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

Joseph Horovitz
17 Jun 2016

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Joseph Horovitz

 

Horovitz has had a prolific career as a conductor, teacher, opera director and composer. His works number sixteen ballets, nine concertos, two one-act operas, chamber music, works for brass band, television and radio, and a number of choral cantatas - most famously Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo.

Soprano Susanna Fairbairn, a PLG Young Artist in 2015, performed four of Horovitz’s compositions, accompanied by pianist Matthew Schellhorn, beginning with Lady Macbeth, which was written for the 1970 Festival of Bergen. The ‘Scena’ presents settings of three speeches from Shakespeare’s play and charts the queen’s progression from grandeur to guilt, majesty to madness. Fairbairn gave a powerful dramatic performance which captured the force of the music’s rhetoric. Her full, glossy tone conveyed the self-assurance of Lady Macbeth’s aspirations for power, when she learns of her husband’s lauded success on the battlefield - ‘Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be’. And, she declaimed the challenging vocal lines, which depict the Lady’s mental distress, with conviction, above Schellhorn’s asymmetrical piano gestures. Schellhorn’s accompaniment is as much part of the drama as the queen’s magniloquence and the pianist crafted the arguments eloquently and with precision. Fairbairn had the measure of the operatic intensity of the work which compresses an extraordinary gamut of emotions into its nine minutes.

Susanna_Fairbairn.pngSusanna Fairbairn

Though Shakespeare’s text is well-known, and Fairbairn’s diction good, it still would have been helpful to have had the text printed in the programme. The same was true for the following song, ‘Zum 11. März’, a 1998 setting of a German text by Theodor Körner (1811). 11 March is a date of special significance for Austrian emigrés, for it was the date in 1938 of Austria’s Anschluss to Germany. Fairbairn spun the simple lyrical melody with a lovely gentleness and lustre, floating the final phrase most beautifully. ‘The Garden of Love’ (2015) had a silky wistfulness, perfectly attuned to Blake’s text which celebrates the naturalness of human desire in the face of the Church’s repressive restrictiveness.

Fairbairn and Schellhorn opened the recital with Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées. The cool, quiet piano introduction of ‘C’est l’extase langoureuse’ (This is the languorous ecstasy) led into an unhurried vocal descent of calm dreaminess. Fairbairn’s soprano brightened and became more incisive as Verlaine described the burbling and whispering of the wood’s choir of voices, then drifted off, languidly, as the imagery of swirling water evolved into a soul’s lament. At the climax of the vocal line, Fairbairn hit the high A right in the centre of the note and skilfully controlled the dynamic arc, closing on a hushed, low murmur.

Schellhorn’s oscillating semiquavers evoked the ripple of the rain that ‘weeps in my heart’ in ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’, and Fairbairn again demonstrated impressive technique, controlling the rising and plunging octaves which convey the poet-speaker’s emotional unrest and distress. Both the warmth of her lower range and the crystalline brilliance of the top were in evidence in ‘L’ombre des arbres’ (The shadow of the trees). Tight left-hand trills beneath crisp staccatos were a perfect springboard for the voice’s nimble instruction, ‘Tournez, tournez’ (O whirl and twirl’), in ‘Chevaux de bois’ (Wooden horses), in which the tempo eased, then flowed, with naturalness. The opening of ‘Aquarelles I. Green’ was graceful and free, the low-lying close mysterious and veiled. On the whole, Fairbairn’s French was fairly idiomatic, but would have benefitted from more distinct consonants, and this was particularly noticeable in the declamatory opening of ‘Spleen’. Debussy’s cycle was followed by Fauré’s ‘Après un rêve’, in which Fairbairn’s radiant sheen surged through the long, flowing phrases.

The central works in the evening’s programme were presented by pianist Dominic Degavino. A Park Lane Young Artist in 2015, Degavino is a rising star. At 16 years of age he was a category finalist in the BBC Young Musician competition; two years later he won the Audience Prize at the Brant International Piano Competition; since then he’s added the Ker Memorial Prize at the Royal Over-seas League Music Competition and most recently won the piano section of the 2016 Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists Competition. His deeply communicative performance of Beethoven’s Op.2 No.3 Sonata confirmed that these successes will surely be followed by many more. The Allegro con brio had plenty of spark: the passagework was taut and the frequent trills and turns razor-sharp. After a changeable development section, the return of the opening theme was charmingly insouciant.

The Adagio conveyed a wonderful composure and gravity, the theme - gorgeous in its simplicity - formed of single-bar units which merged fluently into a thoughtful whole. As the left hand repeatedly crossed the decorative undulations in the right, the syncopated sighing motifs of the melody were beautifully crafted. The arpeggio-triplets of the trio of the Scherzo: Allegro streamed as if conjured by a flourish of a magician’s wand, while the chiselled crispness of the Allegro assai finale was invigorating. After the interval, Degavino revealed the many moods of Schumann’s G Minor Sonata Op.22, by turns troubled then soothed, expertly moving from bravura to restfulness. The Andantino was particularly tender. Degavino had a strong sense of the overall structure of the sonata and communicated this clearly.

The recital came to a vivacious close with Horovitz’s Foie-Gras, a setting of Michael Flanders paean to gluttony. Fairbairn entered enthusiastically into the cabaret high-spirits, whispering conspiratorially then gushing exuberantly, whirling with abandon across the Wigmore Hall stage. Taking to the platform to accept the warm applause, Horovitz was surprised to be presented with a birthday cake, and cut the celebratory slice with panache.

An afterthought … with the ‘Brexit’ campaigners seemingly in the ascendant, and a ‘Leave’ vote looking ever more possible, Piers Burton-Page’s programme tribute to Horovitz seems most apt: ‘In a few days’ time we shall learn whether Britain has, scarcely believably, turned its back on Europe. Once, we knew better. Thanks for coming, Joe. And for staying.’

Claire Seymour


Cast and production details:

Susanna Fairbairn: soprano; Matthew Schellhorn: piano; Dominic Degavino: piano.

Claude Debussy: Ariettes oubliées; Gabriel Fauré: 3 Mélodies Op.7 No.1 ‘Après un rêve’; Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C major Op.2 No.3; Robert Schumann: Piano Sonata in G minor Op.22; Joseph Horovitz: Lady Macbeth - a Scena, ‘Zum 11. März’, ‘The Garden of Love’, ‘Foie-gras’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 13th June 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):