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

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

Pelléas et Mélisande: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

What might have been? Such was a thought that came to my mind more than once during this, the premiere of Glyndebourne’s new Pelléas et Mélisande. What might have been if Stefan Herheim had not changed his Konzept so late in the day? (I had actually forgotten about that until reminded during the interval, yet had already began to wonder whether the production had been, especially for him, unusually rushed.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

Superb Schoenberg Gurrelieder - Salonen, Philharmonia, London

Schoenberg Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, demonstrating how well the Philharmonia Orchestra has absorbed Schoenberg's idiom. A blazing performance, formidably dramatic, executed with stunning assurance. Salonen has made his mark on the Philharmonia through in-depth explorations of the 20th century repertoire he loves so well.

An ambitious double-bill by the Royal College of Music

London may have been basking in the golden glow of summer sunshine this week, but things have been darkly gothic on the capital’s opera scene.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sakari Oramo [Photo by Jan Olav Wedin]
18 Jul 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015, Royal Albert Hall, London 17th July 2015.

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Sakari Oramo [Photo by Jan Olav Wedin]

 

It’s a grand blockbuster on a biblical theme, but it’s by no means part of conventional British choral tradition Elgar, who was still alive when this was written in 1931, could not have tried anything like it at the Three Choirs Festival, at that time, and Benjamin Britten, I suspect, would have cringed at its excess.

But think back to Facade: an Entertainment, (read more here) with which Walton burst to notoriety barely six years before the BBC commissioned him to write for orchestra of “not more than 15 players”. Instead Walton created the extravaganza that is Belshazzar’s Feast.

The BBC SO trombones blasted a single, savage wail. Did we hear the sound of ancient Biblical trumpets? “Thus spake Isaiah”, sang the male chorus. but the word “Isaiah” oscillated with oddly bluesy flourish. “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Oramo’s ear for quirky detail highlighted how Walton adapted the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age to underline the sense of dislocation the Hebrews felt in a new and alien world. The saxophone, the angular percussion, the slithering swathes in the choral parts and even the brass bands are there for a reason.

Christopher Maltman delivered the passage “Babylon was a great city” with such ferocious bite that his voice bounced off the walls of the Royal Albert Hall. The part is created completely without accompaniment to demonstrate the austere values of the Hebrew God. The massed voices of the BBC National Chorus of Wales, the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Chorus were impressive, but the heart of the cantata takes place in near silence. Maltman described the mysterious Writing on the Wall in hushed, horrified tones. When the choruses and orchestra resumed, the crosscurrents and interweaving they made, literally, “a joyful noise”, complete with a merry, jaunty dance.

Jean Sibelius’s Belshazzar’s Feast (1906-7) may not be scored for voice, but is highly theatrical nonetheless. Originally written as incidental music for a play,the Suite (Opus 51) unfolds like a series of miniature tone poems, each vividly expressive. The first ,”Oriental Procession” sounds exotic in the way so much western music adopts Orientalism for colour, but Oramo brought out its connection to other Sibelius works. The prancing bell-like sounds reminded me of the “sleigh” music in which Kullervo’s sister rides, clothed in finery on her fateful journey. The slow movements, though, are even more poetic, particularly the haunting “Solitude” with its melancholy part for solo flute. The dotted rhythms and swirling lines suggest Nightride and Sunrise. The clarinet parts were played sensually. Spoken words or sung text were rendered unnecessary in the expressive beauty of Sibelius’s music.

The theatrical theme of this First Night of the Proms began with the Overture to Carl Nielsen’s opera Maskarade (read more here) Oramo has been conducting Nielsen symphonies with the BBC SO for some time, so this performance sparkled with vivacious charm and wit. Perhaps they should do more music theatre. Dadaville, a premiere by Gary Carpenter (b 1951) was disappointingly derivative, added perhaps to fill some BBC quota of works that are newly written but not necessarily new. Fireworks as part of performance might work in something more original, but not in this case. Thankfully, Lars Vogt was a fine soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 20 in D minor (K. 466), well supported by Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

All Proms are broadcast internationally, online and on demand on the BBC Proms Website.

Anne Ozorio

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):