Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Elizabeth Kenny
24 Feb 2016

Theatre of the Ayre, Wigmore Hall

In the 17th century, sacred vocal music was not just for public worship in church but also for private devotion within a secular setting, and this concert at the Wigmore Hall by Theatre of the Ayre under its director Elizabeth Kenny transported us from Chapel Royal to domestic chamber.

Theatre of the Ayre, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Elizabeth Kenny

 

Noting in his Preface to Harmonia Sacra (1688/93) that the ‘youthful and gay’ had already been entertained with a ‘variety of rare compositions’, the entrepreneurial Henry Playford addressed his new publication to: ‘others, who are no less musical though they are more devout.’ For these ‘pious persons’, who are excellent judges of both music and wit, divine hymns are the ‘most proper entertainment’, one which ‘warms and actuates all the powers of the soul and fills the mind with the brightest and most ravishing contemplations’.

The devotional songs presented here certainly foregrounded the misery of the penitential and the blisses of spiritual consolation which might be attained through devotion — a fitting focus, perhaps, for the current liturgical season. In addition to Psalm texts, there were settings penned by persons whom Playford describes as ‘eminent both for learning and piety’ and who include William Fuller, Bishop of Lincoln, and poet George Herbert.

While the lion’s share of the programme was de devoted to Purcell, whose dominant presence would surely have made the collection more attractive to potential purchasers, there were contributions by Purcell’s English contemporaries, John Blow and Pelham Humfrey, whose collaborative ‘Hark how the wakeful cheerful cock’ opened the programme, seguing from the brief canon ‘Laudate Dominum’ to which the five soloists had processed onto the platform.

The dialogue, begun by Humfrey and completed by Blow, between two penitents was spirited and theatrical: as awareness of their sins mounted so did their misery, and soprano Sophie Daneman and tenor Nicholas Mulroy joined in lamentation — ‘Since then the cause of both our grief’s the same,/ Mix we our tears for grief let’s die,/ But first our dirge let’s sing, or cry:’ — the enriched accompaniment, as theorbo was joined by viola da gamba and harpsichord, ironically deepening the sweetness of their miserere.

Pepys may have described Humfrey as a man ‘full of form and confidence and vanity’, but the anthem ‘Lord! I have sinned’ suggests that his self-assurance may have been justified, for he was clearly skilful in using flamboyant musical gesture to express sombre contrition. The Italianate idiom — drooping chromaticism, angular melodic shapes and poignant dissonances — was delivered with madrigalian vivacity by Daneman, accompanied by organ and viola da gamba, but while the soprano’s phrases were expressive, the line and tuning were not consistently controlled. In particular, I found Daneman’s tendency to slide through the chromatic sighs to be excessive; the sentiments she seemed sought are already present in the music and need no exaggerated articulation.

There was even more Italianate virtuosity to enjoy in soprano Katherine Watson’s witty and technically assured performance of Giacomo Carissimi’s dramatic motet ‘Lucifer Caelestis olim’, which enacts Lucifer’s fall from grace. Watson was equally convincing as the imperious narrator, the boastful Lucifer and when she was when delivering God’s condemnation, perhaps not surprising as the two dramatic figures are, ironically, not distinguished in terms of musical style. Lucifer’s deluded bragging — ‘O me felice, o me beatum coelestis gloriae decoratum!’ (O how happy am I, blessed and adorned with the glory of heaven!) — was delivered in nimble coloratura with a bright edge at the top and real strength in the lower register.

John Blow brought Mulroy and bass Matthew Brook together in two rich duets. ‘Help, Father Abraham!: The dialogue of Dives and Abraham’ showcased the agility and diverse hues of Mulroy’s bright tenor as he pleaded for Brook’s Abraham to show pity, while Brook demonstrated rhetorical presence — ‘What son of Hell and darkness dare molest/ This blessed saint, scarce warm yet on my breast?’, he thundered — and control of vocal nuance. In ‘Enough my muse, of early things’, it was Mulroy’s registral range which was noteworthy, as he rose from low depths to a fervent upper register, calling upon his muse to take up its lute and play ‘Happy mournful stories, The lamentable glories of the crucify’d King’. There was striking urgency as the two voices blended in thirds, and melismas were delivered with sharp musical and textual clarity.

