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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):