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

Hugo Ticciati [Photo by Marco Borggreve]
06 Jul 2015

O/MODƏRNT: Monteverdi in Historical Counterpoint

O/MODƏRNT is Swedish for ‘un/modern’. It is also the name of the festival — curated by artistic director Hugo Ticciati and held annually since 2011 at the Ulriksdal’s Palace Theatre, Confidencen — which aims to look back and celebrate the past ‘by exploring the relationships between the work of old composers and the artistic and intellectual creations of modern culture’.

O/MODƏRNT: Monteverdi in Historical Counterpoint

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Hugo Ticciati [Photo by Marco Borggreve]

 

Beginning in 2011 with ‘reflections on’, ‘homages to’, and ‘meditations with’ J.S. Bach, the festival has subsequently explored the work of Purcell and Rameau, among others, and in June this year turned its attention to the Scarlatti père and frère.

In 2012, it was Monteverdi with whom contemporary musicians, scholars and dancers conversed. And, it was concerts and concepts from that 2012 programme (including ‘Monteverdi to Tango’, ‘Orpheus Goes Postmodern’ and ‘On the Limits of Tonality: Monteverdi meets Schoenberg’) which Ticciati brought to the Wigmore Hall, for a weekend of performances and discussion. In this final concert, entitled ‘Voices from Afar’, Ticciati was joined by cellist Leonard Elshenbroich and the singers of VOCES8. With Monteverdi’s sestina ‘Tears of a lover at the tomb of the beloved’ (from his Sixth Book of Madrigals) establishing the context, the musicians presented four modern works — by Arvo Pärt, John Tavener and Pēteris Vasks — which made a persuasive argument for the ways in which the past continues to be an inspiration for the present.

VOCES8-Monochrome.pngVOCES8

The rhythmic simplicity and unadorned vocal lines of Arvo Pärt’s Magnificat might be considered more ‘medieval’ than ‘Monteverdian’ although, in keeping with Renaissance theories relating to the dominance of word over music, the rhythm is provided solely by the text. Here the syllables of the Latin text were gently and evenly enunciated conveying tender devotion; the homophonic textures were perfectly melded and changes of dynamic unanimous.

The vocalists showed a sound appreciation of Pärt’s compositional practice and a firm command of the vocal techniques and control necessary to serve the music’s spirituality. In the opening bars, the calm interweaving of medieval polyphony is given a modern twist, as the entwining voices are of the same register. Here, around the first soprano’s C-natural drone, the second soprano voice moved freely; the intonation was sure, creating pungent, short-lived dissonances which established the work’ simple austerity. And, these two- and three-voice interactions, both in close proximity and set at more widely spaced remove — as when bass meandered while high above the soprano sustained a drone — served, paradoxically, to create a powerful sense of movement within the overall stillness.

In the passages of tintinnabuli, the long notes were impressively sustained, with no loss of tone; intervals were pure and the phrases were unhurried. The extended, fluid lines with their repeating melodic fragments were naturally elongated at the phrase-ends: there was no feeling of cadence, just infinite suspension; not exactly timelessness, rather the extension of time beyond arbitrary measure.

In contrast, in Pärt’s Dopo la vittoria the spiritual reverence and serenity was replaced by narrative movement and a light energy which was almost madrigalian. The text is an Italian translation of an account in the encyclopaedia ‘A Historical Survey of Ecclesiastical Singers and Songs’, written in Russian, of the story of St. Ambrose baptizing St Augustine; during this baptism, Ambrose begins to see the ‘Te Deum’ and is joined by Augustine, so establishing the chant as it has been known ever since. In the central, more tranquil episode there was some wonderfully focused singing from the lower voices, in the parallel writing for tenor and bass. VOCES8 gave brightness and emphasis to the statements of the words of praise — first, ‘Te Deum laudamus’, then the Italian equivalent, ‘Lodiamo Te o Signore’,, and finally text from the end of the Te Deum, ‘In Te, o Signore, ho posto la mia’ — creating, especially in the magnificently resounding, uplifting ‘Amen’, a mood of impulsive elation and sincerity.

