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

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

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):