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

Michael Tippett [Source: Naxos]
22 Dec 2015

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Michael Tippett [Source: Naxos]

 

The circumstances which led to the composition of this oratorio, which received its first performance in 1944 are well-known: in 1938, 17-year-old Polish Jew Herschel Grynspan, who was being illegally sheltered in Paris by his uncle and aunt, was provoked by the frustration of his attempts to gain official papers and by the persecution of his mother, and shot Ernst von Rath, a German diplomat. The act prompted what has been described as one of the ‘most severe and terrible of the official pogroms in Germany’. Grynspan was imprisoned by the French authorities; after the fall of France he was handed over to the Nazis, and disappeared.

The oratorio may have had its origins in specific events, but Tippett was concerned with their universal significance - the evidence they provide of man’s inhumanity to man - and seventy years later, Tippett’s ‘impassioned protest against the conditions that make persecution possible’ seems just as relevant and necessary.

Gardner made the divisions between the work’s three sections clear: the Parts presents the experience of those individuals whose lives take them beyond the conventions of their rulers, then follows the personal drama of the ‘Child of Our Time’, and the work concludes with an exploration of the significance and potential healing effect of these events for all mankind. In this way Gardner created a structure in which the framing reflections had a dynamic relationship with the drama they embraced. The orchestral sound was prevailingly sombre, though through the darkness there were glimmers of light.

The oratorio’s musical and emotional contrasts, twists and turns were emphasised. Even in the opening bars, an almost Elgarian warmth was immediately quelled by a wonderful diminuendo: ‘It is winter’, we are told, and the world ‘turns on its dark side’, as the music shifts alarming between diatonicism and chromaticism.

Soloists, chorus and orchestra - the latter both as massed ensemble and as solo instrumentalists - were equally involved, and intertwined, in the unfolding arguments. Alice Coote’s opening statements in Part 1 were immediately engaging, though the part lay quite low for her, and she enunciated Tippett’s text dramatically; while in the ensuing instrumental interlude, the flute and solo viola offered pertinent reflections on, and energised debates with, Tippett’s words: ‘Truly, the living God consumes within and turns the flesh to cancer!’ In Part 2 the cellos’ imitative counterpoint emphasised the almost hysterical desperation of the mother who cries, ‘What have I done to you, my son? What will become of us now?’ Horns, brass and timpani added chilling power to the choral opening of Part Three: ‘The cold deepens. The world descends into the icy waters.’

Much of the impact of the work derived from the precision and vigour of the singing of the BBC Symphony Chorus. The choruses possessed a rousing contrapuntal vitality: the imitative drama of the ‘Chorus of the Oppressed’ recalled the rigorous polyphony of the Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli and the Concerto for Double String Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Chorus encompassed a huge dynamic range, from whispered pianissimos to thrilling fortissimos. In ‘The Terror’ in Part 2, ‘Burn down their houses’ was sung with a rhythmic dynamism evoking the choruses from Britten’s Peter Grimes.

Of course, it is the Negro spirituals which Tippett included at pivotal points in each Part which most powerfully swell with emotion. The first, ‘Steal away’, was ardent and free; the lithe accents of the second, ‘Nobody knows’ were enhanced by quiet, buoyant playing by the cellos. The progression in Part 3 from Coote’s arioso, ‘The soul of man is impassioned like a woman’, through to the ecstatic greeting, ‘It is spring’, which precedes the final spiritual, ‘Deep river, my home is over Jordan’, was superbly controlled and emotionally compelling. ‘Deep river’ itself had both urgency and splendour. Tippett explained that he chose the spiritual form to serve as a substitute for ‘the special Protestant constituent of the congregational hymn’. But, Gardner couldn’t quite overcome the fact that the spirituals are not truly integrated into the oratorio. Stylistically, and in terms of the gap between the collective expression that they embody and more individual expression elsewhere in the oratorio, the division is perhaps too wide for the overall form to ever fully cohere. But, these soulful outpourings still made an absorbing and animating impact.

