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

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Prom 68, Opera Rara, Rossini’s <em>Semiramide</em>, conducted by Sir Mark Elder
08 Sep 2016

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Prom 68, Opera Rara, Rossini’s Semiramide, conducted by Sir Mark Elder

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Daniella Barcellona (Arsace) and Albina Shagimuratova (Semiramide)

Photo credit: Chris Christodolou/BBC.

 

This was a four-hour feast for bel canto devotees. Sir Mark Elder’s absolute belief in the work was tangible, and thrilling, from the first down-beat, and his unflagging vitality lifted the Opera Rara Chorus, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the illustrious team of soloists to sustain an incredible musical and dramatic intensity.

Semiramide, the Queen of Babylon, has inspired almost four centuries of plays and operas: her infamous sins rival those of Clytemnestra, Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Gertrude combined. She has murdered her husband Nino and, apparently, her son, with the aid of her lover, Assur. But, having ruled Assyria she is now forced to name an heir. Semiramide chooses the dazzling solider Arsace, and claims him as her husband. And, this is where things get a bit sticky: Arsace is in fact her lost son, and in any case he’s infatuated with the Princess Azema. The vengeful ghost of Nino - worthy of Macbeth or Hamlet - appears, and demands the slaying of the Queen in retribution for his murder. His wish is fulfilled but the unwitting matricide is more accidental than intentional and the opera ends, not on a triumphant note but with questions of redemption to the fore.

Premiered in 1823, Rossini’s opera took Voltaire’s play Sémiramis as its direct source. Voltaire had focused less on the Oedipal attraction between mother and son, and more on themes of betrayal and murder. A concert staging of the opera was perfectly apt. For nothing much happens in the course of Gaetano Rossi’s libretto: the assassination of the King happened years ago and now we are simply waiting for the gods to bring justice to bear on the perpetrators, while the protagonists keep us entertained with a series of elaborate arias about love - passionate, unrequited, familial and unwittingly Oedipal. But, Rossini gives us a cornucopia of wonderful melodies, with infinitely varied instrumental colourings, and vocal elaborations which are so beautiful they can win our sympathy for those guilty of the most abhorrent crimes.

There were some changes to the originally announced cast, but this did not affect the female roles - and this was definitely a ‘ladies’ night’. In the title role, created for Rossini’s wife Isabella Colbran, soprano Albina Shagimuratova revealed a huge registral and dynamic range - she has a breathtakingly controlled pianissimo; her combination of stage presence, vocal pyrotechnics and expressive abandon made Rossini’s fluent lyricism electrifying. She was utterly in command of both coloratura and style. As her Act 1 showpiece, ‘Bel raggio lusinghier’, confirmed, Shagimuratova has both an affecting chest voice and the dazzling high-lights. Her virtuosity served the drama and was always stylistically attuned.

Prom 68_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_8.png Gianluca Gaspar (Oroe). Photo Credit: Chris Christodoulou.

She was partnered by Daniela Barcellona who, as a sincere and dramatically credible Arsace, demonstrated musical and dramatic acuity: indeed, it was as the musical demands increased that Barcellona seemed to communicate more directly and profoundly. The roulades of ‘Ah! Quel giorno ognor rammento’ presented no difficulty; but, more than vocal agility it was Barcellona’s tonal depth and range which was so impressive. When she joined Shagimuratova in duets such as Act 1’s ‘Alle più care immagini’ the results were stunning.

Prom 68_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_12.png Barry Banks (Idreno). Photo Credit: Chris Christodoulou.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo had been scheduled to sing the role of the unwitting mother-murderer Assur but his replacement, Mirco Palazzi, was no ‘second best’: that said, Palazzi’s lack of a strong, warm bass range was a slight weakness - especially in his ‘mad aria’ - but one that he more than made up for with nimbleness and vitality of tone. Barry Banks - replacing Levy Strauss Segkapane in the dramatically rather thankless role of the advisor, Idreno - despatched his high notes with fluency and ease, and displayed a lovely, appealing tone in his Act 2 aria, ‘La speranza più soave’, (though his role was truncated, despite Elder’s professed ‘respect for the proportions that Rossini established’). Even more hard-done-by was Susana Gaspar, as Azema. But, bass Gianluca Buratto made a striking impression as the high priest, Oreo - sonorous and insightful. A white-suited James Platt, raised on a pedestal in the RAH Arena, bellowed even more cavernously than usual, with the aid of a microphone-effect, and King Nino’s vengeful commands sent a shiver up the spine.

Prom 68_CR_BBC Chris Christodoulou_11.png James Platt (Nino’s Ghost). Photo Credit: Chris Christodoulou.

Mark Elder clearly enjoyed himself. He exhibited a truly impressive grasp of the structure of the score, balanced with the relative import of the small gestures - and certainly had the means to communicate this appreciation to performers, and thus to the listeners. The Opera Rara Chorus sang splendidly. In the long overture Elder brought out all of Rossini’s intriguing orchestrations and he conducted throughout with muscularity and flexibility. Tempos surged perhaps rather too precipitously at times but as there were only a few cuts, this may have been judicious.

Wagner commented acidly that Semiramide exhibits ‘all the faults by which Italian opera can be distinguished’. Yet, on the evidence of this performance it seemed to me that one might argue that with Semiramide Rossini ‘saved’ opera seria with a medicinal dollop of glorious bel canto.

I had just one proviso. Four hours on RAH swivelling, low-backed seats left me - at moments during this Sunday-evening performance which commenced at 7pm - occasionally wondering if physical punishment would out-weigh the pleasures offered by Rossini. An Opera Rara recording is forthcoming and I look forward to being able to enjoy this terrific opera at a single sitting in more comfortable environs - and without a late-Sunday dash home. BBC please take note!

Claire Seymour

Rossini: Semiramide

Semiramide - Albina Shagimuratova, Arsace - Daniela Barcellona, Assur - Mirco Palazzi, Idreno - Barry Banks, Oroe - Gianluca Buratto, Azema - Susana Gaspar, Mitrane - David Butt Philip, Nino’s Ghost - James Platt; Sir Mark Elder - conductor, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Opera Rara Chorus.

Royal Albert Hall, London; 4th September 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):