Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

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):