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

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alexander Raskatov [Photo by MF.Pissart]
01 Feb 2016

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Alexander Raskatov [Photo by MF.Plissart]

 

To these grand projects are now added the Green Mass, commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and premiered at the Royal Festival Hall by the orchestra under conductor Vladimir Jurowski. The critical commendation cited in the conductor’s biographical note in the programme — ‘Jurowski seems to have reached the magic state when he can summon a packed house to hear anything he conducts with the LPO, however unfamiliar’ (Geoff Brown) — appeared to be confirmed by the large audience that had gathered in the Hall. Unfortunately, many did not last the course.

Raskatov’s Orthodox faith informs much of his music. With the Green Mass he has composed a sort of ‘environmental counterpart’ to Britten’s War Requiem, with the Latin movements of the Catholic Mass interspersed with additional poetic texts, in five different languages, each dedicated to the beauty of nature. Interviewed by Gavin Dixon in May 2014 ( interview) Raskatov commented: ‘I am from Russia, a land of forests and fields, and I really miss it, the space. Also, I think we have done very bad things to our nature. I don’t belong to the Green Party, but if I were to choose, I would choose this one, because we all have a responsibility for what we will leave the next generation, and that’s a real problem.’

Britten, commissioned to produce a work to celebrate the opening of the new cathedral at Coventry to replace the bomb-damaged original building, used the opportunity to express his deeply held pacifist and humanitarian beliefs. The resulting ‘conversation’ between the nine poems of Wilfred Owen and the traditional Latin Missa pro Defunctis speaks powerfully and directly. A union of private and public convictions, it is surely one of the defining works of the 20th century.

Raskatov’s Green Mass, however, meanders and rambles. Translations of the non-liturgical texts — by William Blake, Georg Trakl, Velimir Khlebnikov, Guillaume Apollinaire and St Francis of Assisi — were displayed above the choir, which was helpful. But, while the use of English, German, Russian, French and Italian may well have served to ‘universalise’ the work (the four soloists each perform one secular movement and come together as an unaccompanied quartet in the prayer, ‘Preghiera’), there seemed little dramatic tension, or even engagement, between the secular and sacred texts — none of the subtle, often ironic, nuances which give the War Requiem its honesty and power.

Raskatov has argued that he hoped to create work which was both ‘theistic’ and ‘pantheistic’, ‘a seemingly incompatible juxtaposition’ that might be reconciled through music: ‘In one drop of water we can see a cosmos … That’s why the most important musical patterns are not fixed by lead a nomadic life between liturgical and secular texts’. The problem is that the score is little more than a colourful quilt of such ‘patterns’, a mosaic of timbral effects and repetitive motifs beneath choral vocal parts which relate the text, line-by-line, in a fairly simple, declamatory manner. There are some imitative passages, and the Gloria and Credo are monumental in scale, but the structures seem directionless, largely because the harmonic language — which has moments of minimalist pseudo-spirituality — does not drive forward.

The Green Mass certainly doesn’t lack ambition, though, and Raskatov throws a panoply of instrumental resources into achieving his mission. The composer’s Missa Byzantina of 2014 had required four percussionists to play triangle, bongos, tom-tom, bass drum, suspended cymbals, cowbells, temple and thai gongs, tubular bells, plate bells, church bells, glockenspiel, vibraphone and marimba. For the Green Mass he has called upon the services of eight percussion players, two guitarists and two keyboard players, and thrown cimbalom, piano, celeste, and electric and bass guitars into the mix. This hugely diverse instrumental palette is employed with care (though I’m not sure I could discern the electric guitar’s contribution …). Just as in the War Requiem Britten juxtaposes a large full orchestra with a chamber ensemble (requiring two separate conductors), so Raskatov creates bespoke sound-worlds for small groupings — after the 44-part ethereality of their accompaniment to Blake’s ‘The Wild Flower’s Song’ the large body of strings seemed infrequently employed en masse — combining percussive colours with double bass glissandi effects, or accompanying the highest lying countertenor lines with low, soft trombones.

