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 Performances

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim [Photo by Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera]
06 Dec 2016

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.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

A review by Margaret Darby

Above: Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim

Photos by Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

 

Kaija Saariaho is a composer fêted the world over and the United States has been a bit tardy in perceiving her charm. (The opera’s premiere was at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and the Santa Fe Opera produced it in 2002, but Darmstadt, Bern, Bergen, Toronto and Quebec all beat the Met to the punch.)

Saariaho is Finnish and studied at the Sibelius Academy.  She then struck out for the avant-garde study centers of Europe: Freiburg, Darmstadt and then Paris where she worked at IRCAM, Pierre Boulez’ famous institute for experimental music.  At IRCAM she worked with composers who experiment with combining electronic sounds with acoustic music. The term spectral music was first used to describe the style by Hugh Dufourt, a philosopher and composer, in 1979, but recently the term has been resuscitated and Saariaho’s growing fame and popularity has brought the term to a popular frenzy.

The Met opera production by Robert Lepage is a visual masterpiece. Photos cannot convey the almost palpable illusion of water created by rows of LED lights. The show began with a total blackout — including the orchestra pit — then tiny lights appeared like small twinkling stars — then the dots of lights grew into shimmering lines of light which resembled ocean waves. A beautiful verse in Amin Maalouf’s libretto based on the history and songs of a twelfth-century troubadour Jaufré Rudel (sung by Philadelphia’s bass-baritone Eric Owens) has Jaufré ask of the Pilgrim (sung by mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford) “Why is the sea blue? Why is the sky blue?”

Eric-Owens-as-Jaufre-Rudel-and-Susanna-Phillips-as-Clemence.--Photo-by-Ken-Howard_Metropolitan-Opera.pngEric Owens as Jaufré Rudel and Susanna Phillips as Clémence

Susanna Phillips, the soprano who plays Clémence, the Countess of Tripoli, the unrequited and unknown love of the troubadour, has lovely pure high notes and it is a good thing because that is mostly what she gets to sing. The part of the Pilgrim has a much more melodic score. Rudel’s first songs are quite hard to hear in the very lowest part of his range, but the score for his duets with the Pilgrim and with Clémence were clearer.

The program notes by Cori Ellison, a dramaturg at Glyndebourne Festival Opera and a member of the vocal arts faculty at Julliard School, contain some outrageous sentences like:  “The dearth of apparent action through the opera’s two hours is mirrored in the illusion of musical stagnation, by now a trademark of Saariaho’s music.”  Don’t let that scare you, I stayed awake for the entire show.  Ellison also wrote the subtitles, which were interesting at best. Lines like “he is my outremer” kept appearing. (“Outremer” means overseas in French and I suspect the message was that Clémence’s fascination with Rudel was due to the fact that he was a foreign exotic.)  The wordplay in the original libretto by Maalouf of the word “clément” and “Clémence” also came out rather awkwardly in English, but that would have been tough to render.

The orchestration was the highlight of the opera. Bassoon lines came through as wavy and oceanic, the oboe took the dreamy and twinkly phrases and the electronic sounds of the keyboard added mystery, as did the watery, pedaled notes on the piano. The strings were used to enhance the ethereality. There was little brass in the score, but the piccolo provided strategic punctuation.

Another coup for this production was to have a woman wield the baton. Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki, in her Met debut, managed to form a composite of the ethereal sounds and kept the pace as much as possible, although even she was challenged by the tediously long ending. The warm hug between female composer and female conductor on the Met stage was a historic moment for women in music. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Toscanini.

L’Amour de loin is a stunning achievement but I cannot help feeling that Saariaho’s chamber music seems more structured than her orchestrations.  The performances of her string quartet Terra Memoria and her trio Mirage for soprano, cello and piano, each of which I heard at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, left a more indelible musical impression on me than L’amour, but the production is well worth seeing. Don’t worry about the dearth of action; it is the lot of most troubadours. Think of poor old Tristan.

Margaret Darby

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):