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

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.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

London Handel Festival, <em>Faramondo</em>
21 Mar 2017

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

London Handel Festival, Faramondo

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kieran Rayner and Harriet Eyles

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

The pseudo-historical plot is an almost unfathomable cat’s-cradle of intrigues, misalliances and mistaken identities. The King of the Franks, Faramondo has killed Sveno, the son of Gustavo, the Cimbrian King. The latter swears vengeance but when his knife is poised above Clotilde, Faramondo’s sister, Gustavo promptly falls in love with his prisoner, who is herself in an amorous dalliance with Alfonso, Gustavo’s other son. Meanwhile, Gustavo’s daughter, Rosimonda, whom he dangles as a prize to would-be avengers, has fallen in mutual love with Faramondo, but struggles with her split allegiances - and against Faramondo’s rival for her heart, Gernando.

The result: amorous stalemate. Lovely aria follows lovely aria as the protagonists, often alone on stage, bewail the deadlock. As degeneracy ensues, it’s not always clear where enmity and loyalty dwell. It’s really no surprise when - in Trovatore fashion - Sveno turns out not to have been Sveno after all, but Childerico, the son of Gustavo’s ambitious general Teobaldo who swapped the babes at birth.

Despite the torturous and dramatically encumbering narrative knots, the score is full of fine features: incisive sinfonie (one for each act); beautiful melodies; lively, springy rhythms; interesting - often quite sparse - instrumental colouring; and arias that contrast emotional excitement with lyrical breadth. Handel reduced the recitative in Gasparini’s version of the opera - which had already considerably sliced Zeno’s original libretto - to the barest of minimums but, given that there is no real ‘action’, this is not a hindrance to a dramatic comprehensibility that is already stretched to the limits.

When Göttingen Händel-Festspiele director Laurence Cummings conducted the opera at the June 2014 Festival he and his director, Paul Curran, opted wisely to dispense with historical ‘veracity’ and shifted the action to a mafioso gangland in the mid-twentieth century. For this collaboration between the London Handel Festival and the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School director William Relton and designer Cordelia Chisholm retain the Scorsese-inspired setting and add a dash of West Side Story in the form of rival gangs of knife-wielding ganstas and hoods.

Faramondo is the leather-clad leader of one band of thugs, Gernando heads a rival clan of glue-sniffing skinheads, while Gustavo is a sharp-suited casino magnate. We’re in a twilight zone. Blood oaths bind the members of Gustavo’s Family and flick knives flash in the stark glare of the strip lights on every seedy corner. Casting a patina of glamour over this sordid underworld are the sultry lights and glitter balls of Gustavo’s wine bar. At one point, Rosimonda - glitzy in gold lamé - spins a star turn in front of the mic to entertain the gamblers.

Ida-RñnzlÂv-Faramondo-Faramondo-London-Handel-Festival-Credit-Chris-Christodoulou-536x357.jpg Ida Ränzlöv. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

There’s plenty of ‘business’, much of it clever, some of it overly fussy, nearly all of it irrelevant to what is being sung, or even felt. The da capo repeats are supplemented not with melodic ornamentation but with excessive alcohol and drug consumption. Faramondo’s mobsters swig from bottles of beer, he gulps from a hip-flask, and having emptied the used glasses on the tables of Gustavo’s, Clotilde grabs a bottle and lets the bubbles flow. Rosimonda drags agitatedly on a cigarette, while Gernando fuels his da capo with a deep inhalation of solvents. Nifty use of a cross curtain, which allows for swift changes of locale, keeps things swinging along.

After a vibrant overture from the London Handel Orchestra led by Oliver Webber, the cast took a little while to settle. There were some slips of intonation and stage-pit timing in the opening few numbers, the coloratura was sometimes rather muddy and I don’t think I heard a trill characterised by the requisite evenness, accuracy of tuning and speed in the first Act. That’s not to suggest that the singing was bad - there was much colour and charm - just that a certain polish was lacking.

Fortunately, the singers found their feet subsequently. In the title role, however, mezzo soprano Ida Ränzlöv was in a class of her own from the start. There is a real richness to Ränzlöv’s sound and a vividness of tone; she demonstrated a natural feeling for the Handelian phrase, delivering the coloratura with effortless seamlessness and crafting a fine cantabile. Ränzlöv also demonstrated dramatic range and - in this opera, no mean feat - credibility, conveying both Faramondo’s vicious streak and an underlying tenderness.

Similarly, Beth Moxon convincing captured the conflicted Rosimonda’s inner battle with desire and duty. The only thing she seemed certain about, as she strutted and fretted back and forth, compulsively chain-smoking, was her disdain for Gernando. Rosimonda’s vengeance aria bristled, but her final aria charmed and calmed.

<Timothy-MorganGernandoFaramondo-London-Handel-Festival-Credit-Chris-Christodoulou-536x357.jpg Timothy Morgan. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

The few ensembles of Acts 2 and 3 contain some of the finest music of the opera; the cheerful intertwining of the central lovers mezzos at the end of Act 2 offered hope for resolution, although Clotilde and Adolfo shared a more muted moment at the start of the final Act.

Soprano Harriet Eyley sparkled as a gamine Clotilde. Josephine Goddard was her hopelessly love-struck suitor; though Goddard’s soprano has vocal elegance, her Jimmy Krankie wig did not add to her dignity.

New Zealand baritone Kieran Ryaner was a dark-voiced Gustavo but though he could call on significant weight and power his coloratura was not always finely focused; countertenor Timothy Morgan relished Gernando’s unsavoury sleaziness. Baritone Harry Thatcher was a confident Teobaldo and Lauren Morris made her mark as the diffident nerd Childerico, even though the role has no arias.

With revenge, restitution and realignment all satisfactorily effected, Faramondo’s final aria led into a spirited chorus. But, while the protagonists sang of Virtue’s merits, the villainy continued, as Faramondo’s heavies despatched the victims of Gustavo’s lingering resentment and rancour: a quick flick of an efficient knife and off they went, dragged feet first. In Relton’s eyes, there is no distinction between those with morals and those without. I guess they are all Goodfellas.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Faramondo

Faramondo - Ida Ränzlöv, Clotilde - Harriet Eyley, Gustavo - Kieran Rayner, Rosimonda - Beth Moxon, Adolfo - Josephine Goddard, Gernando - Timothy Morgan, Teobaldo - Harry Thatcher, Childerico - Lauren Morris; Director - William Relton, Conductor - Laurence Cummings, Designer - Cordelia Chisholm, Lighting designer - Kevin Treacy, London Handel Orchestra.

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; Monday 20th 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):