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

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The English Concert [Photo by Richard Haughton]
03 Mar 2016

Orlando at the Barbican

In 1728 Handel was down on his luck, following the demise of his ‘Royal Academy’. Ever the entrepreneur, the following year he made a scouting tour of Italy in search of the best singing talent and, returning with seven new virtuosos — including the castrato Senesino.

Orlando at the Barbican

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The English Concert [Photo by Richard Haughton]

 

He became joint manager of the King’s Theatre with the Swiss aristocrat John James Heidegger, opening the ‘Second Academy’ in December 1729. Orlando was designed to win back audiences eager to experience new works sung by star singers, and Handel garnered a stellar cast alongside Senesino, including rival sopranos Anna Strada del Pò and Celeste Gismondi.

Orlando was first performed on January 27th 1733 and received about ten performances that season before illness and temperamental unrest among the cast intervened, cutting short the planned run. In the summer of 1733, Senesino defected to the competing company, the Opera of the Nobility, and the opera was not revived again by Handel. But, it’s surely one of the composer’s best operas, bursting with inspired melody, imaginative instrumental colourings, immense formal invention, psychological richness, and expressive variety.

One of many operas based upon an episode from Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso, the opera presents a very human tale of conflicting forces: passion and ambition versus self-discipline and resignation. Advised by the magician-philosopher Zoroastro to eschew his passion for Angelica and follow the path of glory, Orlando adamantly pursues his romantic desires. But, Angelica has become enamoured of the soldier Medoro, who is himself adoringly worshipped by the sweet-natured shepherdess, Dorinda. Finding the lovers’ initials carved on a tree, Orlando learns of Angelica’s betrayal and descends into madness; he is prevented from carrying out his murderous threats by the intervention of Zoroastro, who casts Orlando into a cave and summons an eagle and magic potion to cure Orlando of his affliction.

At the Barbican Hall, Harry Bicket and the English Concert were joined by a splendid cast of five young singers, including a trio of Americans, for a ‘concert’ performance which was musically compelling and lacked none of the tension of the theatre. The soloists possessed varied and vibrantly expressive voices and inhabited their roles with utter persuasiveness, their modern dress emphasising the wider, and timeless, allegorical framework. This performance was the third in a five-concert tour (which ends at the Carnegie Hall in March), and the singers all performed impressively ‘off the score’, which aided the astuteness of their characterisation.

Stepping into Senesimo’s shoes on this occasion was countertenor Iestyn Davies. Bicket and Davies ‘warmed up’ for this performance in 2015, when they presented several arias from Orlando in the opening concert of the Wigmore Hall’s 2015-16 season, alongside arias from Rinaldo, Rodelinda and Partenope. The ‘infinite variety of colour’ and ‘expressive depth’ that I noted on that occasion were once again in evidence, and used to compelling effect in a portrayal which emphasised the dark introspection and inner rage of the troubled soldier. Alert to the disjunctions and disruptions resulting from Orlando’s mercurial temperament, Davies prowled the platform with lowering intensity; when seated, he was bowed with a seemingly unbearable burden of anxiety and despair.

Urged by the magician-philosopher Zoroastro to redirect his energies from love to combat, Davies presented his opening aria, ‘Non fu già men forte’, with brightness and warmth, the lyrical ardour supplemented by the glowing playing of the two natural horns, who injected a charming touch of mock heroism.

Technically impeccable throughout the performance, Davies launched into the score’s astonishing prestissimo flights with relaxed ease and without any loss of focus. The breath control exhibited in his Act 2 aria, ‘Cielo! se tu il consenti deh! Fà’, was remarkable, and equalled by the fluid passagework of ‘Fammi combattere’; there was continuity of tone throughout the vocal extravagances, and the latter unfailingly served an expressive purpose.

Emerging from behind the orchestra, where Orlando had been nursing his grievances and torments, Davies delivered a ‘mad scene’ which demonstrated expert appreciation of the protagonist’s disordered temperament, moving with discomforting readiness between dread and nonchalance, and gliding easily through the ever-shifting time signatures and tempi. ‘Ah Stigie larve’, in which the unhinged Orlando imagines a descent to the Underworld, was enhanced by fine theorbo playing; the fresh simplicity of the repetitions of ‘Vaghe pupille’ (Lovely eyes) were movingly interposed between the scene’s darker emotional tumults. Indeed, Davies’ lack of mannerism and simple directness movingly conveyed the destructive of the insanity inspired by his jealous ire; the poignancy was all the greater for the lack of affectedness. In Act 3’s ‘Già per la man d’Orlando … Già cl’ebro mio ciglio’, an invocation to sleep, Davies’ gentle yet elegant vocal pianissimo was complemented by a deliciously dulcet viola duet.

