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

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.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

World Premiere by Peter Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London
03 Oct 2016

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

World Premiere by Peter Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

A review by Anne Ozorio

Piia Komsi

 

The basic architecture of Eötvös's The Sirens Cycle is simple, yet classic: three parts each devoted to different responses to the legend of the Sirens, whose singing is so lovely that those who listen are lured to their deaths. Seduction and destruction: opposite poles eternally pulling together and apart. The first part is based on James Joyce's Ulysses, in which the legend is retold in Joyce's highly unusual syntax, where words fragment and language is subsumed by sounds that aren't necessarily coherent but generate fleeting images. Tosh, perhaps, but oddly compelling. Indeed, abstract sounds amplify meaning. What to make of lines like "Chips … Horrid and gold flushed more" ? Eötvös replicates Joyce's choppy phrasing with flurries of syllabic sound. The word "Chips" is projected as a high-pitched gasp which claws at the ear, so the rounded "o" sounds in "horrid" and "gold" and "more" seem to churn around on themselves. Or lines like "A jumping rose on a satiny breast of satin, Rose of Castille, trilling idolores"? Eötvös breaks the words into tense, choppy figures, deconstructing the idea of satin and roses.

Images of bronze, gold and roses recur, linking the passages together with a kind of inner logic, highlighted by Eötvös's setting, as idiosyncratic as Joyce's poetry, for that is what it is, ideas evoked not by figurative meaning but by allusion. Thus the third section in the first part "O Rose! /Castille the morn is breaking/ jingle jaunten jingling coin rang /Clock clacked." Crazy, zany rhythms, almost joyous, yet brought down to earth by a sudden drop in the timbral temperature: a hard ending to flights of fancy. Similarly, the "Clap-clap, Clip-clap, Clappy-clap" of the sixth section where energy is abruptly cut short. "I feel", the line drawn out, going silent, then snapping back. "So sad". Joyce mentions "Liszt's Rhapsodies" and Eötvös creates a spooky nocturnal waltz. Wittily, he captures Joyce's bizarre wordplay, "my epp ripff taph/ Be pfrwritt".

Although Barbara Hannigan was scheduled to sing, I was thrilled to hear that Piia Komsi was stepping in at very short notice indeed, for Komsi's voice is phenomenal, capable of extremes of pitch and textures beyond the range of most, combined with extraordinarily crisp articulation. Her voice is almost superhumanly elastic, her diction precise even in phrases as convoluted as those thrown at her by Joyce and Eötvös. She embodied the Sirens, supernatural beings who defy the boundaries of Nature. Komsi's death-defying flights up and down the scale could drive one mad with rapture. Komsi is a vocal gymnast, but so poised that she can make the ethereal sound perfectly natural.

And thus the Interlude, by which Eötvös separates the Parts of the Siren Cycle. In this first interlude, the Calder Quartet created whooshing sounds, suggesting movement within a compressed range, like wind channelled through a tunnel. An image of time travel ? We fly into the ancient world, with Homer's verses in Greek, intoned with gravitas. Again, Eötvös captures the metre of the poet's individual language. The lines seem to curve upon themselves like sonorous echoes. The Sirens (or rather Komsi and the Calder Quartet) seduce in honeyed tones: Komsi's voice warms sensuously, the violins, viola and cello singing along with her, in luscious chorus. Significantly, Eötvös breaks off from the Siren's song with a short interlude where the strings sing troubled foreboding. Tough old Odysseus, despite his resolve, longs to listen.

Franz Kafka's story from 1917, Das Schweigen der Sirenen "Um sich vor dem Sirenen bewahren" supplies the text for the Third Part of Eötvös's Siren Cycle. Another change of literary syntax: Kafka's lines are more prose than poem. His handling of the subject is at once more brusquely down to earth, and yet more horrifying. Odysseus escapes the Sirens by stopping his ears up with wax. He's tied to the mast so he cannot break free and join them. But the Sirens have eine noch schreckliche Waffe als den Gesang, nämlich ihr Schweigen, (an even more terrifying weapon than song, namely their silence). Odysseus thinks he's outsmarted the Sirens but perhaps it is they who have outsmarted him by withholding their song, leaving him with his illusions. For a musician, that's a an astonishingly ironic solution. It thus casts the whole Siren Cycle as a meditation on the nature of song and art, and the absence thereof. This also connects with the references to song in Joyce's text, the Rose of Castille being Balfe's operetta, the cry "Martha" in Part 1 section 5 being Flotow's Martha and, of course the snatch of Liszt rhapsody. What, then, is the mood in this final part of the cycle? Its rhythms are sturdier than the skittish First Part, yet also oddly nostalgic. Are we to think of popular music wafting all around us, even if we'd like to remain aloof? Komsi's voice takes on a soubrettist tinge. Is she coquette, destroyer or Muse? No easy answers. But that is the beauty of Eötvös The Sirens Cycle : there's a lot more to it than meets the eye, or ear.

Purposefully, this recital began with Eötvös's Korrespondenz (String Quartet no 1, (1992) which the composer describes as "a mini opera for string quartet", since it's based on the correspondence between Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The son was lonely, in Paris. The father withheld news of the death of his wife, whom the son loved dearly. Deception, even though well meant: the ingredients of psychodrama. The first violin (Benjamin Jacobsen) and the viola (Jonathan Moerschel) talk at each other rather than to each other. Their music seems to connect but there's a palpable gulf. One of them is singing, but the other refuses to hear. It's The Siren's Cycle, in microcosm. Separating the two, defusing the dynamite, so to speak, the Calder Quartet played Debussy String Quartet in G minor op.10.

Anne Ozorio

Piia Komsi - soprano; Calder Quartet.

Peter Eötvös: Korrespondenz; Debussy: String Quartet in G minor Op.10; Peter Eötvös: The Sirens Cycle for string quartet and soprano (world première).

Wigmore Hall, London; Saturday 1st 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):