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

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 !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Classical Opera at the Wigmore Hall
22 Sep 2016

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Classical Opera at the Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

 

The principal attraction on this occasion was Haydn’s intermezzo, La canterina (The singer) which Classical Opera have recently performed at the Eisenstadt Haydn Festival.

Opera is not the first genre that comes to mind in connection with Haydn, but the composer wrote (according to Grove) thirty dramatic works for the stage, most of which date from the period when he was in the employ of the Princes Esterházy, whose passion for the stage was evidenced by the daily performances that were arranged in the beautiful 400-seat theatre - equipped with the most advanced technical apparatus - at Esterház castle.

After early essays in opera seria Haydn turned from mythological subjects and tried his hand at the emerging buffo form. La canterina is a farcical tale concerning the double-dealing of would-be singer, Gasparina (Susanna Hurrell), aided by her friend Apollonia (Rachel Kelly) who is disguised as her mother. The two tricksters are renting rooms from the singing teacher Don Pelagio (Robert Murray). They exploit his obvious affection for Gasparina to their advantage, but don’t neglect also to tease the smitten Don Ettore (Kitty Whately). When her two lovers discover her deception, Gasparina plays the old game of feigning a faint and her threats to kill herself expel her lovers’ wrath anger and arouse their compassion. The smelling salts cannot be found, but the scent of their gifts of money and jewellery effect a surprisingly swift recovery - ‘How lovely is the aroma of diamonds’ - and Gasparina is absolved by the self-congratulatory dupes: ‘I forgive your many faults for pity is truly heroic.’

Haydn’s music is graceful and the aria forms show invention and dramatic insight - as when Apollonia’s aria, in which she instructs her protégé in the art of make-up, is interrupted by recitative. This performance was billed as ‘semi-staged’; and, it’s true that, despite the music-stands positioned stage left and right, the cast sang off-the-score and made a lively attempt to bring some individuality and definition to what are essentially commedia stereotypes. But, the end result was limited both by the lack of space offered by the crowded Wigmore Hall platform for choreographic invention and by the rather superficial nature of Haydn’s dramatic gaiety.

Fortunately, the vocal performances more than compensated for any dramatic short-comings. Rachel Kelly’s bright, warm mezzo conveyed Apollonia’s mischievous spirit beneath the simplicity and artlessness of Haydn’s melodic line and the flexible rhythmic sway of her ‘make-up aria’ had a folky nonchalance which was enhanced by perky playing from the flutes and horns. Robert Murray had vivid presence and did a good job of capturing Don Pelagio’s nervousness when he arrives to perform the new aria he has composed for Gasparina, anxiously snatching glances at the score and then, ironically, closing it and singing confidently from memory with affected portentousness. Murray’s tenor was relaxed, with a strong baritonal range, and the melodic ornamentation was delivered with insouciance. In Act 2, the disillusioned Don Pelagio attempts to evict the two women and here Murray sang impressively through the line with an even strength and focus across all registers.

Soprano Susanna Hurrell was superb as Gasparina. Her clear lyric quality and sweet-sounding sighs, allied with plaintive cors anglais, softened the angular piquancy of the melodic line, successfully swaying the affections of her offended lover. And, her inflated wistfulness was matched by her thrilling, sparkling timbre in the more melodramatic passages as Haydn ridicules his seria model, until, ‘tormented and grief-stricken’ she had ‘no more voice left’!

Haydn ends both short acts with a lively finale and Page kept up the urgent momentum at the end of Act 1, aided by scurrying strings in unison (though I did wonder if there was a need for the Orchestra of Classical Opera to re-tune between the two acts, given their brevity). I was impressed by the poise and polish of the continuo playing, especially by the unobtrusive precision of cellist Jonathan Rees’ pithy, vibrato-less punctuation of the secco.

Having recently relished Opera Rara’s Proms performance of Rossini’s Semiramide ( review), I thought I was pretty familiar with the tale; but, no, the Metastasio libretto set by Josef Mysliveček (1737-81) - and also by Porpora, Jommelli, Hasse and Gluck, among others - wanders down some twisting byways.

