Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.



Mozart 250 [Courtesy of Classical Opera]
21 Jan 2016

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Mozart 250 [Courtesy of Classical Opera]


This ambitious ‘journey’ — which will not conclude until 2041! - began with an exploration of works composed in 1765, a year which was fortunate to offer gems such as J.C. Bach’s Adriano in Siria (Adriano in Siria). 1766 apparently delivers slimmer pickings. It was a little disconcerting that Artistic Director Ian Page’s ‘Welcome’ in the programme read like an ‘apologia’ — ‘In many ways, and for no discernible reason, 1766 seems to have been a less rich musical year than those either side of it.’ — and was accompanied by an apparent vindication of the programme, ‘we are not pretending that every work that we perform within MOZART 250 is a masterpiece’. But, there was much of interest in this varied programme, and the presence of names such as Vanhal, Beck and Guglielmi in the list of works to be performed added an intriguing ‘rarity’ factor too.

It was Mozart’s concert arias which, despite the composer’s youth — and that fact that 1766 was an itinerant year which saw him dashing between the cities of Europe with his sister Nannerl, to show off their prodigious talents — impressed most. Soprano Louise Adler, a current Associate Artist with the company, combined crystalline definition of the phrases with a warm, appealing tone in ‘Per pietà, bell’ idol mio’ (For pity’s sake, my beloved’), in which the two oboes (James Eastaway and Rachel Chaplin) engaged in a tender dialogue with the voice, enriching the colour palette. The sentiments of the final line, ‘Abbastanza il ciel mi fa’ — as Artaxerxes begs not to be charged with ingratitude, for Heaven has left him ‘unhappy and unlucky enough’ — were heightened by the superb contribution of horn player Roger Montgomery, in perfect unison with the voice, while the tight trills of the oboes and first violins demonstrated the young Mozart’s sharp eye for meaningful detail.

‘O temerario Arbace … Per quel paterno amplesso’ (Oh reckless Arbace … With that paternal embrace’ followed, in which the striking harmonic twists and instrumental textures of the accompanied recitative (the first surviving example by Mozart) confirmed the composer’s innate dramatic instinct. The strength of characterisation was enhanced by Alder’s confident delivery, distinctly off-the-score. The soloist’s rapid cascades, which launch unexpectedly, and rather paradoxically, with the line ‘Placami l’idol mio’ (console my beloved), were fluid and bright, conveying urgency; and, while I felt that Alder held back at times, the delicacy of her high pianissimos was impressive. I wasn’t convincing by Page’s tempo, though; overly brisk, it denied us the subtle grace of Mozart’s triple-time, lilting phrases.

We had to wait for the final bars of ‘Sento, ahimè, nè so ch sia’ (I feel, alas, and I don’t know what it is) from Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi’s opera buffa, Lo spirito di contradizione - which was premièred in Venice in 1766 — for Alder to unleash the full power of her soprano; she fittingly evoking the fevered desperation the Countess Flaminia who, deceived by the dastardly Don Cesarino, vows to remain single and laments her fate: ‘Meschinella già deliro,/ Il respire più non ho’ (now I am a delirious wretch, and I can breathe no more). Alder varied the vocal colours effectively, accompanied by the palpitating pizzicatos of cello and first violin — her ‘trembling heart’. J. C. Bach’s pleasure garden song, ‘Ah, why shou’d love with tyrant sway’, was delivered with simple directness, a smooth line and nimbleness; and the interplay between voice and strings in the closing phrase was charming.

Tenor Benjamin Hulett, a former Associate Artist, also presented a Mozart concert aria, but though he made a valiant attempt to suggest earnestness and nobility, he could not make a convincing case for the repetitive, unctuous eulogising of the Licenza (homage) ‘Or chi il dover m’astringe … Tal e cotanti sono’ (Now that day obliges me … So great and so many), which Mozart composed to mark Sigismund von Schrattenbach’s ascension to the Archbishopric of Salzburg. Haydn was represented by the ‘Et incarnates est’ from his Missa Cellensis, which Hulett sang with poise and profundity; he was relaxed in the higher-lying passages but also found a surprising gravity and intensity in the lower register. The long lines of the second verse showcased his confident breathing, while the chromatic inflections of the third verse, and its large leaps, demonstrated Hulett’s technical assurance and good intonation.

