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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

From left to right: James Newby, Alessandro Fisher, Bianca Andrew and Ashok Gupta [Photo by Robert Piwko]
02 May 2016

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: From left to right: James Newby, Alessandro Fisher, Bianca Andrew and Ashok Gupta [Photo by Robert Piwko]

 

Indeed, at the Cadogan Hall Gemma Lois Summerfield, the 2015 Ferrier winner, had impressed with her poise and expressive richness, as Berenice in Jommelli’s opera; and, Jennifer France, winner of the Song Prize in the 2014 Awards, had demonstrated great maturity, a confident stage presence and bright, alert tone. There is every evidence that the six singers participating in the Finals of this year’s competition, and many of those who competed in the earlier rounds, will equal their forerunners’ successes.

Chinese-born soprano He Wu, a Young Artist at the National Opera Studio, had the difficult job of getting proceedings underway and, understandably, she seemed a little nervous in Massenet’s ‘Frère, voyez! … Du gai soleil’ (Werther), struggling to control the intonation and producing a hard edge to the tone. Schubert’s ‘Nachtviolen’ also suffered from thin tone and vocal tension: the melody felt perilously perched and lacked the soft-scented radiance that it requires to support its modest nature, though pianist Ben-San Lau provided an airy accompaniment and as the song progressed the interplay between voice and piano suggested unity and warmth.

Richard Strauss’s ‘Amor’ played to the 26-year-old’s strengths, and she demonstrated considerable power and agility, although there remained a tendency to shrillness at the top which diminished the silvery delicacy of the melody. I felt, too, that Lau could have taken a more insouciant approach to the lazy rhythms of Strauss’s triplets and spread chords. An overly wide vibrato marred Frank Bridge’s ‘Come to me in my dreams’ and Matthew Arnold’s text was not always intelligible, though the piano postlude was affecting. Wolf’s ‘Auch kleine Dinge’ was unevenly phrased, but He Wu was at her best in the final item, Puccini’s ‘Chi il bel sogno’ (La rondine) in which her lustre, long-breathed phrasing and vocal strength suggested she will be a terrific Mimi.

27-year-old Alessandro Fisher, who studied the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is currently singing with Glyndebourne Festival Opera, began his programme with Lalo’s ‘Vainement, ma bien-aimée’, the aubade from Act 3 of the composer’s opera Le roi d’Ys, in which Mylio, a young warrior, tries to convince Rozenn, his bride-to-be, to leave the protection of her handmaidens and join him in the wedding procession. Fisher was an engaging story-teller, relaxed of voice, singing with sensitive phrasing and good appreciation of the French idiom. The final pianissimo high A — ‘Je vais, hélas! mourir, hélas!’ — was floated with finesse.

Rachmaninov’s ‘The morn of life’ (Sey den’ ya pomnyu) presented an austere contrast to the subsequent repertoire staple, ‘Ach so fromm’ by Flotow (Martha), in which Fisher used his light, bright tenor to good effect, soaring gracefully and silkily. Ashok Gupta was a splendid accompanist in Schubert’s ‘Die böse Farbe’ (Die Schöne Müllerin); the delicate arpeggiated chords were beautifully crisp and the repeated tolling note, which strike the wandering miller with the devastating reality that the girl he loves does not love him in return, rang with unalleviated sadness.

Michael Head’s ‘A Blackbird Singing’ was infused with an equal poignancy. Fisher’s enunciation of the text was clear but unmannered, and the simplicity of the strophic form — and the lilting honesty of the folk-like melody, with its hopefully rising octave followed by waning, falling thirds and the simplicity of the final statement — offered little consolation: ‘A blackbird singing I hear in my troubled mind.’ Fisher’s tenor was sweet and dreamy, but never unfocused, perfectly conveying the mystery and pathos of loss.

Two songs from Reynaldo Hahn’s cycle Venetia closed the tenor’s sequence, and they were sung with tenderness and touching import. Hahn wrote these songs in 1900 when visiting Venice with his lover Marcel Proust. If the composer himself was reputed to have ‘a slim thread of a voice’, which he muted further by singing with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Fisher sculpted the lines beautifully and with nuanced rubato, matching the easy rocking of the piano accompaniments — he seemed to be inviting, ‘step into my gondola and let me transport you elsewhere’. ‘Sopra l’acqua indormenzada’ possessed a hint of wit and charm, and the tenor rose easily to its vocal challenges; ‘L’avertimento’ was vivid and firmer of tone. Again, Gupta created telling drama even in the quietest sways and ripples of the accompaniment.