Nowadays, the Prague native is generally considered only in the context of his friendship with Mozart, who greatly admired the older Czech musician’s work. But, Mysliveček might lay posthumous claim to being one of the most successful opera seria composers of his day, and the four arias - characterised by melodic freshness and rhythmic vitality - from his first opera Semiramide that were presented in the first half of this concert showed why. The opera was performed in Venice just two and a half years after Mysliveček had arrived there, having given up his career as a miller to try his hand as a professional musician.

The back-history is convoluted, but as the opera commences Semiramide, having eloped with an Indian prince Scitalce and then survived his jealousy-fuelled assassination attempt, has just assumed the Assyrian throne, disguised as her son Nino, after the death of her husband the King of Assyria.

Tamiri (Whately), a princess from Bactria, must choose from three suitors who have arrived in Babylon to advance their claims. First up was Murray’s Ircano, a ‘wild and unruly Scythian prince’. Murray exhibited impressive vocal strength and evenness, allied with expressive, vigorous delivery and assured breath control in the long, but fairly bland, lines which convey Ircano’s unjustified overconfidence. Murray felt obliged to indulge in bravura display but it did not consistent come off: the heights attempted in the da capo were somewhat strained and not always secure.

Tamiri is more impressed by Scitalce, though. However, to her exasperation, he refuses her for he has espied Semiramide whom he had previously been duped into believing had been unfaithful. Whately’s tone in ‘Tu mi disprezzi’ was rich and formed a nice counterpoint to the horns. She also coped well with the aria’s flexible tempo, shaping a fluent line from disjointed material. Rachel Kelly’s multi-layered mezzo conveyed Semiramide’s ardour, and she was accompanied by beautifully focused, well-tuned flutes and horns who conjured a pastoral idyll. Kelly had no trouble negotiating the floridity of the da capo repeat, singing with vibrant dynamism. Hurrell displayed admirable agility, fluidity, colour and brightness as Mirteo (the brother of Semiramide, who believes his sister is dead), and produced some stylish trills and cadential ornaments. Her vibrato was dynamic but never distorted the pitch, and Hurrell could also ease naturally into gentler moods too.

Haydn’s Symphony No.34 opened the concert. This is one of Haydn’s lesser known symphonies, but like the productions of Norma that have been rattling around the UK during the last six months, this symphony proves to be like a London bus: you wait for ages, and then several turn up at once. Having enjoyed the BBCSO’s Proms performance under Sakari Oramo ( review), it was good to have an opportunity to hear the work with smaller forces in a more intimate venue than the cavernous RAH. Under Page’s guidance the opening Adagio felt ponderous and weighty - though I also sensed in the pulsing D minor strings, intimations of the opening of Mozart’s future Requiem Mass. The lines did have a flowing continuity, but it was not until the second movement Allegro that the sporadic bursts of energy, striking dynamic contrasts, punchy horn playing and shimmering string tremolos lifted the music above the mundane. The strings running scales were superbly precise and well-coordinated, the clear-edged sound creating a dramatic contrast with the preceding clouded darkness. The Menuet and Trio were cheerfully melodious: the motifs slithered easily, coloured by the occasional faux-ominous semitonal inflection. The whirling strings were countered by sturdy horns in the final Presto assai and the brightness and excellent ensemble of the coda brought things to an impressively unified close.

2017 will see Classical Opera step into 1767, and Mozart ‘take centre stage’. The programme for next year includes stagings ofDie Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, which the company recorded in 2013 (review) and Apollo in Hyacinthus, as well as performances with Kristian Bezuidenhout at the Wigmore Hall of Mozart’s first four keyboard concertos.

Claire Seymour

Classical Opera: conductor/artistic director, Ian Page.

Haydn - Symphony No.34 in D minor; Myslivecek - Arias from Semiramide (‘Talor se il vento’, ‘Tu mi disprezzi ingrato’, ‘A pastor se torna’, ‘Fiumicel che s’ode appena’); Haydn - La canterina (semi-staged).

Ailish Tynan (soprano, Gasparina), Rachel Kelly (mezzo-soprano, Apollonia), Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano, Don Ettore), Robert Murray (tenor, Don Pelagio); Orchestra of Classical Opera.

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 19th October 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):