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

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 60, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra conducted by Philippe Jordan
31 Aug 2016

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim…) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.

Prom 60, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra conducted by Philippe Jordan

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Philippe Jordan conducting the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in Bruckner's Ninth Symphony

Photo credit: Mark Allan/BBC.

 

Keen though I was to hear the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, for he principal attraction for me, and for a good part of the audience, was in any case the extremely rare opportunity to hear a Bach cantata played by mainstream performers - especially, so it seemed, when the soloist was Christian Gerhaher. According to the programme, there had only been two previous such opportunities to hear Ich habe genug at the Proms: in 1956 and in 1962, with Heinz Rehfuss and Hermann Prey as soloists, both enticing prospects indeed. Ian Bostridge performed the version for high voice (with flute obbligato, rather than oboe, and period instruments) in 2000.

As it was, Philippe Jordan, heedless of the size of the hall, opted for a very small orchestra (oboe, strings 6.4.3.2.1, chamber organ) and, perhaps more to the point, insisted throughout that the strings play in very subdued fashion. An advantage of smaller forces can often be a greater willingness to play out, but not here. It is a reflective work, of course, and does not need to sound like Mahler (or Bruckner), but the approach nevertheless seemed perverse; I can imagine it might have worked better on the radio. The opening aria was taken at a ‘flowing’ tempo, which is to say considerably faster than would ‘traditionally’ have been the case. On its own terms, it worked well enough, but memories of, say, John Shirley-Quirk with Neville Marriner, or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (with various conductors) were anything but effaced. Gerhaher’s use of head-voice, moreover, left this listener at least longing for something deeper, darker. There was certainly greater resolution, though, upon the da capo. His diction, whether in arias or recitatives, was impeccable. Bernhard Heinrichs’s oboe playing was unfailingly musical, very much a second ‘voice’. ‘Schlummert ein’ was again relatively swift, although I felt Gerhaher might have done more with the words without coming anywhere near over-emphasis. And Jordan’s pauses seemed excessive: disruptive more than anything else. The following recitative offered much more in the way of verbal emphasis, as did, to a lesser extent, the final aria, ‘Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod’. Here I was rather taken with the swift tempo, which engendered something of a spirit of defiance.

Jordan seemed very much to have rethought ‘traditional’ approaches to Bruckner, but to rather more successful effect. Once past a rocky opening - devoid of mystery, and of much else too, not helped by an onslaught of coughing - we heard some fine playing indeed from the young players of the GMYO: first strings, then the oboe soloist, and so on. The first movement was taken pretty fast, but not unrelievedly so. Intriguingly pointillistic woodwind matched well string pizzicato playing, and added to a sense of provisionality; this was no ‘cathedral in sound’ of cliché. There was, moreover, a strong sense of development: necessary here to avoid a sense of mere repetition. And there was a sense of intimacy too: not the constraint of the Bach performance, but something penetrating deeper, to the very essence of the musical lines. The moment of return was duly awe-inspiring: what a wonderful orchestra this is! Was the approach too fragmentary, though? Perhaps, perhaps not. It was certainly interesting. There was no wanting of power in the coda.

The scherzo opened with a lightness that was far from non-committal, more Mendelssohnian perhaps. Response thereto was anything but light, although one could certainly hear Bruckner as an heir to Schubert (his Ninth Symphony in particular). Perhaps it was a little too driven, but it was certainly not dull. There was occasional insecurity concerning pulse, though. The trio was full of incident, proving both urgent and, occasionally, a little languorous. I liked its range. The finale developed the sense of late Romantic hypertension. There was nothing comfortable to this view of Bruckner, which was all to the good. Both the virtues and the drawbacks of the previous movements endured. Jordan proved, however, especially able in highlighting the contrasting nature in the musical material. Moments of crisis registered; much, it seemed, was at stake. The close was blissful, Schubertian.

Mark Berry

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bach: Cantata: ‘Ich habe genug’, BWV 82; Bruckner: Symphony No.9 in D minor. Christian Gerhaher (baritone); Bernhard Heinrichs (oboe); Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra; Philippe Jordan (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Tuesday 30 August 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):