New Zealand mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew (26), who is currently a student of Yvonne Kenny on the Opera Studies course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, made a strong impression in Meyebeer’s ‘Nobles seigneurs, salut!’ from Les Huguenots, singing the bright recitative with striking character and colour. Against the backdrop of the St. Bartholomew Massacre, the page Urbain asks the hero Raoul to meet with Queen Margaret, who wants to arrange a political marriage; Andrew’s sumptuous directness suggested that she would make a striking impact on stage.

Dylan Perez’s rippling arpeggios made an attention-calling opening to Richard Strauss’s ebullient love song ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’, which Andrew sang with fervour and freshness. Her mezzo was sweet, the line fluent and Perez’s accompaniment was well wedded to the vocal nuances. Hahn’s ‘Phyllis’ was one of the highlights of the evening, endearingly characterised by elegant phrasing, variegated tints, a burnished lower register and touching pianissimos. The mezzo-soprano captured the gentle intimacy of this song and seemed fully aware of the relationship between vocal colour and meaning.

Cherubino’s ‘Non so più’ was full of breathless excitement, but Andrews’ mezzo is a tad too fruity for the adolescent page. She was on more comfortable and fitting territory in Ben Moore’s ‘Sexy Lady’. An encore piece written originally for Susan Graham, the song is a comic complaint of a star mezzo-soprano trapped en travesti — as Mozart’s lovesick adolescents, Handel’s dysfunctional knights — and it was quite a risky choice, prioritising dramatic presence over vocal technique, but Andrew pulled it off with aplomb, aided by the deadpan gravity of her accompanist.

28-year-old Anna Rajah, a graduate of GSMD and RCM, opened the post-interval sequence with Bellini’s ‘Eccomi in lieta vesta … O quante volte’ from I Capuletti e I Montecchi, revealing an impressive grasp of phrase structure and a vocal intensity which enlivened even the finest unaccompanied melodic threads, although the tuning was not always rock steady. In Fauré’s ‘Clair de lune’ Rajah showed her appreciation of the suggestive intimations of the composer’s restrained melodic utterances and through-composed structure; the gentle reticence of the song suited the rather small magnitude of her soprano. Debussy’s ‘La romance d’Ariel’ was meltingly sweet throughout the challenging coloratura of the elf’s pyrotechnics, but I found Rajah oddly detached and cold in Pamina’s ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’: her vibrato was quite tight and there was little sense of the fluidity of line — Pamina is, after all, no Ice-Queen. Fortunately, there was copious and consoling joy and warmth in Roger Quilter’s ‘Love’s Philosophy’.

Baritone James Newby, currently in his last year of study at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, was the youngest of the finalists at 23 years-of-age but he showed impressive maturity in a diverse programme. Papageno’s ‘Papagena! Weibchen! Täubchen!’ wasn’t the easiest number to start with, as more usually we have had three hours to understand and empathise with the bird-catcher’s idiosyncratic, infuriating and endearing qualities; but, Newby demonstrated care, thoughtfulness and clarity in the shaping of Mozart’s phrases, suggesting that he will make a charming and lovable semi-rogue. Finalists are required to balance song with opera and in the aria’s brief spoken episodes Newby suggested that he will have dramatic presence to match his appealing vocal tone. Pianist Panaretos Kyriatzidis was attentive to the details and the duo effected a beguiling transition to the more animated closing episode.

Schubert’s ‘Erlkönig’ was exciting: fast, vibrant and emotionally febrile. Again, Kyriatzidis impressed, his galloping accompaniment persuasively tempestuous, and Newby embodied all four protagonists with striking directness. Massenet’s ‘Danse macabre’ revealed also a rich lower register and a telling way with the text.

Britten’s ‘Look, through the port comes the moonshine astray’ (Billy Budd) began with a flow of sensuous anticipation. Newby’s free vocal line was beautifully lyrical and expertly phrased, with well-controlled breathing and dynamics, and a teasing pianissimo. As the aria developed, the tenor conveyed Billy’s vigour forcefully, but the sentiments were never over-staged, as Newby sang with stylishness and vitality. The vocal lines had smoothness and continuity, the many and slight ritardandos were impressively negotiated, sustained high notes were vehement but not forced, and the coda was explosive but always controlled. Butterworth’s ‘Is my team ploughing’ offered a poignant contrast which communicated powerfully to the audience in the Hall.

