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

Alice Coote [Photo by Ben Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]
04 Sep 2015

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Alice Coote [Photo by Ben Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]

 

Alice Coote ’s late-night appearance at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 5 September 2015 was a version of her show Being Both with premiered at the Brighton Festival earlier this year (to mixed reviews, see Rupert Christiansen’s review on the Telegraph website ). Accompanied by Harry Bicket and the English Concert, Alice Coote sang arias from Handel’s Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Herculese, Messiah, Semele and Theodora, with a staging directed by Susannah Waters with choreography by Christopher Tudor. It was billed as an exploration of gender and sexuality, based on the fact that as a female singer Alice Coote is asked to incarnate both male and female characters when singing roles in Handel operas and oratorios.

This is a potentially fascinating subject, but I am not sure that Alice Coote and Susannah Waters show actually enlightened us in any way. The stage action seems to have been simplified somewhat from the full show, which may go some way to explaining my puzzlement with the concept. Dressed all in black, with jacket and trousers, but looking every inch female, Alice Coote opened by singing a few lines from “Myself I shall adore” from Handel’s Semele, unaccompanied and transposed down somewhat. She followed this with an account of “Sta nell’Ircana” from Alcina performed stood on a box and accompanied by a gestural language which cropped up repeatedly in the show. These gestures seemed to be intended to be of significance, including as they did phallic gestures and whatever the opposite female gesture might be called. Frankly I found it puzzling and distracting.

The show continued in this vein, with a strong sense of a dramaturgical flow which I could not quite fathom, as if Alice Coote was telling a story which I could not grasp. Singing “He was despised” from Messiah whilst apparently lying in a bath, and playing with a razor seemed only one of the more puzzling elements. The result was a staging which seemed a little self-indulgent even if deeply felt, and this was not helped by the fact that Alice Coote’s musical performance was similarly idiosyncratic.

Tempos were often a bit wayward, and she has a tendency to pull the music about in a way which can seem rather old-fashioned (or refreshingly non-historically informed, depending on one’s point of view). There is no doubt of her strong technical command, but this is combined with a very idiosyncratic sense of style, so that some moments had me gasping with amazement whilst others induced profound annoyance. The audience, however, was clearly sympathetic in the main and the end of the 75 minute show was greeted with rapturous applause.

“Sta nell’Ircana” (Alcina) was beautifully, if lightly done with a lovely even tone even if some of the phrasing seemed slightly too 19th century in style for my taste and she was accompanied by some superb horn playing. “Resign thy club” (Hercules) was finely sung but as Alice Coote prowled around the stage her voice tended to come and go (always a problem in the Royal Albert Hall) and words disappeared, there was also a hint of unevenness in the passagework.

“Scherza infida” (Ariodante) was sung with a beautiful shape to the phrases and rich tone. It was deeply felt though this did mean that the tempo slowed somewhat. The bassoon obbligato was simply fabulous, with a lovely nutty tone. “Oh, that I on wings could rise” (Theodora) was sung with high bright tone, but the light intimate style of singing meant that it was not always well projected. This was one of a trio of soprano arias which Coote included in the show, demonstrating the wide range of her voice (though I have no knowledge of whether any transpositions were applied).

The orchestra got so show off their paces finely in the ballet music from Act 2 of Ariodante which concluded with Ginevra’s short yet dramatic recit. This led into the performance of “He was despised” (Messiah) referred to above, which was musically strong with lovely straight tone and strongly felt meaning, allied to the sort of tempo which Kathleen Ferrier would have been used to.

“Myself I shall adore”, the solo soprano aria from Semele, was finally sung in full though Alice Coote started this unaccompanied and the instruments gradually joined her. Any joy in the musical performance however, was distracted by the rather over dramatic use of a torch. This was followed by another soprano aria, “Se pieta” which is Cleopatra’s aria from Giulio Cesare. Rather annoyingly the programme said little about the inclusion of these soprano arias, though Cleopatra is a role that has been sung by Cecilia Bartoli.

“Dopo notte” from Ariodante was simply stunning in terms of the vocal control which Alice Coote showed, though starting the aria up-stage did mean that the opening was slightly rocky in terms of ensemble. Her performance was not the conventional bravura, even though all the notes were certainly there, but was quietly intense and internal. After all the virtuoso showing off, we finished with the quiet contemplation of “There, in myrtle shades” from Hercules with the solo cellist coming forward to sit next to Alice Coote on stage.

This show seemed rather like a missed opportunity; there is much to explore in the subject of gender, sexuality and Handel’s characters, but it did not feel as if these interesting questions were really being addressed. However, Alice Coote is never a boring performer and there was much to enjoy in this show. But I am not sure that the stage action contributed to our enjoyment of the arias and Coote’s personality is such that a simple concert performance would have been equally mesmerising, and possibly more vivid. She was accompanied throughout with discreet poise by Harry Bicket and the English Concert.

The Prom is available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

Robert Hugill


Programme and performers:

Being Both: music from Handel’s Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Hercules, Messiah, Semele and Theodora

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano). The English Concert; Harry Bicket (conductor). Susannah Waters (stage director); Christopher Tudor (movement director). BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall; 3 September 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):