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 Reviews

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé wins the 2017 Guildhall School Gold Medal

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has announced baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé as the winner of this year’s Gold Medal, the School’s most prestigious prize for outstanding soloists. The prize is awarded to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years and this year was the turn of the singers.

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

Glyndebourne Festival 2018 programme announced

The UK’s first professional production of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer prize-winning opera Vanessa takes place at Glyndebourne Festival 2018. One of the great American operas, Vanessa was hailed as a triumph at its premiere in 1958 but quickly fell out of the repertoire and has only been staged intermittently since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

ROH, <em>Oreste</em> at Wilton’s Music Hall
10 Nov 2016

Oreste at Wilton's Music Hall

Handel’s pasticcio, Oreste, with its mythological core and Roman source libretto, is a Classical beast: it pits barbarous human cruelty versus man’s potential for grace and gentility. Director Gerard Jones’ production at Wilton’s Music Hall, for the Royal Opera house, dispenses with ethical dilemmas - and questions of love and loyalty - and gives us a comic-strip bloodbath which is less a blend of mythological dysfunctionality and moral consolation, and more a mal-functional cross-breed of Tarantino, Hammer House of Horror and the Rocky Horror Show.

ROH, Oreste at Wilton’s Music Hall

A review by Claire Seymour



Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

Or as Jones puts it, ‘the place where “not funny” meets “funny”’. But, Tarantino is always on the side of the underclass, whereas Jones does not encourage us to care about or understand any of Handel’s characters. We are desensitised to the blood-letting within minutes. Moreover, there is a complete disjunction between the elegance of Handel’s musical rhetoric and the crude carnage that unfolds, often disruptively and incongruously, on stage.

The first night audience at Wilton’s loved it. To declare that musico-dramatic values have not been upheld - that one doesn’t like Handelian eloquence being smashed into smithereens by stomping boots, bludgeoning hammer blows and psychiatric frenzies - probably puts one in the ‘reactionary’ camp.

But, what is a shame about Jones’ production is that it does not serve its purpose; or, to put it another way, those whom it is designed to ‘serve’, have to work hard to overcome its limitations. For this production is intended to showcase the talents of Jones’ fellow Jette Parker Young Artists and it’s to the credit of the young cast that their Handelian credentials out-shine the shock factor shenanigans.

Oreste was one of five works produced by Handel in 1734 for his first season at the recently opened Royal Opera House. He had a busy season: one that resulted in newly composed works such as Ariodante and Alcina. So, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that when Oreste opened on 18 December 1734 there was a considerable amount of operatic re-cycling on parade.

Cast Oreste © Clive Barda.pngPhoto credit: ROH, Clive Barda.

Oreste was the first of the three pasticcio operas that Handel himself created from his own works. He borrowed the overture and the forty other numbers from various of his operas, adding only a few new secco and accompagnato recitatives and two ballet movements (the dance sequences were included for Marie Sallé and her company, who appeared in all Handel’s productions in his first Covent Garden season of 1734-5); and, he altered the orchestration and key of particular numbers as dramatically and musically required.

Handel aficionados might find it disconcerting to hear a character in one drama sing an aria recognised from a different musico-dramatic context, but while musicologists might quibble over such identifications (one scholar suggests that extracts from some thirteen operas written between 1713 and 1733 were recycled), the audience in the theatre is concerned only with dramatic effectiveness. And, if Handel did not have time to compose new music, that doesn’t mean that he recklessly didn’t give due thought to the sequence and shape of the musical drama. Oreste is skilfully wrought, allowing that there is cliché and humdrum-ness alongside musical gems.

Adapted, with additional characters interpolated, from an earlier libretto by Gualberto Barlocci, the story is based on the Iphigenia myth, as treated by Euripides, combined with elements borrowed from Sophocles and Aeschylus. We’re in familiar dysfunctional family territory. Oreste, consumed by madness after he has murdered his mother Clytemnestra, lands in Tauria having been guided by an oracle. Ifigenia, though not recognising her sibling, is prompted to save him from sacrifice, and is aided by an admirer, Toante’s captain Filotete. Oreste’s wife Ermione and his friend Pilade come in search of him, and are arrested and condemned to death. After much threat of sacrifice and self-sacrifice, Ifigenia reveals herself as Oreste’s sister and with Filotete’s help inspires the Taurians to overthrow Toante and restore peace.

In Jones’ hands Ifigenia - miraculously saved from sacrifice at Aulis - has a new role: less high priestess of Diana, and more henchman of King Toante, she has to murder all strangers to the land of the Taurians. Wilton’s is in the East End, so Jones, predictably and uninspiringly, opts for grunge and graffiti and adds a bucket-load of gratuitous gruesomeness. The action is contained within a tag-strewn cube: designer Matt Carter signals that what we are about to see will be ‘Raw!’ Jones believes that ‘scenery is the enemy of directors’: one couldn’t help thinking that the exposed brickwork of Wilton’s itself might have been more effective. There are few props: just a radiator, a box of flex wire and other torture tools, a filthy yellow wheelie bin, a glowing electric fly-zapper, a shabby standard lamp.

