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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

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):