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 Performances

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

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):