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

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Opera Holland Park, <em>La voix humaine</em>
26 Mar 2017

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

Opera Holland Park, La voix humaine

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Anne Sophie Duprels

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

 

For this performance of Poulenc’s one-woman emotional roller-coaster, La voix humaine (1959), Opera Holland Park ventured indoors, into the genteel setting of the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. The room is not a large one and some of the sell-out crowd may have found their sightlines somewhat restricted as Marie Lambert’s intense, taut direction placed French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels at the centre of a slightly raised platform, often kneeling, crouching or reclining.

But, the intimacy of the setting, together with Duprels’ astonishing presence and impact, more than made up for any visual impediment. Duprels’ tour de force also helped mitigate the drabness of the design. Given the nature of this one-off excursion to the RAH, allowance can be made for adopting a limited staging, especially for a work that in fact needs no staging at all (except perhaps a single property, the telephone itself, which is almost a second character) to make its emotional and dramatic impact).

But, Lambert’s fluctuating lighting was distracting. And, the dilapidated plywood bedstead, daubed with blue paint splashes, did little to evoke Parisian chic. Nor did it suggest the bedroom ‘asleep with remembering’ which contains just a woman and the telephone that she clutches, ‘like a revolver’, as Cocteau demanded when instructing Poulenc about the design and staging of the opera in 1959. However, the blue cord of the telephone was a subtle but powerful visual image: Duprels’ ultramarine fingernails suggested it was delivering an intravenous infusion of a blue barbiturate, sedating and hypnotising the anxiety-fuelled woman, as she slipped ever nearer to sleep, or suicide.

Fortunately, Duprels’ performance pushed any concerns aside. As ‘Elle’, the lonely woman who makes a desperate telephone call to the lover who has abandoned her, she spanned an enormous emotional spectrum from terror to tremulous hope, from existential despair to excitement. We hear just one side of the conversation but, through careful pacing of the silences and nuanced repetitions of others’ words, Duprels was able to evoke a world beyond the forlorn bedroom, thereby deepening her own alienation from normal human interaction and exchange. As her attempted tête-à-tête was continually disrupted by wrong-numbers, disconnections, crossed-wires and an intrusive operator, Elle’s inner distress became a palpable but unspoken inner cry for help, ‘Can you hear me?’

Anne Sophie Duprels (c) Alex Brenner.jpg Anne Sophie Duprels. Photo credit: Alex Brenner.

Cocteau’s 1930 play grew out extreme personal crisis: addicted to opium, he was in the midst of a turbulent affair with a young writer, Jean Desbordes, who eventually abandoned Cocteau for a woman and joined the French Resistance movement, suffering a torturous death at the hands of the Gestapo. Poulenc, in the 1950s, was also suffering private distress, depression and drug addiction following the death of his partner Lucien Roubert. Though the work, in both dramatic and operatic form, conveys the universal experience of grief for a lost love, there is a crypto-homosexual insinuation in Elle’s quasi-masochistic sensibility which recalls the plays of Tennessee Williams.

Cocteau does not seem particularly sympathetic towards his protagonist. Her lies are barefaced - she is wearing his favourite dress (in Lambert’s production she is draped in an unflattering, dirty, crumpled beige night-shirt); she has spent the day with her best friend, Marthe, when in fact she hasn’t left the room; she’s coping well, even though she later confesses she has tried to take her own life just the evening before.

But, as Elle recollected old love letters and rambled incoherently - almost a caricature of emotional neediness - Duprels managed to draw sympathy for the suffering women, despite her histrionics and melodrama. The moment when Elle discovers that her lover’s mendacity equals her own was full of pathos. We infer that he is calling her from his apartment, and when the line suddenly goes dead, she re-dials, only to be answered by the servant Joseph. Duprels’ reiteration of Joseph’s words, ‘Monsieur is not in and will not be returning home tonight’, was laden with tragic realisation and recognition.

Duprels confirmed that she is a tremendous singing actress. Not surprisingly, every word of the French text was audible and she had a sure sense of how to accommodate her voice to the small venue. She conjured an enormous variety of vocal colour and tone: at times whispering, speaking, crooning, then flowering in full blown lyrical ecstasy, gleaming at the top, breathless and dusky below. As she tried vainly to win her lover back with nostalgic remembrance, her voice was caressing, but when pain and pride broke through Duprels exposed Elle’s bitterness, introducing a shrill stridency or hardness of tone. Her physical commitment to the role was consummate, the final moments of Elle’s breakdown gripping and troubling.

Pascal Rogé was an attentive, detailed and discreet accompanist, powerfully interjecting with angular, jabbing motifs to portray the climactic peaks of Elle’s nervous disintegration, but elsewhere delicately hinting at wistful memories of tenderness or expanding lyrically to convey past passions.

Duprels demonstrated just how powerful a musico-dramatic experience she could create with limited means and time. I greatly admired Duprels’ performance last year in Mascagni’s in Iris and her performance here certainly whets the appetite for this year’s season at Holland Park, where in July she will be reunited with Lambert in a new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà whose eponymous ‘heroine’ - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - runs her own gamut from fervent passion to dejected self-pity.

Opera Holland Park 2017

Claire Seymour

Poulenc: La voix humaine

Anne Sophie Duprels (soprano), Pascal Rogé (piano)

Opera Holland Park, Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London; 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):