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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christine Rice
24 Jan 2017

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

Temple Song Series, Middle Temple Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Christine Rice

Photo credit: Patricia Taylor

 

The last time I saw her perform she was magnificent as a spurned Elvira, all fury and frenzy, in Richard Jones’ Don Giovanni at ENO. On this occasion, at Middle Temple Hall, she conjured the despondency and desperation of a deserted Cretan princess, rustic lasses from Galicia and Italy, and an elegant Parisian whose love affair is callously ended by a fraught, fragmented telephone call.

This was a technically and emotionally taxing programme, which called for extremes of euphoria and despair, and considerable stamina. Two solo dramas framed five songs by Ravel that, despite their relative brevity, did not allow Rice to take her foot off the emotive pedal. Drake was, as ever, a composed, unobtrusive but unwaveringly intent partner.

Haydn’s dramatic solo cantata, Arianna a Naxos, went down well with London audiences when it was performed in February 1791 by the castrato Gasparo Pacchierotti, with Haydn accompanying on the harpsichord. In the dignified, ornate introduction to the first recitative - which depicts Ariadne’s dawn awakening - Drake captured something of the crispness and melodic clarity of this instrument, though his close observance of Haydn’s dynamic and expressive markings, most particularly in the gentle in-between phrase commentaries, suggested the expressive character of the fortepiano, with its soft, light tone and vibrant sforzandos.

Rice made much of the variety of Haydn’s dramatic modulations, moving from sleepy appeals to the absent Theseus - her hand caressing her cheek in dreamy remembrance - to heightened frustration. Initially her vibrato was quite wide, giving Arianna’s impassioned cries a plum-rich tone but adversely affecting the centring of the pitch. However, in the succeeding aria, ‘Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?’ (Where are you, my beloved?), the sensuousness of her mezzo came into its own as, with earnest solemnity, she begged the Gods to allow her beloved to return to her. Rice shaped the fragmented vocal line well, as Arianna’s growing anxiety was underpinned by harmonic twists to and from the minor mode, culminating in punchy piano punctuations heralding the second recitative section, ‘Ma, a chi parlo?’ (But to whom am I speaking?). A whispered pianissimo diminished fragilely, as the Echo mocked her pleas; then, warmth conveyed hope - ‘Poco da me lontano esser egli dovria’ (He cannot be far from me). The span of the vocal part is not wide and the piano accompaniment offers detailed depiction - of Arianna’s ascent to the cliff-top, of the wind and waves that carry away her agitated words - but Drake never overpowered the vocal line as the tempi chopped and changed, and silence alternated with dramatic rhetoric.

Having witnessed her lover’s departure, and overcome with despair, Rice’s frail reflections, ‘A chi mi volgo?’ (To whom can I turn?), were ironically decorated by the piano, the slightest delay of the off-beat semi-quavers brilliantly conveying the pulsations of Arianna’s trembling heart. Then, having recovered her nobility and strength for the concluding aria, ‘Ah, che morir vorrei’ (Ah, how I long to die), Rice exploded in anger and grief - a woman scorned, vitalised by passion and anguish.

Rice’s ability to encompass and move between a variety of dramatic moods was put to good effect in Ravel’s Chants populaires, as was the mezzo’s linguistic dexterity. Singing with directness and strong character, she shifted easily from the bright bucolic simplicity of the ‘Chanson française’, which somehow managed to seem both naïve and knowing, to the intensity of the ‘Chanson italienne’, whose extravagant outbursts and plummeting lament - ‘Chiamo l’amore mio, nun m’arrisponde!’ (I call my love, no one answers!) - consolidated the evening’s theme. I loved the ‘Cancion española’, which combined sultry heat with a ‘La la’ refrain of dreamy coolness. Rice relished the rich Yiddishisms of the ‘Chanson hébraïque’, modifying her mezzo for the young Mejerke’s reply to his father in the final line of each stanza, and the performers’ following this stirring exchange with Ravel’s Kaddisch - a worshipful prayer of exaltation to conclude the first half of the recital.

