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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The King’s Consort [Photo by Taco van der Werf]
04 May 2016

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The King’s Consort [Photo by Taco van der Werf]

 

In the event, while there were many opportunities to enjoy Vivaldi’s melodic gifts and colourful scoring, and players and singers were undoubtedly committed, the various parts of what is essentially a pasticcio didn’t quite add up to a persuasive whole.

In fact, ‘serenata’ derives from the Italian ‘sereno’: calm and clear. The form emerged in the mid-1660s as a sort of hybrid nestled somewhere between cantata, oratorio and opera, and serenatas often composed to mark a festive or celebratory occasion. Usually comprising two acts, they were presented ‘in concert’ by two or more soloists, who did not wear costumes and were not required to act but simply took turns to sing their arias, which employed the general musical style of contemporary opera. Indeed, there was often no ‘action’ to speak of; rather, the inevitably laudatory texts commonly presented discursive debate between allegorical figures. (I am indebted to Michael Talbot, from whose programme article and longer essay, ‘The Serenata in Eighteenth-Century Venice’ (Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, No.18, 1982) I have gleaned historical information.)

Vivaldi’s La Senna festeggiante fits this bill. Domenico Lalli’s libretto sends L’Età dell’Oro (The Golden Age) and La Virtù (Virtue) on a quest beside the River Seine (La Senna). In a succession of fairly succinct arias, duets and trios they sing each other’s praises in verse of somewhat tedious verbosity, then espy the splendours of the Palace of Versailles and eulogize the French King, rejoicing in the glories that await him.

As might be expected of the form, there is no dramatic content, which might have played to Vivaldi’s advantage as he is able to exercise his melodic flair without concern for ‘plot’ and dramatic form, and the score certainly has an air of freedom and resourcefulness. Historically, the static nature of the performance probably aided the singers too — especially if expediency meant there was little time for compilation and rehearsal — for they were not required to learn their roles from memory. On this occasion, though, advantage became drawback, and of the three soloists — soprano Julia Doyle (L'Età dell'Oro), contralto Hilary Summers (La Virtù) and bass David Wilson-Johnson (La Senna) — only Summers was confidently off-score and as such communicated much more directly and powerfully, establishing a more three-dimensional ‘character’. (Summers sang the role for conductor Robert King’s Hyperion recording of the work in 2002: Hyperion CDA67361/2.)

But, there was plenty to admire, not least the nods towards the Gallic style which pepper the Italianate elements of the score. Although only three of Vivaldi’s known eight serenatas survive, several are thought to have been connected with events at the French court of Louis XV, and commissioned by the recently appointed French Ambassador to Venice, Vincent Languet, Count of Gergy. Thus, La gloria Imeneo (1725) was composed to celebrate Louis’s wedding to the Polish Princess Maria Leszczynska, while the lost serenata L’unione della pace e di marte honoured the birth of royal twins in 1727.

La Senna festeggiante deals with Louis’s accession to the throne in 1724 and was probably intended to be delivered as a homage on the feast of St. Louis — though Talbot laments the absence of a central bifolio from the long final recitative in which conventionally the circumstances of performance are elucidated, noting that King has supplied extra music to text by Carlo Vitali to fill the gap.

Vivaldi’s enthusiastic experimentation with the French style is evident in the dance-like pulse which enlivens many of the arias and in the extensive use of accompagnato recitative. The Gallic idiom was immediately apparent in the animated dotted rhythms of the first part of the opening Sinfonia (and the more aggressive counterpart in the Part 2 overture). The five string players of the King’s Consort played with robustness but despite their obvious hard work, the violin tone was a little thin. The central movement of the Sinfonia lacked lyrical warmth as a result, though the final Allegro was bright and buoyant. Elsewhere the ‘off-the-string’ bowing was a little dry. Perhaps aware of the challenge for the strings, King extended the use of Vivaldi’s prescribed two recorders and two oboes to double or replace the strings elsewhere in the score, so it was fortunate that the intonation discrepancies in the Sinfonia were quickly settled.

Julia Doyle was a pure-toned, innocent Golden Age, singing with lightness and fleetness and exercising consistent vocal control and an impressive precision in the higher registers. Typical was the delicate flourish which embodies the lines ‘If sometimes here I go in search of peace, the nightingale for flies around singing, pauses in flight and answers: peace’ in Doyle’s opening aria (‘Se qui pace talor vo cercando’), which would happily have substituted for the bird-song mimicry which Vivaldi incorporates joyfully into his concertos. Similarly, ‘Al mio seno il pargoletto’ (which Vivaldi borrowed from his 1716 opera Arsilda, regina di Ponto) was characterised by charmingly fluid, clear lines and arcs: ‘At my breast I will feed the little Baby on milk alone, sucked there with unsullied lips.’ The soprano used the barest sprinkle of vibrato which graced the role with freshness and refinement, but at times I longed for a little more depth and colour, particularly as the arias themselves lacked any notable variety of vocal style. The Part 2 aria ‘Giace languente’ (Conquered Fate) found Doyle at her best: following a minor-key recitative to which the theorbo’s expressive spread chords (Eligio Quinterio) had lent poignancy, this was singing of agility and stronger expressive presence, as the soprano engaged thoughtfully with the energetic woodwind interspersions.

Virtù was a figure of dignity and regality as crafted by Hilary Summers. Her contralto is silky and full but she restrained its more voluptuous layers and used its depth to convey sincerity and profundity. Her tuning was impeccable and the melodic line focused and fluent, most particularly in the Part 2 aria ‘Stelle, con vostra pace’ (modelled on an aria from Vivaldi’s Arsilda), in which she sustained a flowing melody against an assertive unison line for violins. ‘Così sol nell’aurora’, which began with the violins’ gentle pastoral prelude, showed off the contralto’s nimbleness of voice and closed with an exciting instrumental diminuendo to depict the ‘sun, with his shining rays appear among the stars, full of splendours’. Summers’ arias were also notable for the clarity of the diction, which was aided by her obvious familiarity with the role.

The ladies’ voices blended appealingly in their duets, but it was David Wilson-Johnson who had the lion’s share of the virtuosity to negotiate. The baritone was secure in the more challenging numbers such as ‘L’alta lor gloria immortale’, with its racing vocal line, and the pitching in La Senna’s first aria, ‘Qui nel profondo’ was very focused as Wilson-Johnson negotiated the nimble lines in unison with the accompaniment. I’d have liked a bit more heroism in ‘L’alta’, though, and while ‘Pietà, dolcezza’ which opens Part 2 was expressively phrased — and the preceding recitative featured a wonderfully quite plummet at the close — the gentleness of Wilson-Johnson’s baritone was rather subsumed by the forceful instrumental bass lines. The final chorus is in four parts, and tenor Tom Robson made a brief appearance to form the quartet.

The arias succeeded one another apace and King kept things swinging along, his swift, sharp hand gestures supplemented by twists of the shoulder, nudges of the elbow and nimble sways. But, this patchwork score — there are copious musical borrowings from Vivaldi’s earlier works and textual borrowings from his operas Apollo in Tempe, Calisto in orsa among others — required more consistently penetrating vocal performances and, perhaps, more lavish orchestral accompaniment, to triumph over the short-comings which even King’s evident, unflagging enthusiasm could not quite overcome.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

The King’s Consort: Robert King — conductor, Julia Doyle — soprano (as L’Età dell’Oro), Hilary Summers — contralto (as La Virtù), David Wilson-Johnson — baritone (as La Senna), Tom Robson — tenor (as Chorus).

Wigmore Hall, London, Tuesday 3rd May 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):