into her stride and made a good effort to convey Manon’s confusion when she meets Lescaut as she journeys to the convent, without really capturing the young girl’s naïve vulnerability. Likewise, the hymnal lyricism of ‘O waly, waly’ (arranged Britten) eluded Privett and her pianist Chad Vindin. In Messiaen’s ‘L’amour de piroutcha’ from the song cycle Harawi, however, they found their niche and showed great composure, Privett’s silky phrasing supported by Vindin’s subtly understated accompaniment, conveying the song’s strange mystical quality. Handel’s ‘Let the bright seraphim’ had a brassy brightness and allowed Privett to show off her breath control and neat trills.

Prunier’s aria ‘Chi il bel sogno’ from Puccini’s La rondine was the wonderfully persuasive opening item in the final programme of the evening, presented by the Armenian soprano Tereza Gevorgyan. The 27-year-old is currently studying at the National Opera Studio — supported by Opera North, the Amar-Franses and Foster-Jenkins Trust and Opera Les Azuriales — and in this impressively assured rendition (accompanied by Fletcher, who did double duty during the evening) Gevorgyan employed judicious rubato and produced a lovely vocal sheen. Manon’s ‘Je marche sur tous les chemins’ (Massenet) was dazzling as Gevorgyan span the vocal line ravishingly. Here, and in ‘How fair this spot’ by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Tell me, what in the shade of the branches’, she showed that she has tremendous stage presence. Bridge’s ‘Love went a-riding’ was an exciting rip-roaring close.

The panel of judges awarded Second Prize to Mafi, while Summerfield — the youngest competitor — swept the board taking both the Song Prize, for her interpretation of Sibelius, and First Prize. I’d have had a hard time picking a winner from this impressive line-up.

Claire Seymour


Artists and programmes:

Soraya Mafi (soprano), Ian Tindle (piano): Mozart ‘L’amerò sarò costante’, Wolf ‘‘Er ist’s’, Harrison ‘Philomel’, Liszt ‘Oh! Quands je dors’, J. Strauss ‘Frühlingsstimmen Waltz’.

Suzanne Fletcher (soprano), Nicholas Fletcher (piano): Mozart ‘Ach, ich liebte’, Britten ‘Villes’, ‘Phrase and Antique’, Schubert ‘Suleika II’, Puccini ‘Quando m’en vo soletta’, Bridge ‘Love went a-riding’.

Gemma Lois Summerfield (soprano), Sebastien Wybrew (piano): Sibelius ‘Diamanten på Marssnön’ and ‘Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte’, Mendelssohn ‘Hexenlied’, Duparc ‘Chanson triste’, Copland ‘Heart! We will forget him’, Nicolai ‘Nun eilt herbei’.

Alice Privett (soprano), Chad Vindin (piano): Massenet ‘Je suis encore’, Britten ‘O waly waly’, Messiaen ‘L’amour de piroutcha’, Handel ‘Let the bright seraphim’.

Gyula Rab (tenor), Paul McKenzie (piano): Liszt ‘Benedetto sia ‘l giorno’ and ‘I’vidi in terra angelici costumi’, Britten/Purcell ‘Sweeter than roses’, Rossini ‘Ecco ridente e celo’.

Tereza Gevorgyan (soprano), Nicholas Fletcher (piano): Puccini ‘Chi il bel sorgno’, Massenet ‘Je marche sur tous les chemins’, Rachmaninov ‘How fair this spot’ (Zdes’ khorosho), Tchaikovsky ‘Tell me, what in the shade of the branches?’, Bridge ‘Love went a-riding’.

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):