Drake_Julius_pc_Sim_Canetty-Clarke_1_72.jpgJulius Drake. Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke.

After such riches, I keenly anticipated Poulenc’s 1958 opera La Voix humaine. But, while the performance was consummately accomplished, with singer and pianist in unwavering accord, I wondered whether the decision not to re-print the libretto in the programme was a wise one. Cocteau’s 1927 play on which the opera is based depicts a tumultuous telephone conversation between an unstable young woman, Elle, and her former lover. Richard Stokes’ synopsis deftly and eloquently outlined the traumatic twists and turns of their altercation, but one needed a facility in the French language in advance of my own if one was to follow the precise emotional trajectory of the interchange. Such clarity of context is surely crucial given that the conversation ranges from outright lies to recollections of love letters, from revelations and confessions to garbled nonsense, and is constantly interrupted by the intrusions of the operator and other callers, wrong-numbers and disconnections.

Stokes explains the omission of the libretto text in a programme note, suggesting that, ‘To fully experience the emotional force of this great work, it’s crucial for the audience not only to hear but also see the heroine’s commotion’. I certainly agree that Rice, using an infinite array of gesture, posture and facial expression to suggest impending nervous collapse and suicidal despair, was an utterly gripping stage presence, whose wretchedness and decline was painfully absorbing.

But, without some clearly defined ‘signposts’, it was hard to wholly grasp the dramatic and emotional structure of the whole. Poulenc’s opera starts at fever pitch and escalates from there. And, while Rice’s registral range was as impressive as her ability to project with ease and gleaming clarity the highest vocal motif, there was, particularly towards the close, less variety of colour than I’d have expected. Moreover, if we do not know exactly what Elle is saying, how can we conceive of the unheard respondents whose absent words so powerfully invite imaginative reconstruction and thus draw us into the drama?

Rice sang from the score and there was no ‘staging’. Nor was any needed. But, I questioned, too, the absence of the telephone that is almost a second character in the work. This is not a monologue: all of Elle’s words are, in effect, addressed to the telephone. It is a conduit to other characters whose voices we never hear. It is her physical companion: she caresses it and entwines it around her. In the end, she goes to bed with the receiver and seems to strangle herself with its cord. In this way, Cocteau shows how the notorious French telephone system of the period when the opera was written impedes communication and relationships, exacerbates Elle’s hopelessness, and increases the poignancy of her loneliness. Interesting, Cocteau - who gave Poulenc strict instructions about the design and staging of the opera - insisted that he should not create a true bedroom, but a bedroom ‘asleep with remembering’: a room which contained just a woman and the phone she holds ‘like a revolver’.

But, such digressions and reflections should not detract from the quality of the performance itself, which was a powerful psychological portrait of anguish and anger, hope and loss of heart, culminating in drained resignation. Rice showed once again what an astonishing singing actress she is: her flexible mezzo coped effortlessly with the shifting vocal contours and the rapid vacillations of short snatches. When the music blossomed into lyricism, the beauty of the vocal sound was touched with a rawness, which spoke powerfully in the unaccompanied utterances.

Once again, Drake’s attentiveness, precision and ability to convey precise moods through colour, weight and sustain, was astonishing. Never once did he seem to be ‘accompanying’; rather, his disjointed gestures echoed Elle’s psychological disintegration, while the piano’s more lyrical expansions seemed to offer nostalgic glimpses of the past.

One may at times have missed the sumptuousness of Poulenc’s orchestration (the composer notes at the beginning of the score, ‘The entire work should be bathed in the greatest orchestral sensuality’), but there was no lack of feeling at the close, as Rice descended from hysterical heights to crushed futility: ‘Je t’aime, je t’aime … t’aime.’

Claire Seymour

Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano), Julius Drake (piano)

Haydn - Arianna a Naxos Hob.XXVIb:2; Ravel -Chants Populaires and Kaddisch; Poulenc/Cocteau - La Voix Humaine

Middle Temple Hall, London; Monday 23rd January 2017.

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):