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

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Photo by Chris Christodoulou
14 Mar 2016

Ariodante, London Handel Festival

By the time that he composed Ariodante, which was first performed in January 1735, Handel had more than three decades of opera-composing experience behind him. It’s surely one of his greatest music dramas not least because, adapted from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, it is a very ‘human’ drama, telling of love and lust, betrayal and healing.

Ariodante, London Handel Festival

A review by Claire Seymour

Photos by Chris Christodoulou

 

The story is set in Scotland, where, Ariosto tells us, 'any woman who engages in union with a man and is not his wife, must be put to death'. In this production, which opened the 2016 London Handel Festival at the Royal College of Music, director James Bonas seemed to travel even further north: there was an Icelandic vibe to the dim hues of cool blue, dull grey and grungy brown of the set and costumes — a monochrome palette and barren ruggedness which reminded me of the violent setting of Orson Welles’ Macbeth. The cast’s distressed combat fatigues and dreadlocks, together with the Scottish King’s pseudo-Arthurian vulnerability, evoked a dystopian hinterland which might be past or future. The bare set enhanced the timelessness: broken branches were suspended aloft, a resolute stump doggedly persisted. In the final act, a purgation by water as effected — not without risk of mishap. Beige curtains swished to and fro across the stage, inferring the passing of time or physical dislocation, but regrettably in noisy fashion. Darkness embraced all — even, at times, the singers, who disappeared into the dim recesses of the subdued stage.

The arias themselves were not encumbered by excessive direction; the singers were encouraged to use the music to communicate rather than indulge in superfluous gesture. The result was directness and a pleasing lack of fussiness.

As the eponymous prince, Kate Coventry worked hard — and with considerable success — to communicate the varied stages of Ariodante’s emotional journey. In the opening act, she conveyed the joy and serenity which springs from our hero’s confidence in Ginevra’s love and his delight at the bestowal of the King’s favour (‘Con l’ali di constanza’) singing with clear, fresh tone and dancing with bright vitality through the intricate melismas. She had staying power too: ‘Scherza infida’ was a bitter explosion of grief, which suggested the destabilising anger which follows his beloved’s perfidy.

London Handel Festival 2016 (2). Ariodante, cast A. c. Chris Christodoulou .png

As was the case with all the impressive cast, Coventry seemed to have little difficulty with the virtuosic demands of her role: ‘Dopo notte’ was gleefully florid, racing through the three-octave compass and powerfully conveying Ariodante’s almost supra-human ecstasy when he learns that his beloved is irreproachable after all. The part of the hero knight was originally written for Carestini, renowned for his agility and stamina; Coventry suggested that she’d have been more than a match.

Sofia Larsson’s Ginevra was impassioned and full of heart; occasionally the sound was a tad sharp-edged and her intonation took a little time to settle, but when she got into her stride we enjoyed dramatic changes of colour. Her lament of despair, ‘Il mio crudel’, was particularly affecting. Coventry’s and Larsson’s voices blended well in the three duets which Handel provides.

Galina Averina sang and acted well as Dalinda: she was foolishly gullible but her naivety and regret won our forgiveness. Averina has a piercing shine at the top and sleekness throughout the range; her virtuosic cascades were impeccably even and smooth. As the evil Polinesso, Elspeth Marrow exhibited the seductive allure of an Iago; although the part seemed to lie a little too low for her, she sang with a rich warmth and smoothness which, ironically, simultaneously belied and embodied the villainy and lustfulness of the cruel and ambitious reprobate.

Paul Aisher demonstrated an appealing tone and firm line as Lurcanio, although he had a tendency to shout in the more impassioned outbursts. Simphiwe Simon Shibambu was more restrained as an introspective King of unwaveringly regal bearing, but his well-focused, beguiling bass is an instrument of great beauty and Shibambu used it with thoughtful musicality to convey the monarch’s pensive dignity. Tenor Joel Williams sang with rich tone in the role of Odoardo.

Laurence Cummings urged the proceedings onwards at a brisk lick — at times too precipitously, I felt; while dramatic intensity accrued as the recitatives tumbled hastily onwards, the undue hurriedness meant that there was a lack of opportunity to absorb the sentiments of the preceding aria before we fell headlong into the next one. The playing of the London Handel Orchestra was vigorous and strong — perhaps the continuo was a little too present in the recitatives — and there were some well-phrased obbligato contributions from oboe and bassoon. However, I felt that, with greater spaciousness, the cast might have been able to show more sensitivity to the text’s emotional weight. While the performances offered much to admire — not least pinpoint accuracy from some of these young singers in the demanding coloratura — there was at times a certain ‘thrill’ lacking.

Claire Seymour


Handel’s Berenice will be performed on 17 March, in St. George’s Hanover Square; it will be followed by the pasticcio Elpidia , at the same venue, on 31 March. For further details see http://www.london-handel-festival.com/

Ariodante — Kate Coventry, Ginevra — Sofia Larsson, Dalinda — Galina Averina, Polinesso — Elspeth Marrow, Lurcanio — Paul Aisher, King of Scotland — Simphiwe Simon Shibambu, Odoardo — Joel Williams; James Bonas director, Laurence Cummings — conductor, Molly Einchcomb — designer, Rob Casey — lighting designer, London Handel Orchestra

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, 8th March 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):