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

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.

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.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

The Bandits in Rome

AKA I masnadieri, rare early Verdi, though not as rare as Alzira. In 1847 London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre  commissioned the newly famous Verdi to write this opera for the London debut of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.

Utah’s New Moby Dick Sets Sail

It is cause for celebration that Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s epic Moby Dick has been realized in a handsome new physical production by Utah Opera.

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):