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

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Discovering Gounod’s Cinq Mars: Another Rarity Success for Oper Leipzig

Oper Leipzig usually receives less international attention than its Dresden, Munich or Berlin counterparts; however, with its fabulous Gewandhaus Orchestra, and its penchant for opera rarities (and a new Ring Cycle), this quality hotspot will be attracting more and more opera lovers. Leipzig’s new production of Gounod’s Cinq Mars continues this high quality tradition.

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques</em>, Royal College of Music
09 Apr 2017

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, Royal College of Music

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Laure Poissonnier (Amour)

Photo credit: Studio J'Adore Ce Que Vous Faites

 

When Les fêtes d'Hébé appeared in 1739 Rameau was at the height of creative powers and popularity. Masterpieces such asHippolyte et Aricie, Les Indes galantes and Castor et Pollux had flowed from his pen in the preceding few years, and Les fêtes d'Hébé was one of his most acclaimed works during his lifetime, receiving nearly 400 performances after its premiere, before gradually fading from the repertory following the composer’s death in 1764.

It seems incredible, therefore, that Les fêtes d'Hébé has not previously been staged in the UK. All credit, then, to the combined forced of the Royal College of Music, the Académie de l’Opéra national de Paris, and the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles for bringing Rameau’s charming, colourful ‘entertainment’ to London for the first time.

Les fêtes d'Hébé presents considerable challenges, though, and not all the outcomes were successful. First, the ‘tale’ Rameau tells is slight, the three parts hanging together by the slenderest of threads. Hébé, the goddess of youth cupbearer of the gods, is bored with life on Olympus and irritated by the unwanted amorous advances of Momus. So, with her retinue of Graces, she wings it down to earth in search of other delights, alighting on the banks of the Seine, where Cupid advises her to mount a spectacle in celebration of the three talens: ‘la poésie’, ‘la musique’ and ‘la danse’.

(And, indeed, where better than the environs of L’Opéra to enjoy such ‘talents’, for in the early eighteenth century, with the Revolution still fifty years away, this Parisian institution remained the preferred gathering place for high society and intellectuals, and a symbol of the glory of the French monarchy.)

So, much like the English masque, the opera-ballet has no plot worth mentioning but lots of visual spectacle and flamboyance together with elaborately engineered stage effects. Can the refined aesthetic of the eighteenth century - the highly ornamented and stylised cadences, the gentle artifice, the convoluted ‘narrative’ - be made appealing to twenty-first-century audiences?

James Atkinson, Eleanor Penfold, Joel Williams (c) st…e vous faites.jpg James Atkinson, Eleanor Penfold, Joel Williams. Photo credit: Studio J'Adore Ce Que Vous Faites.

With a budget considerably less than that enjoyed by François Boucher when he supervised the set designs at the Palais-Royal theatre in 1739, Thomas Lebrun (director, set designer and choreographer), Françoise Michel (lighting designer) and Laurianne Scimemi Del Francia (costume design) went for a minimalist, colour-themed approach, bathing each of the acts in a single hue - blue, yellow and red - and adding some bucolic projections. The result was stylish and clean, but not particularly helpful in terms of communicating who was who and what they were doing as they repeatedly and randomly moved small white blocks about the stage. The cast is large and the singers and dancers reappear in different roles. It all looked pretty but I didn’t have much idea what was going on.

Lebrun’s choreography was fairly abstract but lithely danced and not unappealing. It didn’t seem designed to serve a ‘dramatic’ function, though. The modern idiom was also somewhat at odds with the musical aesthetic, in a work in which dance, song and choruses come and go with integrated fluidity. Some of the abundant dance numbers are adapted from harpsichord pieces Rameau had previously published and the music is ravishing. One can agree with Charles Burney who wrote in 1789, ‘More genius and invention appears in the dances of Rameau than elsewhere, because in them, there is a necessity for motion, measure, and symmetry of phrase.’ However, Lebrun did place the ballet, particularly in Terpsichore’s final apotheosis of the art of dance, at the heart of the entertainment, and sequences such as that which accompanied the Oracle’s announcement of Tyrtaeus’ victory in the second act were absorbing.

Andres Villalobos as Palemon (Oboe).jpg Andres Villalobos as Palemon (Oboe). Photo credit: Studio J'Adore Ce Que Vous Faites.

The original cast comprised some of the greatest French singers of the period, and the vocal performances here confirmed that there is a lot of talent in the conservatoires of France and the UK. Rameau’s vocal writing is elegant, expressive and well-placed for the singers if rather lacking in variety and range of character. On the whole the soloists coped well with the curlicues and artifice though inevitably they struggled to imbue much depth into the characterisation. Adriana Gonzalez displayed a rich, plump soprano as Sapho/Iphise while Pauline Texier soared smoothly at the top as Hébé in the Prologue and was an engaging Églé in the final Act, wooing Juan de Dios Mateos’ arrogant Mercury with charming persistence. Tenor Joel Williams revealed an alluring voice as Oracle/a stream (there’s a part for ‘a river’ too …), and Eleanor Penfold, a Naiad, joined him in a delightful duet in Act 1 during a fête galante mounted by Sapho to celebrate their reunion. Tomasz Kumiega displayed a sure sense of the style. The French chorus (directed by Olivier Schneebeli) were terrific.

Conductor Jonathan Williams pushed things along at quite a lick, sometimes at the expense of the intonation and the insistent pace could not have aided the singers’ efforts to inject some depth into their roles. Moreover, pastoral needs a little more languor; and the small string section of the Royal College of Music Baroque Orchestra inevitably could not summon the richness that Rameau’s original audiences must have enjoyed.

Can a modern audience be made to care about the amorous shenanigans of Sapho, Iphise and Mercury, or be absorbed by injustices and restorations among mythical kings and deities? Probably not. The French baroque opéra-ballet is an acquired taste and one not naturally suited to modern palettes. But, this ambitious production offered visual and aural enjoyment and the three collaborating institutions should be lauded for their efforts and for bringing Les fêtes d'Hébé to life.

Claire Seymour

Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les fêtes d'Hébé

Hébé/Églé - Pauline Texier, Sapho-Iphise - Adriana Gonzalez, Amour/Cupid - Laure Poissonnier, Momus/Lycurgus - Jean-François Marras, Thelemus/Mercury - Juan de Dios Mateos, Hymas/Tyrtaeus - Mikhail Timoshenko, Alcaeus/Eurilas - Tomasz Kumiega, A stream/A shepherdess - Julieth Lozano, Naiad/A shepherdess - Eleanor Penfold, Oracle/A stream - Joel Williams, A river - James Atkinson, Dancers - Karima El Amrani, Antoine Arbeit, Maxime Camo, Lucie Gemon, Léo Scher, Julien-Henri Vu Van Dung; Director/Set Designer/Choreographer - Thomas Lebrun, Lighting Designer - Françoise Michel, Costume Designer - Laurianne Scimemi Del Francia, Royal College of Music Baroque Orchestra, Les Chantres, singers of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (director Olivier Schneebeli).

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; Thursday 6th April 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):