Samling Artist Nardus Williams (25) brought the Finals to a close. Accompanied by Welsh pianist Jâms Coleman, she presented a challenging programme which gave ample opportunity for us to appreciate her superbly controlled, sensuous soprano which has sheen and shimmer as well as real focus of tone.

Williams recently became the first singer to win the Trinity Laban Gold Medal Competition at Kings Place, fulfilling the promise that she had shown as an undergraduate when she was awarded the Audrey Strange Memorial Prize for Most Promising Young Singer in the 62nd Royal Over-seas League Competition. She is a 2015/16 Park Lane Group Artist and is currently continuing her studies at the Royal Academy of Music with Lillian Watson and Ingrid Surgenor.

Williams opened her programme with a bold choice, Walton’s lively ‘The Lord Mayor’s Table’, which she sang with good pitch and gentle humour, enunciating the words clearly. The Wagnerian opulence of Duparc’s ‘Extase’ was well-controlled, the gentle rises and falls creating a dreamy detachment while the sentiments remained sincere. Perhaps Donna Elvira’s ‘Ah! chi mi dice mai’ didn’t have quite enough bite, and I found Williams’ vibrato too heavy for Brahms’s ‘Unbewegte laue Luft’ (Motionless mild air), which revived the Tristan­-like ambience of the Duparc’s mélodie, but the passionate imploring of the text was direct and heartfelt, and the diminishment into nothingness at the close beautifully nuanced. Cameron’s accompaniment established a sighing slumber, his delicate trills evoking the fitful fall of the fountain which alone disturbs the garden’s gloom.

Rachmaninov’s ‘Spring torrents’ was a powerful and compelling conclusion; the sweeping triplets and sextuplets of the piano accompaniment conveyed the enthusiasm and need which greets the return of spring, and the joyful power of Williams’s soprano built to a triumphal piano postlude.

The women may have dominated the programme but it was the men who walked off with the honours. For only the second time in the 61-year history of the Awards, First Prize was shared by Alessandro Fisher and James Newby, with no Second Prize awarded. Bianca Andrew won the Ferrier Loveday Song Prize for her rendition of songs by Alvén and Wolf in her semi-final programme, while Ashok Gupta was awarded the Help Musicians UK Accompanists Prize.

Claire Seymour


He Wu, soprano: Massenet, ‘Frère, voyez! … Du gai soleil (Werther), Schubert — ‘Nachtviolen’, R. Strauss — ‘Amor’, Wolf — ‘Auch kleine Dinge’ (Italienisches Liederbuch), Bridge — ‘Come to me in my dreams’, Puccini, ‘Chi il bel sogno’ (La rondine).

Alessandro Fisher, tenor: Lalo, ‘Vainement, ma bien-aimée’ (Le roi d’Ys), Rachmaninov — ‘The morn of life’, Flotow — ‘Ach so fromm’ (Martha), Schubert — ‘Die böse Farbe’ ( Die Schöne Mçüllerin), Head — ‘A Blackbird Singing’, Hahn — ‘Sopra l’acqua indormenzada; L’avertimento’ (Venezia)

Bianca Andrew, mezzo-soprano: Meyebeer — ‘Nobles seigneurs, salut!’ (Les Huguenots), R. Strauss — ‘Heimlicher Aufforderung’, Hahn — ‘Phyllis (Études Latines), Mozart — ‘Non so più, cosa son, coas faccio’ ( Le nozze di Figaro), Ben Moore — Sexy Lady.

Anna Rajah, soprano: Bellini — ‘Eccomi in lieta vesta … O quante volte’ (I Capuletti e I Montecchi), Fauré — ‘Clair de lune’, Debussy — ‘La romance d’Ariel’, Mozart — ‘Ach, ich fühl’s ( Die Zauberflöte), Quilter — ‘Love’s Philosophy’.

James Newby, baritone: Mozart — ‘Papagena! Weibchen! Täubchen! (Die Zauberflöte), Schubert — Erlkönig’, Saint-Saëns — ‘Danse macabre’, Massenet — ‘Vision fugitive’ (Hérodiade), Butterworth — ‘Is my team ploughing? (A Shropshire Lad).

Nardus Williams, soprano: Walton — ‘The Lord Mayor’s Table’, Duparc — ‘Extase’, Mozart — ‘Ah! chi mi dice mai’ (Don Giovanni), Brahms — ‘Unbewegte laue Luft’, Rachmaninov — ‘Spring torrents’.

Wigmore Hall, London, Friday 29th April 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):