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 Reviews

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’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

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.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

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).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Nov 2015

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

L’Ospedale (libretto, Antonio Abati), Wilton’s Music Hall, London

A review by Claire Seymour

 

What is astonishing about this anonymous opera, which was rediscovered in the Marciana Library in 2003 by musicologist Naomi Matsumoto and superbly presented here by Solomon’s Knot baroque collective, is that Abati’s biting invective is so strikingly modern, and topical. With NHS junior doctors set to go on strike three times next month, issues such as the state funding of the health service, doctors’ pay and working hours, and patient waiting times have never been more hotly disputed in the UK. Moreover, the creeping privatisation, fragmentation and destabilisation of the NHS, in the guise of euphemistically termed ‘efficiency savings’, has brought the ‘profitability’ debate to the fore, and left many fearing that those unable to pay for healthcare will be vulnerable to growing health inequality. As Abati’s libretto asks, ‘Who can find a cure for poverty and desperation?’

The action takes place in an ospedale, a type of charitable institution which in seventeenth-century Italy formed part of the ‘welfare system’: ospedali were usually attached to churches, and they housed and treated those with ailments and social conditions that made them undesirable to the rest of society - such as lepers, syphilitics, abandoned children and orphans, prostitutes and the homeless. (Fittingly, one role of the ospedali was to educate their patients, and this involved musical education; musical ensembles, cori, were formed and these gave performances designed to raise funds and attract sponsors, with the result that in the in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the grandest of the ospedali were at the core of Venetian culture.)

In Abati’s shabby ospedale, four patients languish amid squalor, seeking cures for their varied ailments: unrequited love, professional disappointment, mental deficiency and poverty. (It says much for the potency of the purse in quelling the wealthy hypochondriac’s neurosis that it is only the last of these four ailments which proves truly incurable.) They await the arrival of a new doctor whose medications and remedies will, they hope, restore them to health; but the charlatan’s idiosyncratic treatments have unexpected and unwished-for side-effects, and the sufferers risk losing more than their money.

This is Solomon’s Knot’s first fully staged production. Director James Hurley’s staging updates the action to the present, as immediately confirmed by a supplementary Prologue in which we seem to be eavesdropping on a disingenuous circumlocution by the Minister for Health to the House of Commons, as he justifies the need, in this age of austerity, for reductions to the health budget, and calls for greater efficiency within the NHS as well as an enlarged role for the ‘Big Society’ in order to alleviate the potentially adverse effects of the government’s reforms. (The Minister returns in an Epilogue, to announce his resignation in the light of the first-rate achievements of professional medics.)

The production was sung in Italian with English surtitles, and I found myself wishing that my own Italian was less rudimentary so that I might have a better appreciation of how far the double (even triple), entendres were evidence of Amati’s wit, or were the result of the ‘transcriptions, translations and workshop projects’ which Solomon’s Knot have undertaken during the past two years to bring the opera ‘back to life’. Either way, the satire was certainly au courant, the gags inventive, and the polemic provocative.

Wilton’s Music Hall was the perfect venue. Situated in the historic East End, it is the world’s oldest music hall. For many decades the Hall has been afflicted with damp and dereliction; a flyer for a 1997 production of The Wasteland, directed by Deborah Warner and performed by Fiona Shaw, advised mid-winter visitors to the unheated hall to ‘please dress warmly’, to which a journalist added ‘wear hard hats’. But, despite the welcome completion in September this year of long-running renovations, the makeover has retained the genuine historic fabric and, sitting in the dimly lit, smoke-filled hall (lighting by Ben Pickersgill) it was easy to imagine oneself in an insalubrious infirmary - historic or modern. Rachel Szmukler’s set consisted of a curtained hospital bed, towering piles of orange garbage bags containing medical waste (and new ‘inmates’’ personal belongings), and a trolley laden with urine samples. The harsh glare of strip lights and a glowing vending machine - peddling sugar foodstuffs unlikely to nourish the needy - spread an unforgiving glare. Performing in the round can have its pitfalls though, and while the sight-lines from my seat were superb, others seated on the opposite side of the arena may have found the frequent drawing of the curtain around the operating couch to be frustratingly obstructive.

The quack doctor - actually the disguised Minister for Health, undertaking secret scrutiny of his ailing health care system - attends to the four patients in turn. Rebecca Moon light, clear soprano conveyed profound depths of passion during Innamorato’s melodramatic tale of unreciprocated lesbian desire (presumably the role was originally sung by a castrato?); her lovelorn lament matched Monteverdi for rhetorical urgency, but the doctor was not touched by her distress, basically advising that she should ‘get over it’. Overlooked for career advancement, Cortigiano may be suffering from work-related stress, but tenor Thomas Herford did not let the City boy’s anxieties infect his own lyrical elegance. Countertenor Michal Czerniawski’s Matto was the embodiment of hyper-manic instability, fluctuating between insight and insanity, the latter moments enhanced by some inane shrieking. Nicholas Merryweather displayed characteristic dramatic confidence and vocal sureness as Povero, whose inability to pay the doctor’s fees exposes the latter’s avarice. Merryweather’s well-centred baritone made for a pleasing contrast with Czerniawski, and provided a strong foundation in the lively ensembles. As the fraudulent physician, Jonathan Sells showed considerable comic nous, while Lucy Page demonstrated a crystalline soprano as the put-upon hospital orderly, Forestiero.
The score alternates arias - madrigals, laments, balletti - arioso, ensembles and spoken dialogue, and is melodious, briskly energetic and inventive. To the mix were added two madrigals by Gesualdo, whose bitter-sweet dissonances and chromatic lamentations perfectly complemented the mood of emotional disturbance and anguish. James Halliday drew superb playing from the small instrumental ensemble: rhythmically alert, vigorous and colourful.

Music, medicine and madness are a potent mix. Indeed, my guest for the evening was a retired psychiatrist who has just published a study of operatic heroes who might be considered to exhibit a range of personality disorders (and who, ironically, undertook his training at the nearby London Hospital). This production by Solomon’s Knot perfectly balanced satire and silliness; it was an earnest critique of the medical profession, historic and modern, and also exuberant fun. It took risks, and while not all of them came off, it communicated directly and with thought-provoking candour.

Claire Seymour

Forestiero - Lucy Page, Povero - Nicholas Merryweather, Matto - Michal Czerniawski, Innamorato -Rebecca Moon, Cortigiano - Thomas Herford, Medico - Jonathan Sells; Director - James Hurley, Musical Director - James Halliday, Designer - Rachel Szmukler, Lighting Designer - Ben Pickersgill.


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):