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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May I594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

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.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips [Photo by Todd Rosenberg]
22 May 2016

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips [Photo by Todd Rosenberg]

 

The final three performances featured the Roméo of Eric Cutler, whose contributions created a memorable atmosphere in what was already a movingly effective production. In addition to Mr. Cutler, Juliette was sung by Susanna Phillips, Frère Laurent by Christian Van Horn, Gertrude by Deborah Nansteel, and Lord Capulet by Philip Horst. The younger generation related to and associated with the Capulets and Montagues was represented by Jason Slayden as Tybalt, Takaoki Onishi as Count Paris, Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio, Anthony Clark Evans as Gregorio, and Marianne Crebassa as Stephano. David Govertsen portrayed the Duke of Verona. Mmes. Nansteel and Crebassa and M. Slayden were singing in debut roles at Lyric Opera. The Lyric Opera Orchestra was conducted by Emmanuel Villaume; the production - owned by the Metropolitan Opera, New York - was directed by Bartlett Sher in his Lyric debut; Michael Black prepared the Lyric Opera Chorus.

Before the overture commences, members of the chorus process, in costume, onto the stage. Some carry chairs to stationery positions, others simply move through the courtyard. This activity continues during the overture until all are assembled and face the audience. From dress, hair-style and decorative accoutrements the atmosphere of a court, from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, and its associated festivities are suggested. When the chorus declaims the prologue detailing the enmity of rival families in Verona, the production emphasizes the overbearing pressure of the court and its ability to snuff out the spark of individual emotion. No secret is made of the tragedy which the chorus relates. Indeed here the figure of Roméo is poised at stage front as he scans the tumult of the court, while Juliette surveys amusedly the doings from her balcony. Both principals are, in these early moments, simple elements in a larger courtly milieu. At the sudden sound of a bell, many of the courtiers don masks and respond to the raucous tone of both music and text, while they pursue pleasure and one another about the stage. Once the scene thins to individual characters, Tybalt and Paris speak of the feast at the Capulet house and, specifically, of the young Juliette who is destined to wed Paris. Mr. Slayden’s impressively supple voice lingered on the description of Juliette as “le trésor unique,” as he guided Mr. Onishi’s Paris toward the family. The male and female members of the chorus trade the line “Ah! qu’elle est belle!” in excited succession as Juliette enters accompanied by her father. In Ms. Phillips’s characterization the heroine still revels in the court’s frivolity as she declares with noted vehemence, “Tout me fȇte et m’enivre!” [“All to celebrate and to enchant me!”]. Soon after the entrance of Roméo with his friends he complains of a dream bearing an unexplained premonition. At once Mercutio seizes the topic and sings the “Ballade de la Reine Mab,” which credits Queen Mab with rule over all human dreams. Mr. Hopkins performs this frenetic depiction delightfully with touching intonation on the final word in “Et te fait rȇver de baisers!” [“And makes you dream of kisses!”]. Within seconds Roméo is indeed struck by the sight of Juliette and of her “beauté celeste” [“heavenly beauty”]. Already in this brief, opening narration Mr. Cutler captures the persona of his character by communicating vocally his emotional entrancement. Each word seems here laden with the weight of growing attraction. Mercutio drags him away at the moment of Juliette’s reappearance. In her protestations to Gertrude, Juliette’s aria “Je veux vivre” [“I wish to live”] celebrates her freedom to revel in the joys of court life before the onset of an emotional attachment. Ms. Phillips’s delivery of this well-known piece is assured in its transitions and runs, while she also omits the decorative top notes before “un doux trésor” [“a sweet treasure”].

Once Juliette is able to send Gertrude away, the subsequent madrigal for two, starting with “Ange adorable” [“Adorable angel”], expresses love in its purest essence. Here the two singers express their attraction innocently believable by accenting individual words. Cutler’s high pitches at the start are followed by an aching, softer color on “vermeille” in “une bouche vermeille” [“a rosy mouth”] signifying Roméo’s growing ardor. Phillips places similarly telling emphasis on “Non! Je l’ai pris!” [“No! I have taken it!”], when refusing to return the penitent’s sin taken up symbolically as her responsibility. The finale of the act halts such touching banter at the return of Tybalt and his recognition of Roméo beneath a mask. As they take leave, both lovers realize the purity of their emotional transformation.

