Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

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):