Erin Morley’s Angelica exhibited a sunny temperament, evidently not too troubled by the psychological distress her amorous indulgences had triggered in the hero. Morley’s soprano shone, gliding mellifluously through Handel’s graceful phrases in the numerous slow-tempo arias; the honeyed beauty of her opening solo, ‘Ritornava al suo bel viso’ (which is surprisingly truncated by arrival of Medoro, whereupon it slips into recitative) foreshadowed the silky loveliness of ‘Verdi piante’ in Act 2, the da capo of which was thrillingly soft. Morley’s phrasing was unwaveringly immaculate, though at times I felt that musical elegance was put before dramatic intensity.

As Medoro, Sasha Cooke delivered a gorgeous ‘Verdi allori’ — that among a less superlative might even have stolen the show — exhibiting a wonderfully lustrous, firm mezzo which has poise and presence. Cooke’s delivery of the text in the recitatives was especially noteworthy, and emphasised the integrity and nobility of Medoro’s character.

Handel’s work is distinguished by the addition of two characters who are not present in Ariosto. Kyle Ketersen’s Zoroastro was an imposing figure, a sort of benevolent Don Alfonso. He was perhaps a little more wedded to the score than his fellow singers, but his singing was agile and appealing of tone, and his projection of the text could not be faulted. Ketersen descended to the depths with tautness and evenness in his Act 2 aria, ‘Tra caligni profonde’, as he warned Orlando that madness beckoned if he did not open up his mind to the light of reason; and the bass was superbly animated in the faster passagework of his Act 3 ‘Sarge infausta’— without aspirating the coloratura as so many basses singing Handel are wont to do — as the tempest rose and darkened sky and sea.

As Dorinda, Carolyn Sampson began in playfully innocent, even gauche, fashion — a reminder that Orlando can be interpreted comically (some commentators have suggested that Senesimo’s distaste for the role was due in part to his uncertainty whether the protagonist was to be played with grave seriousness or as a love-struck fool, and whether Senesimo himself was being mocked). As her triplets skipped lightly in ‘O care parolette’, Dorinda’s naïve detachment initially seemed a little out of kilter with the prevailing dramatic mood. However, in Act 2, Sampson’s magically floated ‘nightingale aria’ and the gentle beauties of the following minor-key siciliano, ‘Se mi rivolgo al prato’, cast any doubts aside, and Act 3’s ‘Amor è qual vento’ swirled and leapt impressively through the wide-ranging compass, as Sampson moved in and out of chest register, with good focus in her lower register.

The players of the English Concert provided a buoyant, vibrant accompaniment. The four-part overture seemed to embody the opera’s emotional trajectory, the tight dotted rhythms of the opening movement initially finding release in the triple-time dance which follows; there was then a move into anxious realms in the minor-key, flourish-embellished Lento, before balance was restored by the lively celebratory triplets of the concluding gigue. Bicket’s approach throughout was distinctly ‘less is more’; he provided leadership through his alert harpsichord playing rather through overt gesture, but still coaxed meaningful interaction between instrumentalists and singers. It took a few numbers for the ensemble to settle but Nadja Zwiener was an authoritative and characterful leader. In Act 1 the swift movement from recitative to aria was complemented by the compelling forward impetus inspired by the vigorous string playing and a particularly characterful bass line; but after the urgency of the emotional arguments in Act 1, Bicket provided space in Act 2 for the romantic raptures of Angelica and Medoro to unfold, allowing the singers to linger and to shape the arioso phrases with thoughtfulness and care.

The ‘argument’ which was printed at the start of Handel’s libretto, rather than outlining the plot, unusually sets out an ethical ‘case’ — explaining that the opera is a sort of ‘morality play’ which demonstrates: ‘the imperious Manner in which Love insinuates its Impressions into the Hearts of Persons of all Ranks; likewise how a wise Man should be ever ready with his best Endeavours to re-conduct into the Right Way, those who have been misguided from it by the Illusion of their Passions.’

This exceptional performance certainly followed the ‘Right Way’ and insinuated its impression into this listener’s heart.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

The English Concert: Harry Bicket — conductor/harpsichord, Orlando — Iestyn Davies, Angelica — Erin Morley, Dorinda — Carolyn Sampson, Medoro — Sasha Cooke, Zoroastro — Kyle Ketelsen. Barbican Hall, London, 1 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):