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

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Parks fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Dec 2015

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Traditional: ‘La dama d’Aragó’; Canario (anon./improvisation); ‘Bella, de vós som amorós’ (from Cançoner del Duc de Calabria, pub. 1556); Traditional (Catalonia): ‘La Filadora’, ‘La Margarideta’, ‘Mareta, no’m faces plorar’, ‘La gata i en belitre’; Antonio Soler, Fandango; Traditional (Catalonia): ‘La presó de Lleida’, ‘La ploma de perdiu’; ‘Durme, durme’ (Canción Sefardí); Antonio Bertali, Chiacona; Traditional (Catalonia): ‘La Mare de Déu’, ‘El Cant dels aucells’, ‘Eixa nit és nit de vetlla’; Jota Marineira (Traditional, Mallorca); Traditional (Catalonia): ‘El Mariner’; Traditional (Mallorca): ‘Bolero de s’escandalari’, L'Arpeggiata, Wigmore Hall, London 21st December 2015

A review by Claire Seymour

:

 

Their 2013 recording Mediterraneo (Erato) journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy; here they honed in on the north west Mediterranean and with soprano Núria Rial - herself a native of Aragón - presented a sequence of songs and dances from Catalonia and Mallorca.

One cannot imagine anyone more fitting to sing this music. Rial’s well-rounded soprano is clean and relaxed; at times cool and dreamy, elsewhere warm but insouciant, then fervent and full of yearning. Much of the charm derives from her fluent, supple phrasing, which is elegant but unaffected. Utterly unforced and perfectly tuned, her soprano sounds ‘natural’ - though Rial is a trained classical singer who focuses on Baroque and early Classical repertoire - and the ‘artlessness’ of the delivery is captivating.

This suppleness and ease were immediately apparent in the opening Catalonian song ‘La dama d’Aragó’ (The lady of Aragon). Rial is a natural story-teller and balladeer, and she effortlessly conjured the Aragon lady, ‘as fair as the sun, Her flaxen hair flows down to her feet. Ah, the lovely Anna aria, thief of love …’. The pace was spacious, gently propelled by director Christina Pluhar’s dulcet theorbo. Rial applied a little vibrato here, a darkening of hue there, and the odd rolled ‘r’, to add spice to the tale, while Doron Sherwin’s between-verse cornetto elaboration warmly reflected on La dama’s incomparable allure.

The programme revealed ancient Aragón to be a cultural melting pot: the empire extended from Iberia, through France and the Balearic Islands, to Sardinia, Naples and Sicily. Moreover, European influences combined with Moorish and Sephardic elements. And, the music itself travelled far and wide: ‘Bella, de vós som amorós’ (My beauty, I’m in love with you) was published in Venice in a collection known as El Cançoner del Duc de Calabria in 1556, which was widely known across Europe, from the Mediterranean to Sweden. In this song, the sighs and runs in the vocal line had an almost madrigalian quality.

Tempos and rubatos were well-considered and the songs were grouped in unbroken sequences adding to the air of spontaneity. Thus, the free giocoso mood of ‘La Filadora’ (The spinning girl), with its playful interjections by the cornetto and violin (Veronika Skuplik), generated a natural accelerando at the close. The final phrase, ‘Tra la ra la, she spins finely and goes on her way’, skipped into the next song, ‘La Margarideta’ (Maggie) in which Rial demonstrated her vivacious showmanship, embodying the lazy girl who insists she cannot get out of bed as she has no bloomers, stockings, or - the tempo slowing deliciously - shoes to put on, her craftiness underpinned by the chromatic tinges in the accompaniment. In contrast, in the succeeding ‘Mareta, no’m faces florar’ (Mummy, don’t make me cry), Rial became a guileless child and then, the clear tone enriched and warmed, a loving mother who promises to sing her daughter a song to lull her to sleep. The instrumental commentary - poignant prefatory remarks by harp (Sarah Ridy) and bass (Boris Schmidt), and after-word by psaltery (Margit Übellacker) and theorbo - gave this song depth and stature.