There is no text in Pēteris Vasks’s Plainscapes, a vocalise for mixed voices, violin and cello, which depicts the unending plains and sky of Latvia during a dark, cold winter, into which sparseness bird-song emerges. VOCES8 formed a soft, wordless accompaniment for Ticciati’s opening motifs, which began with an imperceptible, stratospherically-high pitch which fell in register, gradually gaining form and weight, and which evolved in partnership with the cello into strong, searching string lines, intense and rich instrumental explorations between the vocal strophes. Ticciati and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich adopted an uncompromising approach, imploring and challenging the ears and attentiveness of their listeners — and their vocal accompanists. Elschenbroich plays a cello made in Venice in 1693 by Matteo Goffriller, and he makes his instrument sing with heart-moving expressiveness. But here, while the initial serenity was superseded by a growing restlessness, the dynamic volume remained subdued, the inner energy of the cello’s climbing phrases always contained. I was impressed too by the way that Ticciati moved to and from the foreground, always aware of his role within the whole, while ensuring that the harmonics, pizzicato and glissandi spoke clearly. Having established a mood of ethereal abstraction, VOCES8 then imitated bird-song, employing glissandos, stuttering sounds and noises, and vocal colours to evoke Nature’s song. This was a fearless performance of a striking work.

John Tavener’s Svyati sets a Church Slavonic text from the Russian Orthodox service, a text which the composer explained is sung ‘after the congregation have kissed the body in an open coffin at an Orthodox funeral’. The cello represents the Priest or Ikon of Christ, and Tavener instructs that the cellist should be spatially separated from the choir: and so Elschenbroich was a lone figure on the platform, the singers of VOCES8 standing in the gallery at the rear of the Wigmore Hall.

The distance between choir and ‘priest’ did, however, occasionally impact upon the immediacy and intensity of the dialogue between them. For while the basses’ drone was deep and true, evoking the eternal truths of plainchant and also conveying a throbbing melancholy, some of the choral statements of the prayer for mercy seemed somewhat detached and did not blossom with sufficient warmth or grandeur. But, Elschenbroich’s reverential song was utterly transfixing, encompassing an astonishing range of expression, the lines spun out in impossibly long threads. The cellist was totally immersed in the aching tensions of the music, and the closing moments were spell-binding.

The concert began with Monteverdi’s ‘Lagrima d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata’ (Tears of the lover at the tomb of the beloved). The Sixth Book of Madrigals comprises songs of mourning and loss, with the five-part sestina — a lament for ‘the little Roman girl’ (‘Signora Romanina’ thought to be the singer Caterina Martinelli, for whom the title role of Arianna was written) — forming the central item of the collection. VOCES8 attentively explored the evolving sentiments of the text, as depicted in the emotive madrigalisms and dissonances, and the changing vocal textures: at times the voices sank low and moved as one sombre unit, elsewhere the individual strands wound around one another, as if in tortured debate. Occasionally, as the vibrato in the upper voices broadened as the dynamics or tessitura rose, the precision of the tuning was affected. This was quite a ‘theatrical’ rendition, the sound resonant and vivacious, and — uncharacteristic of the evening — I was not entirely convinced that the five singers had captured the song’s spiritual solemnity.

But, the musical offerings which followed were characterised by brave and inspired musicianship. In this regard, Ticciati demonstrated his own skill, imagination, and audacity, in the solo improvisations which opened the second half of the concert. The violinist’s playing was by turns extraordinarily vivid, then daringly withdrawn; the eloquence of a lament was gradually transformed, through ornamentation, repetition of fragments, delicate changes of weight, explorations of texture, with Pärt’s Fratres an obvious inspiration. Ticciati’s absorbing performance was emblematic of the arresting nature of all the music performed during the evening, and of the musicians’ unwavering commitment and ability to communicate the music’s genuine spirituality.

Claire Seymour


Programme and performers:

Claudio Monteverdi — Sestina: ‘Lagrima d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata’, Arvo Pärt — Magnificat, Pēteris Vasks — Plainscapes, Arvo Pärt — Dopo la Vittoria, John Tavener — Svyati.

Hugo Ticciati (violin), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello) and VOCES8. Wigmore Hall, London, Sunday 5th July 2015.

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):