Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

Pelléas et Mélisande: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

What might have been? Such was a thought that came to my mind more than once during this, the premiere of Glyndebourne’s new Pelléas et Mélisande. What might have been if Stefan Herheim had not changed his Konzept so late in the day? (I had actually forgotten about that until reminded during the interval, yet had already began to wonder whether the production had been, especially for him, unusually rushed.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

Superb Schoenberg Gurrelieder - Salonen, Philharmonia, London

Schoenberg Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, demonstrating how well the Philharmonia Orchestra has absorbed Schoenberg's idiom. A blazing performance, formidably dramatic, executed with stunning assurance. Salonen has made his mark on the Philharmonia through in-depth explorations of the 20th century repertoire he loves so well.

An ambitious double-bill by the Royal College of Music

London may have been basking in the golden glow of summer sunshine this week, but things have been darkly gothic on the capital’s opera scene.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

29 Mar 2017

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon - Elin Manaham Thomas, Brian Ellsbury. Tŷ Cerdd - promoting the music of Wales

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

Though she was not part of the male English Establishment, Owen needs no special pleading. Her music stands on its own merits, highly individual and original. Her work was published in the Welsh Hymnal even before she graduated and moved to London, where she moved in Bohemian, arty circles with the likes of D H Lawrence, Ezra Pound and Prince Yusupov, one of the conspirators who assassinated Rasputin. What might she have achieved, had she lived longer, or continued to develop in an international milieu ? Tŷ Cerdd have produced an intriguing collection of her piano pieces and songs, performed by Elin Manahan Thomas and Brian Ellsbury. Definitely a recording worth getting, for Owen's music is exquisite, enhanced by good performances. Buy it HERE from Tŷ Cerdd, who also supply scores.


In his notes, Brian Ellsbury writes "One of the fascinations of (Owen's) compositions is the plethora of contrast, often simply between major and minor, melancholy and joy.....the juxtaposition of a self conscious gaucheness and sophistication - the cosy homely feel of Welsh harmony suddenly layered with unexpectedly complex and deft modulations and almost modern jazz-like harmony,"

Owen's setting of William Blake's Spring (1913) is joyously energetic. "Little boy, full of joy, little girl, sweet and small" Manahan Thomas's lithe, bright soprano perfectly captures the spirit of youth. In The Lamb (1914) Evans subtly underpins the deceptive innocence with richer, more contemplative undertones, never overloading the lines with pathos. Sophisticated, yet pristine. In contrast, Tristesse (1915) with dramatic, exclamatory crescendi, very much in the surreal spirit of Maeterlinck, though the text is Alfred de Musset. More hyperactive than Debussy, as exotic as Ravel, this is an unusually unsettling song that suggests not romance but fervid imagination.

A selection of pieces for piano, some like the Rhapsody in C sharp major and Maida Vale, discovered in unpublished manuscript. The miniature Little Eric (1915) is barely a minute long yet vividly idiosyncratic while Tal y Llyn (1916) is confidently lyrical with a jaunty central motif - witty contrasts of tempi. Strong chords alternate with lively figures in Prelude in E minor (1914), contrasting well with the early (1910) Sonata for Piano in E minor, which is more diffuse.

The Four Flowers Songs - Speedwell, Daisy's Song, To Violets and God Made a Lovely Garden were written over a period of seven years, Speedwell (1918) being among Owen's last completed works. A speedwell is a weed, but cheerful and perky, but here it dreams grand dreams. In a way, this song might encapsulate Owen's idiom, lending seeming insouciance with great inner strength. God made a Lovely Garden (1917) reveals Owen's gift for melody, expressed with sincerity, not sentimentality.

A long, pensive piano introduction opens Gweddi y Pechadur (1913), the only Welsh language song on this disc. Although neither texts nor translations are included with this recording, the clarity of Owen's setting displays the innate beauty of the language, a "singing language" if ever there was one, and a good reason why non-speakers should study the song. It is a dignified lament, in minor key. To Our Lady of Sorrows ((1912) is a miniature scena, in which the Mater Dolorosa contemplates the body of Christ. Like Gweddiy Pechadur, its lines descend to diminuendo, but the last line packs a punch. Suddenly, the Mother isn't a religious icon, but an ordinary, human woman. A sudden leap up the scale, and passionate mellisma on the word "Baby" and an equally sudden hushed, hollow descent on the words "is dead".

Photographs show that Morfydd Owen was a beauty with dark hair and eyes, to match what might have been an intense, passionate personality. She had love affairs, requited or unrequited, but after a courtship of only six weeks, married Ernest Jones, the psychiatrist, and acolyte of Sigmund Freud. Perhaps Owen needed a father figure, despite her talent and acclaim: she wasn't independently wealthy. Jones didn't encourage her career, and she seems to have been unhappy. In September 1918, the couple went on holiday in Wales, where Owen died suddenly in uncertain circumstances. This recording concludes with In the Land of Hush-a-bye, with words by Eos Gwalia "The Nightingale of Wales", aka Gaynor Rowlands (1883-1906), a Welsh actress who lived in London, who, like Morfydd Owen, died young from complications after surgery. The song is simple, yet charming, and includes Owen's characteristic use of sudden leaps within a phrase. At the end, Manahan Thomas holds the last word for several measures until it fades into silence.

Anne Ozorio

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):