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

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

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):