Most interesting of Hulett’s contributions was Niccolò Jomelli’s ‘De’ miei desire ormai … Che faro?’ (Now I see myself … What shall I do?’) from the composer’s opera Il Vologeso. The complexity and inventiveness of the upper strings during the recitative suggested a composer striving to use all the resources at his disposal to capture an evolving emotional discourse — as the Roman General Lucio Vero recognises the misguidedness of his attempts to force the defiant Berenice, wife of the defeated Parthian King, to love him. Hulett wove the General’s distressed fragments into convincing extended phrases, and this performance made one eager for the opportunity to hear Classical Opera’s performance of the entire opera at the Cadogan Hall in April ( Il Vologeso).

Instrument works performed by the twenty-piece Orchestra of Classical Opera completed the programme. It was good to have the opportunity to hear Johann Baptist Vanhal’s Symphony in G minor in which Page encouraged the players to make the most of the dynamic and textural contrasts. The Adagio placed Eastaway’s beautifully shaped solo above the ‘tick-tock’ pizzicato of the lower strings; in the Trio of the third movement there were appealing melodic exchanges. Page worked hard to create energy and vigour in the fast outer movements, but while the pianissimo beginning of the Finale: Allegro pulsed excitedly, I’d have liked Page to have determined consistently upon a two-in-a-bar pulse: his intermittent reversions to four beats held things back. Similarly the horns might have been even more unrestrained, to convey the exuberance of the movement. The first movement of Franz Ignaz Beck’s Symphony in D was also characterised by contrast: first rhetorical chords, then quiet descending scales, which grew into increasingly busy counterpoint culminating in the explosive entrance of the horns. But, overall the movement lacked lightness and air, and I longed for Page to take a few more risks with tempo and articulation.

We had symphonies from Mozart, too, beginning with the Symphony in Bb No.5 in which there was not always a good balance between upper and lower voices, the bass line occasionally overpowering. Here, as elsewhere, there was some strong individual playing: horns were vibrant at the start, the strings’ trills were vivacious, and there was grace in the antiphonal motivic exchanges between the first and second violins. Yet, there was often an unwelcome weightiness, and the Andante was heavy and ponderous. Mozart’s ‘Old Lambach’ Symphony in G Major K.45a concluded the concert, prefaced by Page’s inauspicious account of its premiere, at which the composer’s father, Leopold, complained that the music and players were equally dreadful! On this occasion, the performance was certainly not lamentable; and Page did his best to draw forth the moments of musical interest, though once more I felt that the results were worthy rather than truly engaging.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Classical Opera: Ian Page — conductor, Louise Alder — soprano, Benjamin Hulett — tenor, the Orchestra of Classical Opera.

Mozart: Symphony No.5 in B flat major K.22; Niccolò Jommelli: ‘’De’ miei desiri ormai … Che farò?’ from Il Vologeso; Mozart: ‘Per pietà, bell’ idol mio’ K.78, ‘O temerario Arbace … Per quel paterno amplesso’ K.79; Johann Baptist Vanhal: Symphony in G minor; Haydn: ‘Et incarnatus est’ from Missa Cellensis; Pietro Guglielmi: ‘Povera me! … Sento, ahimè, nè so che sia’ from Lo spirito di contradizione; Franz Ignaz Beck: Symphony in D major Op.4 No.1, I. Allegro maestoso; J. C. Bach: ‘Ah, why should love with tyrant sway’; Mozart: ‘Or che il dover ... Tali e cotanti sono’, K.36 Symphony in G major K45a (Lambach). Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 19th January 2016.

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):