With a plastic apron and gloves to safe-guard her knee-length ti-shirt, a panda-eyed Ifigenia strays in clutching a hammer and, wearily passing through a door at the rear of the cube, enters an execution chamber and proceeds to get on with the business in hand. To the accompaniment of Handel’s eloquent overture, an anonymous victim is bludgeoned and blood splatters the glass window. And so it goes on. Stomping about in combat fatigues and dark glasses, Toante is a Mugabe-like megalomaniac whose raving becomes ever more demented as the body count rises. Dressed in an orange body suit and Doc Martens, Filotete is a willing accomplice in butchery, slavering rabidly as he stuffs another limb in a bin-bag. The two strangers from Argos wash up in this nightmarish slaughter chamber like a pair of ragged refugees and are sucked into the amorality; at the close, the hammer-wielding Ermione leads the way in the mutual massacring of Toante.

JENNIFER DAVIS AS IFIGENIA (C)  PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.pngJennifer Davis as Ifigenia. Photo credit: ROH, Clive Barda.

Reading Jones’ explication in the programme booklet, one is disheartened by the absence of words such as ‘Handel’, ‘music’, and by the summative rationale: ‘I think the behaviour of all the characters is pretty bad … I think the behaviour is awful. All these people are awful. That is the starting point.’ He sees his job as ensuring ‘the behaviour you see on stage sustains the story … and is as real as possible against the unreality of the music’. But, fortunately, as Jones notes, ‘musically the piece will sustain itself’ - the problem is, can he sustain our interest during three long acts of ultra-violence which is divorced from the musical narrative?

The young cast showed that they know how to shape a Handel aria, how to negotiate ornament, and how to use vocal colour to characterise and communicate. They worked hard, and with some terrific musical results.

Angela Simkin’s pyjama-clad Oreste is a wide-eyed, twitching self-harmer, but she sang with impressive, quiet concentration and revealed a glowing vocal polish. As Ifigenia, Jennifer Davis showed that at the top she can manipulate colour, dynamic and weight of her lyric soprano with ease, and that she can embellish stylishly. Vlada Borovko was in powerful voice as Ermione; the duet of farewell (taken from Floridante) for Oreste and Ermione which closes Act 2 was a rare heart-warming moment amid the cold callousness.

ANGELA SIMKIN AS ORESTE (C) PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.jpgAngela Simkin as Oreste. Photo credit: ROH, Clive Barda.

As Pilade, tenor Thomas Atkin helped, momentarily, to alleviate the relentless ferociousness of the proceedings, singing with quiet beauty in his Act Two aria of adoration for his beloved Oreste; he managed Handel’s high-lying lines well and shaped the phrases gracefully.

Simon Shibambo has a resonant bass baritone that, in another production, could command great authority: here, he used his voice well, just about overcoming the distraction of Toante’s ridiculous crazed rampaging. The latter may have been the cause, too, of Shibambo’s tendency to lose touch with the band. As his over-zealous aide, Filotete, Gyula Nagy revealed a strong baritone but needed a bit more variety of volume and shade.

161107_0854 oreste adj GYULA NAGY AS FILOTETE, SIMON SHIBAMBU AS TOANTE, THOMAS ATKINS AS PILADE, VLADA BOROVKO AS ERMIONE (C) PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.pngGyula Nagy as Filotete, Simon Shibambu as Toante, Thomas Atkins as Pilade, Vlada Borovko as Ermione. Photo credit: ROH, Clive Barda.

One might have wondered why members of the Southbank Sinfonia, not known for adventures in ‘authenticity’, had been chosen as accompanists, but in the event they played superbly, led by conductor James Hendry who seemed to have every detail of the score at his command. The violin lines had real character and were thoughtfully shaped and ornamented; the bass was strongly driven. Harpsichordist Nick Fletcher, seated on the opposite side of the theatre to the rest of the band, offered some imaginative continuo flourishes.

Jones ends not with redemption and reconciliation but with existential dissolution. It’s all too much for Atkin’s Pilade: his lovely final aria having been overshadowed by the orgiastic clubbing of Toante, Pilade dons an orange life-jacket and, presumably, swims off in search of fairer lands. At the end of this merciless blood-feast, I knew how he felt.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Oreste

Oreste - Angela Simkin, Ifigenia - Jennifer Davis, Filotete - Gyula Nagy, Ermione - Vlada Borovko, Pilade - Thomas Atkins, Toante - Simon Shibambu; Director - Gerard Jones, Conductor - James Hendry, Designers - Gerard Jones and Matt Carter, Costume Designer - Donna Raphael, Lighting Designer - Mimi Jordan Sherin, Movement Director - Anjali Mehra, Southbank Sinfonia.

Wilton’s Music Hall, London; Tuesday 8th November 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):