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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

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):