But, this was really Purcell’s evening. Many of the Purcell’s devotional songs survive only in manuscript, and so Playford’s publication is a valuable one; the songs are some of the less familiar works among the composer’s output but also some of the finest. On his title pages to the two volumes of Harmonia Sacra, Playford noted that the continuo part should be played by ‘theorbo-lute, bass-viol, harpsichord, or organ’ and that was the ensemble gathered here, supplemented by two violins, as ‘domestic’ representatives of the renowned Twenty-Four Violins of the Chapel Royal. Brook was joined by the violins, viola da gamba and organ in Purcell’s ‘My song shall be of the loving kindness of the Lord’, and the instrumentalists provided a rich-textured symphony between the arioso and recitative passages of Brook’s intense but lyrical solo; there was some delightful interplay and dialogue between voice and instrumentalists, and Watson, Mulroy and countertenor Robin Blaze gradual heightened the exaltation of the choral Hallelujah. Brook’s performance of ‘In the black dismal dungeon of despair’ was a highlight of the evening: to the sparse accompaniment of theorbo, the bass wrought meaning from every detail of the text — for example, opening the vowels of the title line to convey the depths of suffering, or the rolling of the ‘r’ in ‘certain horrid judgement’ — and music. Here, too, the unsurpassed naturalness of Purcell’s text setting was evident, in the short-long sprung rhythms (‘Lost to all hope of Liberty,/ Hence ne-ver to remove’) which punched home meaning, and in the melismatic flourishes which reified emotion — ‘Being guilty of so long, so great neglect’. This was a masterly rendition, sustained to the final perfectly executed trill.

Contrasting trios of voices were presented in and ’I was glad when they said unto me’ (ATB) and ‘In guilty night: Saul and the witch of Endor’ (STB). In the latter, the voices moved with freedom from ensemble blend to solo prominence and build the drama with urgency. The chromatic piquancy conveying his ‘sore distress’, Mulroy’s Saul hurried fearfully through his imploration, ‘For pity’s sake tell me, what shall I do?’ but Brook’s Samuel was implacable in his magisterial authority: ‘At thou forlorn of God and com’st to me?’ Daneman was a lively witch, but at times I thought that, determined to impress upon us the passion of Purcell’s declamatory idiom, she sacrificed beauty of tone and precision for dramatic effect. In ‘I was glad’, the interjection of the two violins rivalled the voices for rhetorical impact.

The two female voices spoke with a pleasingly unified timbre at the close of Purcell’s ‘Jehovah quam multi sunt hostes’; Watson demonstrated a burnished lower range at the start of ‘With sick and famished eyes’, and again negotiated the dissonances and disjunctions of the more Italianate passages skilfully, though the virtuosity did occasionally detract from the clarity of the diction.

In the concluding items, and with the metaphorical setting of the sun, we moved closer to spiritual consolation and rest, with two ‘Evening Hymns’. The first, to an anonymous text, was warmly delivered by Mulroy and Brook, and again the interaction between instrumental and vocal bass parts brought expressive richness to the close, ‘By sleeping, how it is to die’. Robin Blaze performed Purcell’s long-lined melodic setting of Bishop Fuller’s more well-known text with gentle understatement, accompanied by Kenny’s thoughtful theorbo. Thomas Tallis’ hymn, ‘All praise to thee my God this night’, the textures engagingly varied for each verse, brought the evening to a soothing close.

The continuo ensemble also performed three trio sonatas by Purcell, with expertise and musicality. The unanimity of articulation and expression of violinists Rodolfo Richter and Jane Gordon was remarkable, and Alison McGillivray’s viola da gamba provided a lyrical even-toned bass, while Robert Howard was an alert and crisp contributor at the keyboard and organ. The increasingly complex and deeply compelling accumulations and variations of the Chacony of the Trio Sonata No.6 in G Minor (Z807) almost stole the show.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Theatre of the Ayre: Rodolfo Richter violin, Jane Gordon violin, Alison McGillivray viola da gamba, Robert Howarth organ, Sophie Daneman soprano, Katherine Watson soprano, Robin Blaze countertenor, Nicholas Mulroy tenor, Matthew Brook baritone, Elizabeth Kenny director, theorbo.

Anon — Canon a 3 Laudate Dominum; John Blow — ‘Hark how the wakeful cheerful cock’; Henry Purcell — ‘My song shall be alway of the loving kindness of the Lord’ Z31, Trio Sonata in Three Parts No. 10 in A major Z799; John Blow — ‘Enough, my muse, of earthly things’; Henry Purcell — ‘In the black, dismal dungeon of despair’ Z190, Trio Sonata in Three Parts No. 11 in F minor Z800, ‘In Guilty Night’ (Saul and the Witch of Endor) Z134, ‘I was glad when they said unto me’ Z19, Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes’ Z135; Giacomo Carissimi: ‘Lucifer, caelestis olim’; Henry Purcell — ‘Trio Sonata in Four Parts No. 6 in G minor’ Z807; Pelham Humfrey — ‘Lord, I have sinned’; John Blow — ‘Help, Father Abraham’; Henry Purcell — ‘With sick and famish’d eyes’ Z200, ‘Now that the sun hath veiled his light’ (An Evening Hymn on a Ground) Z193, Trio Sonata in Four Parts No. 10 in D major Z811, ‘The Night is come’ (An Evening Hymn) Z77; Thomas Tallis — ‘All praise to thee my God this night’.

Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 23rd February 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):