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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May I594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from Theodora [Photo courtesy of Théâtre des Champs-Élysées]
21 Oct 2015

Theodora, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

Handel’s genius is central focus to the new staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Theodora, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

A review by Frank Cadenhead

Above: Scene from Theodora

Photos courtesy of Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

 

Opening October 10th, it features striking performances by acclaimed baroque specialist William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants and super-star counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky, Handel certainly is worthy of this prime-time treatment and it is already a highlight of the new season.

With the coming holidays, Americans can hear Handel's Messiah almost everywhere: in concert halls, churches, shopping malls and even elevators. In my youth, I assumed he was a one-hit composer (well, two counting Water Music). I knew he had a long life and continued to compose until the end but always assumed that the "powers that be" knew that his other works deserved no particular attention.

20151001-17VP.png

In recent decades, however, this has changed for me and many others. Imaginative stagings and the Baroque revival, featuring music played on historically-informed instruments, have given new life Handel's many operas and oratorios and also revived interest in a large number of other long-forgotten composers. William Christie and his forces have already successfully staged this oratorio in Glyndebourne in 1996 with a popular and provocative staging by Peter Sellars. Christie recorded the work in 2000 and now opens the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées season with it. The oratorio tells the story with such detail that the border between opera and oratorio seems to have disappeared. The new production, also “modern dress,” focuses on the cast and chorus to clarify and ennoble the music of this tragic tale.

The British stage director Stephen Landridge, the new director of the opera of Göteborg, tells the story of Handel’s penultimate oratorio with a refreshing directness and clarity. Movable walls, which change color from the lighting, frame the action and the choir, often onstage, represent the public. The story of Roman legions moving against a Christian community in ancient Antioch features a young centurion who falls in love with a chaste, newly-converted Christian. When Roman forces move against the upstart “sect,” the conflicting emotions of the young officer, Dydime, sang with poise and arching beauty by Philippe Jaroussky, become central to the story.

20151007-05VP.png

In the title role, soprano Katherine Watson began appearing in public as part of Christie’s Jardin des Voix program for young singers in 2008 and, after appearing in several productions under his wing, is ready for the international stage. A voice which combines strength and shape, her Theodora has serious dramatic impact and beauty. Her friend and confident, Irène, sung by Stéphanie d’Oustrac, is also carefully realized and beautifully sung. d’Oustrac also began her career with Christie and now has a serious international career. A vibrant artist of sound, her performance compliments Watson’s engaging Theodora.

The Roman officer who tries to save Theodora, Didymus, was sung by the celebrated counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky. While the voice seemed to have a bit less impact that in the past in this same theater, it retains the superb grace and beauty which took him to the top. This and his instinctive theatrical sense make him appealing as the Roman officer who questions the authoritarian state. As Valens, the Roman commander demanding obedience, bass Callum Thorpe performs with much barking and an often-distorted melodic line but the audience seemed to like his portrayal. Tenor Kresimir Spicer is more engaging as Didymus’ friend, Septime. One little complaint would be that the English text could have been more accurately expressed by the entire cast.

It is a tribute to William Christie’s decades of work in France that a Handel opera can open a season with five performances and have capacity audiences cheering. Some time ago there was an internet discussion of whether Handel should be considered at the level of Beethoven, Bach or Mozart, the top ranking of the pantheon of classical composers. The overarching beauty and brilliance of Theodora and its message of universal love and hope makes the case that Handel’s music for voice is a universal treasure that all music-lovers should well know.

Frank Cadenhead

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):