Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bejun Mehta [Photo by Josep Molina / MolinaVisuals]
03 Dec 2015

Bejun Mehta: Yet can I hear that dulcet lay

The American countertenor Bejun Mehta exhibited a considerable range of vocal colours, refined phrasing and spectacular virtuosity in this programme of Baroque cantatas and arias, with La Nuova Musica, under the direction of the ensemble’s founder, David Bates.

Yet can I hear that dulcet lay

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Bejun Mehta [Photo by Josep Molina / MolinaVisuals]

 

As they explored the Baroque Italian cantata, on the genre’s journey from its homeland, across Europe to England and Germany, Mehta also communicated an infectious enjoyment and enthusiasm. And, considerable pleasure in making and performing this music — its sentiments amorous, its articulation dramatic — was evidently shared by all the collective musicians.

Mehta did not start the evening entirely comfortably though. Handel’s ‘Siete rose rugiadose’ (You are dewey roses) was not the sweet and delicately moist number we might have expected, as intimated by its title; the instrumental introductory bars were serene and poised, but Mehta found it difficult to match the continuity of line established by the theorbo, viola da gamba and harpsichord, and the fragmentary and ornate phrases of the initial vocal utterance were somewhat unsettled. It was as if considerable intellectual effort was being expended but the requisite suavity of phrasing remained elusive. Mehta’s tone felt a little constricted above the sparse accompaniment, and though he worked hard to focus the intonation at the cadence before the da capo repeat, there was some unease.

Fortunately, the virtuosic roulades of the first aria — an outburst of breathless love — of the composer’s ‘Mi palpita il cor’ (My heart throbs), delivered here with impressive precision, seemed to release whatever knot was causing the vocal tightness. Perhaps the fuller accompanying support helped too, as flute and double bass joined the ensemble; and, the moving inner voices of Bates’ organ continuo created both interest and succour. Mehta’s performance confirmed the emergence of Handel’s genius during his Italian journey in the opening years of the eighteenth century: the recitative combined grace and rhetoric; there was urgency in the melodic inventiveness. In the second aria, the countertenor used the harmonic nuances expressively, and he built effectively through the subsequent recitative. The final aria, which tells of the lover’s hopes that his devotion will be rewarded, was enriched by the bright warmth and agility of Georgia Browne’s flute; and this number was characterised by active communication between the musicians, encouraged by Bates, which ensured our strong engagement.

The first half of the recital concluded with Alessandro Scarlatti’s ‘Perchè tacete, regolati concerti?’ (Why are you silent, you well-ordered harmonies?), which saw violins and double bass join the ensemble to perform the cantata’s nine movements featuring an overture — which showcased some very agile cello and double bass playing in the fugal section — and various arias and recitatives. The through-flowing emergence of sentiments and moods of these strophic numbers made a satisfying change from the intense but fixed emotions of the da capo forms. Mehta’s tone was rich and replete with sensuous allure, and the climax of the cantata, the tender lullaby ‘Dormi, ch’il mio dolor/Nenia al tuo sonno’ (Go to sleep, but know at least that I die for you) was gorgeously seductive. Mehta’s control of musical line and dramatic peak was impressive, and the emotional intensity was extended by the tender, thoughtful instrumental contributions. There was an almost Monteverdian piquancy about the chromaticisms, and the delicacy of the violins in the instrumental postlude were a wonderful representation of the protagonist’s closing assertion that, after the fierce attacks which have assaulted his heart, ‘La mia piaga proverà/ Men crudo il duol’ (My wound will make my sorrow less painful).

The second half of the recital introduced two German cantatas, and if Mehta’s diction in the Italian works had occasionally been approximate, here he showed an instinctive feeling for the music’s spirit as expressed through the language; I was not surprised to find consequently, when reading the artist’s biography in the programme, that Mehta has a degree in German literature from Yale. The combination of sweetness and plangent lamentation in the instrumental opening of J.C. Bach’s ‘Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte’ (O, that I had tears enough in my head; a reference to the Book of Jeremiah) was captivating, and the sublime expressivity of Mehta’s subsequent melody utterly transfixing. The line was effortlessly sustained, though textual details were brought to the fore: there was a growing intensity, as tears flowed from the poet-speaker’s eyes (‘Und meine beiden Augen fließen mit Wasser’, while the oppression of the heart (‘und mein Herz ist betrübet’) was strikingly enunciated.

Melchior Hoffmann’s ‘Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde’ (Strike then, long awaited hour) was deeply affecting; Mehta employed an ‘open’ sound for the gentle melodies, which were complemented by quietly tolling hand-bells — a literal representation of the funereal clarion which accompanies the poet-singer’s passage to the after-life, marking the ticking clock as the singer approaches the death for which he longs. The processional character of the work was wonderfully conveyed, and the protagonist’s anticipation of heaven was deeply consoling.

The highlight of the recital was Vivaldi’s ‘Piani, sospiri e dimandar mercede’ (Weeping, sighing, and asking recompense). Here, Mehta’s countertenor was expressively flexible — it swooning beguilingly to depict the tempting breeze which tempts the boatman from the safety of the harbour, to confront the storm; large vocal leaps were despatched with ease, conveying the fickleness of the poet-speaker’s beloved. The instrumentalists contributed to the alternating melodious beauty and dramatic unrest, and the prevailing lyricism revealed the essential naivety of the helmsman. This is not ‘easy’ music: there are many harmonic twists and turns, and the intonation was sure. The rhetorical flourishes of the concluding aria, as the voice darted urgently, were theatrically striking.

Between the cantatas were interspersed some superbly executed instrumental works, including the Symphony, Song and Chaconny from Purcell’s King Arthur, in which the coloristic variations which imbued ‘Fairest Isle’ were eloquent and enthralling. Here, though the dynamic contrasts seemed surprisingly modern, the overall utterance was convincingly authentic. A striking variety of pace and weight of bow stroke distinguished the movements of Heinrich Biber’s Mensa Sonora Suite III in A Minor; similarly, there was a convincing juxtaposition of blended voices and vigorous dialogue.

The recital closed with Handel’s ‘Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay’ from The Choice of Hercules. Though the text of this rare English cantata by the composer seems to have possessed little to inspire Handel, there are momentary beauties — including this number in which Hercules refuses Pleasure’s offer of the blisses of Elysium. Mehta and his fellow musicians wonderfully drew forth the subtleties of this aria, and lulled us into peaceful contentment.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Bejun Mehta, countertenor; La Nuova Musica, David Bates, director. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 30th November 2015.

George Frideric Handel: Cantata — ‘Siete rose rugiadose’ HWV162, Cantata — ‘Mi palpita il cor’ HWV132c; Henry Purcell: King Arthur — A Symphony, A Song and Chaccone; Alessandro Scarlatti: Cantata — ‘Perchè tacete, regolati concerti?’; Johann Christoph Bach: ‘Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte’ (Lamento); Antonio Vivaldi: ‘Pianti, sospiri e demandar mercede’ RV676; Heinrich Biber — Mensa Sonora Suite III in A minor; Melchior Hoffmann: ‘Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde’; George Frideric Handel: The Choice of Hercules HWV69 Part 2 No.10 ‘Yet can I hear that dulcet lay’.

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):