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

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital

Audiences will have the chance to feel part of a new opera inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems with an innovative 360-degree simulated experience of Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital from midday, Wednesday 8th November.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

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):