In the full orchestral passages, though, the Choir of Clare College Cambridge had trouble projecting from their gallery behind the LPO. They seemed to cope with the work’s demands — and it’s a long sing — showing bravery in the Gloria’s assertive cries (signalled with impressive conviction by Jurowski), commitment in the movement’s upward sliding ‘shrieks’, and piercing brightness in their interjections in the ‘Zangezi’ movement.

The four soloists achieved varying success in making sense of the secular diversions. Tenor Mark Padmore sang with characteristic earnestness in the setting of Trakl’s ‘Lebensalter’, intense but warm-toned about the fraught, detailed orchestral texture. Iestyn Davies’s countertenor was a striking clarion at the top, always melodious as it negotiated the fragmentary melodic gestures of the Blake setting which ranged to registral extremes; Davies demonstrated an impressive focus and flexibility which was equally in evidence in the ‘Benedictus’. Bass Nikolay Didenko had a tough task in communicating the essence of Khlebnikov’s ‘Zangesi’, set as a sustained narration above a medley of coloristic effects, before the brass enlivened proceedings with their celebration of the singer’s pronouncement ‘holy, holy, holy, holy God of hosts’. The composer’s wife Elena Vassilieva — to whom Raskatov has dedicated many vocal works, and who, with countertenor Andrew Watts, shared the role of Sharik in A Dog’s Heart at ENO in 2010 — struggled with the stratospheric tessitura of some parts of the setting of ‘Clotilde’ and was not aided by the unsettling incursions of percussion and tuba.

St Francis’s prayer preceded the ‘Agnus Dei’ but the gentle blend of the four soloists’ voices was insufficient to encourage the patrons in the Hall to stay for the final consolations, ‘I await the resurrection of the Dead … And the life of the world to come’, and a slow exodus began which culminated in the staccato click-clack of one departing concert-goer which made a disconcerting coda to the concluding Amen. Whatever one’s thoughts on the merits or otherwise of the Green Mass, this seemed a disrespectful response to the commitment and accomplishment of the performers and, especially, Juroswki.

In the first half of the concert the LPO gave an astonishingly penetrating performance of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, Jurowski’s discerning insight and imagination revealing Beethoven’s wonder and joy at the beauties of the earth, and allowing us to share the composer’s vision with real and moving freshness.

The first movement certainly awakened ‘pleasant, cheerful feelings’, flowing warmly and fluently, by turns full-toned then transparent. Each strand of the texture was beautifully clear, enabling us to appreciate lovely lyrical playing by the cellos, the flute’s charming meanderings, or a wonderful diminuendo from the horns. With gestures discreet and gentle, Jurowski guided the movement onwards with an easy gait, the centrally placed double basses provides a sure foundation; here was the ‘journey’ which was later denied us in the Green Mass. Kristina Blaumane’s lilting cello solo, in ‘Scene by the Brook’, was transferred from instrument to instrument with naturalness and freedom; there seemed no reason for the seamless melodic conversation to end, but when the final cadence did arrive it was shaped with delicate economy by Jurowski. The strings gently coaxed the folky theme of the ‘Merry gathering of country folk’ into being, but its pulsing energies grew ever more full-toned and rich, generating an excitement which would swell into the darkness of the storm. Here, the dry tension of the opening was released by the fierce brass entry, creating a pressing momentum which Jurowski skilfully transmuted into the calmer raptures of the ‘Shepherd’s Song’, a song which the LPO made a hymn of joy — even the pizzicato passages were deliciously sweet-toned — at once both graceful and noble.

Claire Seymour


Programme and performers:

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.6 (Pastoral); Alexander Raskatov: Green Mass (world premiere)

Vladimir Jurowski — conductor, Elena Vassilieva — soprano, Iestyn Davies — countertenor, Mark Padmore — tenor, Nikolay Didenko — bass, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Clare College Choir, Cambridge. Royal Festival Hall, London, Saturday 30th 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):