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

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 57, BBCSO conducted by Semyon Bychkov
30 Aug 2016

Prom 57: Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO

Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.

Prom 57, BBCSO conducted by Semyon Bychkov

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Elisabeth Kulman

Photo credit: Julia Wesely.

 

Larcher does not consider it a piece of programme music, though, and there seems no reason to doubt him. Or, to put it another way, if we can consider Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, the third work on the night’s programme, as a symphony, there is no reason why we should not this.

It certainly felt like a symphony, not just on account of its four movements, but also their character and their relationship to one another. The first movement opened with a sense of pent-up energy being released, in very fast, highly rhythmic music, that material alternating with slower passages, in which tension is maintained, perhaps even increased, by various means including bass pedals. Without being ‘process music’, musical processes were very much to the fore, both, it seemed in the work, and in the excellent performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Bychkov. Distorted - and sometimes not distorted - tonalities mapped out its space; they were not, perhaps, without nostalgia, but a nostalgia that did not shade into pastiche. A huge orchestral cry of agony - it was difficult not to think of the opening Adagio to Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, both with respect to similarity and difference - made its point, whether ‘programmatic’ or not. Henze, coincidentally or otherwise, sometimes came to mind too. A final descent left us wondering into what we were descending. The chorale-like opening to the succeeding Adagio inevitably brought Austro-German tradition once again to mind; for this really did feel like something akin to a ‘traditional’ slow movement, with a ‘traditional’ symphonic dialectic. Accordion and wind were often prominent, there seeming something to be fundamental about their timbres to the work. Vibraphone and piano duetting also caught the ear’s attention, likewise percussion more generally (as indeed in the first movement). Scalic movement in both directions was a particular concern too.

The third movement sounded not entirely unlike a post-Brahmsian scherzo, with a touch of Stravinskian rhythmic insistence (although not always). The strange repetition of a chord - heard 140 times, apparently! - paradoxically seemed to increase tension, as much as any increase in volume and/or tempo. Then, at the end, a strange little Austrian dance fragment (a Ländler?) suggested neo-Mahlerian affinity to and alienation from Nature. The slow introduction to the finale seemed both connected to and yet something that had moved on from the world of the slow movement. Chorale music again soon flowered. The fast ‘main’ section showed an analogous (perhaps) affinity with the first movement. Again, it proved highly rhythmical and especially concerned with musical process; perhaps even the material itself was similar. In essence, this was a ‘traditional’ moto perpetuo, which then dissolved into a slow coda, which clearly spoke of sadness, shading into desolation. Apparent resolution (disconcertingly close, to my ears, to the world of Arvo Pärt, bells and all) was, mercifully, questioned at the last.

Having spent the previous week or so in Bayreuth, I had the opportunity with the Wesendonck-Lieder, here in Felix Mottl’s familiar orchestration, to begin to ween myself off Wagner for a little while. There is nothing wrong with Mottl’s version, but I could not help wishing that Henze’s had instead been chosen; on the other hand, Mottl’s intimations of Strauss had their own logic in this particular context. Making her Proms debut, Elisabeth Kulman, always an admirable artist, proved a fine choice as soloist: the ‘instrumental’ quality to her voice adding, in a typically Wagnerian dialectic, to the blend of words and music.

‘Der Engel’, opening, sounded very much as a Lied, as it should, even if one with undeniable ‘operatic’ connections. Tristan und Isolde was inescapably close at times, but not repressively so. Kulman’s word-led approach here and elsewhere reminded us of Wagner’s priorities here (not so in Tristan, of course). The angelic, almost Straussian quality to the orchestra was judged to perfection by Bychkov and his players. ‘Stehe still!’ had a different character: more dramatic, with vocal delivery taking us closer to the world of Die Walküre, never more so than in the first half of the final stanza, eye drinking blissfully from eye, and so forth. (Think of Wotan and Brünnhilde, if you will.) Bychkov took his time, quite rightly, and the conclusion proved properly radiant. ‘Im Treibhaus’ took us to Tristan-land proper, yet still with an element of distance; this is a song with its own concerns, not an excerpt. Kulman’s vocal colouring proved just the thing, very much with its own instrumental quality, as mentioned above. There was some especially wonderful viola playing - both solo and as a section - to enjoy too, likewise woodwind playing of Tristan-esque malevolence. ‘Schmerzen’ had a not un-Straussian autumnal glow to it, albeit on a smaller scale. Finally, ‘Träume’ returned us from autumn to a summer evening, its opening pregnant with Tristan-esque possibility, disciplined by the words and their implied structuring capability. Balm and eroticism proved two sides of the same Wagnerian coin.

Strauss’s giant symphonic poem had the second half to itself. Bychkov’s reading flowed beautifully, sometimes quickly indeed; at the same time, he was not remotely afraid to hold back where necessary. If the opening sections were perhaps a little too closely defined in themselves, that should not be exaggerated. The Night in which the work opens was clear, directed: no lazy murkiness here. The BBC SO’s strings sounded voluptuous indeed as our journey gathered pace. Off-stage, Tannhäuser-plus horns thrilled: not just ‘materially’, but with a Nietzschean sense that that materiality might also too be spiritual. This is a symphony, after all, for the Anti-Christ. The forest proved darkly inviting, Bychkov alert to the detail of its beauties, without ever lapsing into pedantry. A post-Mozartian grace to the meadows was especially welcome, offering both contrast to and context for the Zarathustra-like grandeur and ambiguity to the greatest climax of all. As darkness began to fall, before the storm itself, tension could be felt, just as, or almost as, in ‘real life’. So too could the force of the storm, albeit with the detachment of an audience member rather than an actual participant. It was, inevitably, though the Epilogue (Karajan once claimed to conduct the work for this alone) that brought tears to the eyes, exquisite woodwind playing an especial joy. It lingered, as it must: never quite enough, for Strauss is just as sure a dramatist here as in his operas. After which, the darkness into which his world was falling, as is ours.

Mark Berry

Prom 57: Thomas Larcher: Symphony No.2, ‘Cenotaph’ (UK premiere); Wagner (orch. Felix Mottl): Wesendonck-Lieder; Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, Op.64. Elisabeth Kulman (mezzo-soprano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Sunday 28 August.

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):