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

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?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

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?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

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 ...

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

06 Dec 2015

New Songs to English Poetry - Wigmore Hall, BCMG

At the Wigmore Hall, the London premiere of a major new work by Howard Skempton, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with Roderick Williams and BCMG, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Howard Skempton : The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Dominic Muldowney : An English Songbook, Roderick Williams, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Wigmore Hall, London 5th December 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

:

 


Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner intrigues because there's nothing quite like it in English verse. Though its tone suggests ancient saga, its subject was unequivocally modern, in the sense it caught the Zeitgeist of the Romantic era's fascination with the "Gothic". The Mariner breaks unspoken rules and kills the Albatross. He and his shipmates are cursed, dying of thirst though there's "water, water everywhere" around them. Two centuries later, the Rime still haunts. The Mariner's journey is a descent into the darker unconscious. Like the wedding guest, we "fear thee, ancient Mariner ! I fear they skinny hand!"

Howard Skempton's setting grows from the ballad, so symbiotically it seems a "living thing". The vocal part reflects the strange obsessive nature of the text which draws the listener in as if hypnotized. The cadences rise upwards and down, at a pace which suggests a hard march. Coleridge began the poem while hiking on the moors. Roderick Williams is a remarkable narrator, capturing the demented undercurrents in the verse. The lines run like a form of Sprechstimme, not recitation, yet not quite singing. This nightmare does not let a voice take full flight. Williams has a gift for natural, direct communication, without theatrical histrionics. He makes us sympathetic to the Mariner as a mortal man, which makes his fate all rhe more tragic.

The BCMG Wigmore Hall concert began with Dominic Muldowney's An English Songbook (2011) with a new song, "Smooth between the Sea and Land", a BCMG commission receiving its London premiere. This song is a setting of A E Housman, and reflects the poet's distinctive timbre, which stands out in contrast to the three settings of W H Auden, whose arch sophistication demands music of equal bite. Muldowney's "At Last the Secret is Out" and "Funeral Blues" reflect Auden's verbal intelligence, Yet when Roderick Williams sang "Stop the clocks.....", one could feel the sensitivity which Auden concealed behind his combative, cynical surface.

Songs to poems by Edward Thomas and John Betjeman bridged the divide between Auden and Housman, with Muldowney creating a nice, almost bluesy feel as if shadowing the spirit of the 1920's. Muldowney responds even better to Shakespeare. His version of "Winter" nips along, as if skidding on ice. "tu-whit, tu-who, a merry note", sharply manic. Finest of all, Muldowney's "Fear no more the Heat of the Sun". This song is the heart of the cycle, connecting to "Funeral Blues" and "Winter", but also in mood to the other songs in the group. It's a wonderful song, at once elegaic, yet tender. With Skempton and Muldowney, the art of English Song is alive and well.

Anne Ozorio

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):