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

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

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):