At the start of Act II the result of this change is surely apparent. Roméo sings of the night [“O nuit!”] at he emerges from the darkness at stage rear, just as he soon begs the daylight to commence in the tenor showpiece, “Ah! lève-toi soleil!” (“Ah! Arise, o sun”)]. The light in Juliette’s window induces an ardor made eminently sincere in this aria by Cutler’s fervent appeals. His graceful approach to top notes and remarkable application of piano give the breathless impression of a hero coming to terms with his true love. With the final, extended high pitches on “viens! parais!” [“Come! Appear!”] Cutler’s Roméo has convinced both himself and us of his devotion. The subsequent pursuit of Roméo initiated by Gregorio and the Capulet servants allows for a confrontation with Gertrude who purports to shield the family’s name. In her role as protector of Juliette Ms. Nansteel makes a strong impression. Her deep, rich voice is used with comfortable flexibility and her assumption of this role indicates a natural skill at acting. Indeed her participation with Mr. Van Horn’s Frère Laurent in the emotional commitment of Juliette places a convincing seal on this tragic love. Before these elders witness the secret marriage of the young couple Juliette has undergone an emotional transformation; she tells Roméo that only a sincere love will suffice. In their lovers’ duet on the preceding night the principal voices blend most effectively with an ideal unison on “tristesse” in the line adapted almost literally from Shakespeare, “De cet adieu si douce est la tristesse” [“From this sweet farewell comes such sorrow”]. The final words in this scene belong to Roméo, a parting sentiment made especially poignant in Mr. Cutler’s performance. While imitating the sweet sleep that he wishes for Juliette the word “sommeille!” is held on an extended, dreamlike note. Cutler concludes the scene with an ethereal, high pitch to decorate the “baiser” [“kiss”] that he sends via the night’s breezes [“Que la brise des nuits te porte ce baiser!”].

Religious, spare motifs are assembled for the secret visit to Friar Laurence on the following morning. An appropriate voice of authority is assumed by Van Horn as he declares “Entends ma prière fervente!”]. The tragic irony of the future “enfants” [“children”], who will never be, is emphasized in Van Horn’s embellishment on the repeated word in “Et les enfants de leurs enfants!” [“and the children of their children!”]. With the official pronouncement of marriage Gertrude is recalled for the final moment of happiness in a quartet. “Sois béni” [“Be blessed”] is intoned in innocent ardor while no one yet realizes the tragic consequences to follow.

In the second part of the opera tragedy and misunderstanding indeed predominate. The song of Roméo’s friend Stephano, sung outside the Capulet house, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourtourelle?” [“What are you doing, white turtledove?”] precipitates the series of arguments and duels leading to several deaths and the banishment of Roméo. Ms. Crebassa gives a masterful rendition of Stephano’s chanson, replete with fluttering runs and decorative touches mimicking the flight of a bird. When he is challenged by Tybalt, it is Mercutio who defends the Montague honor. Despite Roméo’s entreaties Mercutio is killed; Roméo’s anger prompts his duel with Tybalt who in turn falls from a sword-blow. The demand of “Justice!” by Lord Capulet summons the Duke of Verona. In this role Mr. Govertsen assumes an authoritative yet sympathetic declamation, when he spares Roméo’s life yet banishes him from the city.

In the final two acts Juliette expresses her understanding for Roméo’s actions, just as he visits to bid farewell. Their extended duet, “Nuit d’hyménée” [“Night of our marriage”] shows both characters entranced in a vocal web, that Phillips and Cutler create as a mirror of their emotions. Their voices blend repeatedly in “toujours à toi” [“Forever yours”] and “il faut partir” [“You must leave”]. In order to thwart the family’s plan of Juliette’s marriage to Paris, Friar Laurence provides the famous potion that will cause her to sleep as if dead. Paris, Lord Capulet, and the assembled court are horrified at her collapse during the marriage ceremony; they prepare instead for a funeral.

The touching, shared death in the final scene of the opera is prefigured by Roméo’s monologue at its start. Here Cutler delineates the anguish, resolution, and faithfulness of the ultimate loving soul in his delivery. Once he enters Juliette’s tomb, unaware of her feigned death, Roméo must take farewell and drink the true poison. Distinct vocal color is applied here to “éternité” and to “peur” [“fear”] which he shuns when facing death for the sake of Juliette. When addressing his own lips, Roméo instructs them to give Juliette his last kiss. Cutler’s soaring pitch on “votre dernier baiser” leads to the heartrending revival of Juliette and the final tragedy of the musical drama.

Salvatore Calomino

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):