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

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’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

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.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

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).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

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.

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):