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

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.

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.

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.

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.’

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.’

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."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A scene from Fortress Europe [Photo by Hans van den Bogaard]
27 Mar 2017

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: A scene from Fortress Europe

Photos by Hans van den Bogaard

 

The number of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea is already picking up, as it does every year. Putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, scores of them will drown. The ones who reach European shores will face years of uncertainty in asylum centers and hostility from nativists and nationalists who feel threatened by them. Librettist Jonathan West, informed by the writings of Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, bravely tackles the most salient aspects of the European migrant crisis. The libretto is economical and purposeful in the beginning, but loses momentum halfway through. Tsoupaki’s atmospheric score contains some involving scenes, but is ultimately too circuitous to be fully convincing.

Totally up to the mark, on the other hand, are the cast and production. Director Floris Visser keeps things clear and to the point. Costumes and set are unfussy. On a rotating stage, sharp rocks denote a Greek island and a large door is the gateway to Europe. The drowning chorus wears life jackets sent over from Lesbos by an NGO that works with migrants. Soprano Rosemary Joshua sang Europa, an old woman living in Brussels. She is the mouthpiece of the current anti-immigrant sentiment shaping the European political landscape. With meticulous singing and crisp enunciation, Joshua created a focused portrait of a woman clinging to the past and terrified of the present. Her hankering for Old Europe is poetically expressed through the myth of Europa, the Phoenician princess who dreamed of two continents, Asia and an unnamed continent, fighting over her. The next morning she was carried away across the sea to Crete by Zeus disguised as a beautiful white bull. Europa gave Zeus sons and her name to her new home.

17.03.19-0898.pngA scene from Fortress Europe

Political tensions over the influx of migrants are explored in conversations between Europa and her son Frans, a politician. Tenor Erik Slik sank his teeth wholeheartedly into this role in an emotionally charged and vocally assertive performance. Frans, a progressively sympathetic figure, is torn between his political mandate to guard European borders and his empathy for the refugees. While Europa recalls her youthful romance with phrases curling into melismas, Frans reminds her that even she once washed up in Europe from foreign shores. Mother and son fight over granting asylum to Amar, a Syrian who is the sole survivor of a catastrophic crossing. Europa refuses him entry, destroying him. Bass-baritone Yavuz Arman İşleker sang Amar with much vocal beauty and dignity. His slight Turkish accent added to the complexity of the topic under scrutiny. Amar’s re-enactment of the drowning with the chorus of migrants was the emotional peak of the opera. The excellent Netherlands Student Chamber Choir supplied young, vibrato-light voices for the spectral chorus. Singing a haunting Arab folk song, they fell silent one by one, shedding their life jackets onto a forlorn heap.

Conductor Bas Wiegers led the seven-strong Asko|Schönberg ensemble with confidence. The oboe and cor anglais had the lion’s share of the solos, in languid Eastern scales and plaintive keening. Tsoupaki is free with musical idioms, braiding passages for string quartet with Greek Orthodox hymns and Arab melodies. A harp evokes nostalgia and percussion crescendos mark dramatic events, while sound effects recreate wind and waves. Lucid orchestral colors suggest an exposed beach or the glade where Europa gives herself to Zeus. The problem is that Tsoupaki’s vocal writing is rhythmically repetitive and her melodies tenuous. Ariosos for the soloists begin promisingly, but end up where they started without evolving. The percussion flare-ups lose their impact through overuse. She passes over the opportunity to write a lively ensemble scene when journalists cross-examine Frans about his immigration policy. The entire press conference is spoken, and very well too, but it is too long.

Wordiness, successfully avoided during the trenchant phone conversations between mother and son, mars their final confrontation. They become megaphones for pro- and anti-immigration arguments and the music is not inventive enough to sustain interest. Amar’s tragic end is a horrific climax, but it arrives to late. Fortress Europe is the first installment of a trilogy about sociopolitical bushfires called Sign of the Times, produced by a company called Opera Trionfo. Dutch National Opera is collaborating on the project and this world premiere was part of their annual Opera Forward Festival. Musically, this ninety-minute work never reaches the boiling point required by its subject matter, but its best moments and the high quality of the performance makes one curious about its sequels.

Jenny Camilleri

Cast and production information:

Europa: Rosemary Joshua, soprano; Frans, the politician: Erik Slik, tenor; Amar, the refugee: Yavuz Arman İşleker, bass-baritone. Director: Floris Visser; Set and Costume Design: Dieuweke van Reij; Lighting Design: Alex Brok. Composer: Calliope Tsoupaki; Libretto: Jonathan West; Conductor: Bas Wiegers. Netherlands Student Chamber Choir, Asko|Schönberg. Seen at the Rabozaal, Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, Wednesday, 22nd March 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):