L’Arpeggiata’s Mediterraneo disc featured traditional plucked instruments, with qanun, saz, Greek lyre, lavta, fado viola and Portuguese guitar complementing the authentic baroque collection. Though the former were absent here, the sound world created by baroque harp and violin, cornetto, psaltery, harpsichord, double bass and theorbo seemed no less ‘authentic’. But, there were some surprises too: in ‘La gata i el belitre’ (The cat and the rascal) Francesco Turrisi spun from his harpsichord to the piano, creating a brighter more penetrating sound world in which the violin’s pseudo-melancholic reflections on whatever it was that was ‘lost’ were transformed into the bass’s pounding energy, representing the protagonist’s fury: ‘If I get my hands on him, a la nyigo, nyigo, nyigo, nyigo, I’ll certainly make him pay!’ The piano was also employed in the strophic ballad ‘La presó de Lleida’ (Lleida prison), one of the highlights of the programme, in which Rial’s voice balanced lucidity with emotive strength (most touchingly in the poignant question which the prisoners, entranced by her singing, are asking by the little girl, ‘Are you short of food or drink?’); the high bass pizzicato episodes between stanzas added further expressive nuance. Pluhar’s quietening, slowing cadential figure was beautifully crafted but there was to be no consoling point of rest, for it was picked up and transformed by Mayoral into the lively accompaniment to ‘La ploma de perdiu’ (The partridge feather), which raced along, propelled by cornetto and violin contributions, to the singer’s happy-go-lucky parting line: ‘I want to give her a little hug!’

Each song had unusual features - of instrumental timbre, rhythm or vocal colour - to catch the ear, such as the bass’s fluttering gesture at the start of ‘La Mare de Déu’ (Mary Mother of God) and the gentle diminuendo of the angel’s promise, ‘On Christmas night you will give birth … you will have a little boy as fair as a star’, as piano engaged delicately with the cool soprano line; or, the penetrating presence of the quotation of the linnet’s song, ‘Oh, how sweet and fair is the song of Mary!’, in the subsequent ‘El cant dels ocells’ (The Song of the birds). ‘Eixa nit és nit de vetlla’ (Tonight is the watch night of the vigil) began with an unaccompanied stanza which established a narrative mood, while in ‘El Mariner’ (The sailor) interesting modal tints coloured the repeating melodic and harmonic gestures.

Between the vocal numbers were interspersed various instrumental improvisations. A canario (a frolicking dance) was a fountain of colour and pulsation: Schmidt’s agile double bass pizzicato, became a fluid cornetto song, before Mayoral presented a fantasia of rhythmic reverie. A fandango by Antonio Soler demonstrated both the players’ artistry - a simple descending violin line was eloquent and affecting - and the symbiotic interaction between the instrumentalists, as the alert introduction by theorbo and percussion spurred first cornetto and harp, then psaltery and bass to ever more elaborate invention. Skuplik took centre-stage in an impressive rendition of Antonio Bertali’s Chiacona, beginning with refined control and organically developing more vigorous, exuberant gestures, while retaining a warm, focused tone.

I could have listened all night; a sentiment shared, I imagine, by many of the Wigmore Hall patrons who had filled the seated auditorium and crowded into a standing area at the very back of the Hall. (I did wonder, though, why there wasn’t more evidence of toe-tapping among the clientele, given the infectious spiritedness of the music; and, perhaps the stark lighting in the Hall might have been softened a little? It seemed a night for the Wigmore Hall to let its hair down …) We were treated to two encores. The first reaffirmed the skilfu manner in which Sherwin and Skuplik had blended ingenuity and sensitivity in accompanying the voice throughout the evening. The second, as the rolling ground bass triggered jazz-infused invention from first an enlivened Turrisi (on piano) and then a relaxed Schmidt, was a wonderful illustration of the seamless tapestry of folk, baroque and jazz threads that L’Arpeggiata weave.

Claire Seymour

Christina Pluhar - director, theorbo, Núria Rial - soprano, Doron Sherwin - cornetto, Veronika Skuplik - baroque violin, Margit Übellacker - psaltery, Sarah Ridy - baroque harp, David Mayoral - percussion, Boris Schmidt - double bass, Francesco Turrisi - harpsichord/piano

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):