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

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

'So sweet is the pain': Roberta Invernizzi at Wigmore Hall

In this BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented Italian songs from the first half of seventeenth-century, exploring love and loyalty, loss and lies, and demonstrating consummate declamatory mastery.

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

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):