Soprano Sarah Tynan used her penetrating and crystalline voice as a persuasive dramatic and expressive instrument: the range of colours she found for the repetition of the word ‘How’ in her first contribution to Part 1, ‘How can I cherish my man in such days, or become a mother in a world of destruction’, seemed to embody the very irresolvability of the question. Tynan spun a wonderful pianissimo which then soared and bloomed entrancingly about the choral injunctions to ‘Steal away to Jesus’; in her Act 2 duet Scena with tenor Robert Murray, ‘On my son! In the dread terror they have brought me near to death’ the soprano’s rich timbre was replete with emotion. Murray sang with dignity and elegance.

The rhythmic poise of his calypso-like ‘I have no money for my bread’ was striking, set against the strong rhythmic definition of the orchestra. In ‘Go down, Moses’, as the voice of ‘Boy’, the lyricism of Murray’s phrase, ‘My dreams are all shattered in a ghastly reality’, served to push home the horror.

Brindley Sherratt narrated Parts 1 and 2 with the clarity of the Narrator from a Bach Pasion. If sometimes his bass was a little taxed by the most high-lying phrases, there was an ominous weight in the deepest and darkest of his utterances, such as ‘Men were ashamed of what was done. There was bitterness and horror’,which precedes Act 2’s Spiritual of Anger. In Part 3, Sherratt’s tone became ever more focused, his bass a true oracle: ‘The words of wisdom are these: Winter cold means inner warmth, the secret of the nursery of the seed.’ Gardner and his massed forces powerfully fused the dramatic with the contemplative; the results were both troubling and consoling.

The concert began with Oliver Knussen’s The Way to Castle Yonder, a ‘potpourri’ for orchestra drawn from the composer’s opera Higglety Pigglety Pop!, the second of his ‘fantasy operas’ in collaboration with Maurice Sendak. The suite comprises three episodes - ‘The Journey to the Big White House’, ‘Kleine Trauermusik and ‘The Ride to Castle Yonder’ - presented in a seamless sequence. Knussen describes it as ‘a theatrical requiem for [Sendak’s] dog, Jennie, in the frame of a ‘quest’ opera. Castle Yonder is Sendak’s imaginary theatrical heaven for animals’. The airy breadth of the opening of ‘The Journey’ established an ominous mood; within the spacious sound-world distinct textures and timbres emerged, meticulously defined by Gardner, like a rotating kaleidoscope. As more energised momentum accumulated, the trotting hooves of a milk-cart horse were heard, countering the eeriness with realism. The subsequent ‘meditation’ - Jennie’s dreams of lions’ - presented a simple, poignant contrast to such shifting complexities. The shift to the concluding ‘Ride’ was explosive and the percussive close shimmered thrillingly

The Chinese-Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel was the soloist in a refined performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, though one occasionally lacking in strong characterisation. Schwizgebel was almost wrong-footed at the start by an intrusive sneeze which disrupted the pianist’s preparations for the placement of the crucial first chord of the Allegro moderato. When he did get underway, the elegant restraint of the opening chordal phrase was further disturbed by a splutter from the other side of the Hall. But, if Schwizgebel’s focus was unduly unsettled he did not let it mar the poetry of his exquisite phrasing. The first orchestral entry had an assertive ebullience which seemed out of keeping with the pianist’s self-possession; Gardner seemed to be urging the orchestra onwards, eager to find drama in the instrumental interplay, in contrast to the still, reflectiveness established by Schwizgebel; perhaps the pianist felt rushed, for his tone was rather brittle in the development section of the movement. The Andante felt overly brisk, and there was a never-quite-resolved tension between the asperity of the strings’ unison pronouncements and the piano’s more introverted expressiveness. The Rondo: Vivace was light of spirit but I’d have liked more brilliance and colour.

Claire Seymour


Performers:

Sarah Tynan - soprano, Alice Coote - mezzo-soprano, Robert Murray - tenor, Brindley Sherratt - bass, Louis Schwizgebel - piano, Edward Gardner - conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus.

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):