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 Reviews

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

09 Jul 2016

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

The Triumph of Time and of Disillusion

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Sabine Devieilhe as Beauty [All photos copyright Pascal Victor / Artcomart courtesy of the Festival d'Aix]

 

The Triumph of Time and Disillusion was composed in 1707 in Rome by the 22 year-old German composer Georg Friedrich Händel. Opera was banned in Rome, the pontifical city firmly in the grips of the artistic terrors of the Counter Reformation, i.e. opera was banned. So Rome, never left wanting for the finer things, was reduced to bootleg opera, called oratorio. Some of its librettos were supplied by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili (quite a few of his librettos not surprisingly are about Mary Magdalene). Note that Alessandro Scarlatti set the Cardinal’s The Triumph of Truth and Grace a few years before Händel tackled that of Time and Disillusion.

Just like opera seria, distraught with the terrors of its heroes and heroines vacillating between inexorable forces (love and duty mostly), Roman oratorio provided polar opposing forces (pleasure versus truth as example) with no possible compromise. In the early 18th century resolution could only be death in opera seria while in oratorio the resolution was eternal life. Once the Counter Reformation dissipated opera seria did begin finding happy endings here on earth.

In the program booklet Polish theater director Krzysztof Warlikowski expresses his outrage at the dogmatism of this libretto (Time and Disillusion [essentially Truth] banish Pleasure while Beauty repents). With the orchestral overture stage director Warlikowski concocted on a full stage video scrim (screen) the sordid world of drugged youth’s indiscriminate sexual appetites. On stage for the next three hours a beautiful young woman struggles to emerge from this world. Bludgeoned by Truth she gives in to repentance. But, like opera seria where there is no eternity we watch her symbolically die. It is spiritual death at the hands of dogmatism.

Trionfo_Aix2.pngBeauty (in box), Pleasure (in shadow), Truth and Time (at table)

Watching this were 1500 or so mostly Christian souls seated in Aix's bishops' palace (the Archevêché) facing the stage that was in fact a theater staring directly back at us, i.e. mirroring us. From time to time a bevy of young women in lurid party attire emerged from a transparent box (surely an abstracted disco-tech) to file into these stage seats to watch with us the battle taking place on the stage apron.

Like Warlikowski the young Handel was entranced by this battle and thus gave it the most beautiful music ever composed for the human voice. Time stood still while we reveled in beauty. Truth and pleasure fused into that sublime moment that was only dreamt of on the stage by Beauty. It was the triumph of art.

Director Warlikowski did take a moment to remind us that all of this artistic grandiosity is a bit silly. This was the intermission feature. Once again the full stage scrim fell and we watched a video of a most worldly man in supercilious discussion with a most wide-eyed young woman about ghosts (this video a comment on Pleasure’s just uttered fear that Beauty would believe in the purely imaginary heroes of truth, i.e. ghosts). [No doubt the actors were well known to the largely French audience, I had no clue].

Once again in this summer’s Festival, Aix has triumphed in its casting. Beauty was young French soprano Sabine Devielhe of pristine physical beauty, her face marred by clown face tears. She possesses a voice of riveting purity, platinum colored (i.e. an extravagant silver), a range that extending well above the staff upon occasion. Her final aria of repentance was spellbinding (as were all of her arias) in the splendid bleakness of its despair.

Matching in effect was a sassy Pleasure, sung by Argentine counter tenor soprano Franco Fagioli who as well soared above the staff in his final aria of banishment. Leaning against the transparent box he sank to the floor delivering wrenching tones of tragic loss, descending well below middle “C” into tenor range though never losing counter tenor color. The brash young Handel demanded the ultimate from his opera seria singers, the high Baroque in full force. This Trionfo's arias exploited the extremes of range and demands on technique that are seldom encountered in his London operas.

Trionfo_Aix3.pngSara Mingardo, Sabine Devielhe, Franco Fagioli, Michael Spires

American tenor Michael Spires showed off his resplendent tenorino as Time, bringing throaty authority to his tone, soaring to threatening insistence in his high “D”’s. He was dramatically matched by the powerful voice of Italian contralto Sara Mingardo who brought a blatant irony of false authority to Disinganno (Truth), the attribute that so intrigued stage director Warlikowski.

All four singers converged in the magnificent quartet early in the second act that were it more widely known by the opera public would be known as one of the great monuments of operatic quartets, rivaling, even surpassing the rank and fame of the Rigoletto quartet.

Of equal stardom in this extraordinary evening was the French early music orchestra Le Concert d’Astrée and particularly its founder and leader Emanuelle Haïm whose sculpted conducting forcefully and fully rendered the muscular, quite architectural components of Handel’s Baroque orchestral score. Of deep complicity were the several duets that violinist David Plantier, cellist Felix Knecht and oboist Patrick Beaugiraud effected with the singers. The large, un-conducted continuo offered kaleidoscopic colors to the recitatives and scenes, recalling somewhat the concept of Monteverdian and Gluckian accompanied speech.

See for yourself — Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno on www.culturebox.fr.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Bellezza: Sabine Devieilhe; Piacere: Franco Fagioli; Disinganno: Sara Mingardo; Tempo: Michael Spyres. Orchestra: Le Concert d’Astrée. Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm;
Mise en scène: Krzysztof Warlikowski; Sets and costumes: Malgorzata Szczesniak;
Lighting: Felice Ross; Chorégraphie: Claude Bardouil; Vidéo: Denis Guéguin. Théâtre d’Archevêché, Aix-en-Provence, July 6, 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):