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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue" . Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Rock and Daniel Harding

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble at the St John’s Smith Square
20 May 2017

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble at the St John’s Smith Square

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: I Fagiolini

Photo credit: Russell Gilmour

 

Orfeo, first performed in 1607 at the Gonzaga court in Mantua is, in formal and stylistic terms, derived from earlier models: the madrigal, balletta, the intermedi, the pastoral tradition. But, it is also one of the boldest experiments: a favola in musica (a play in music) lasting 90 minutes, its units bound together by repeating ritornelli - an extraordinary conception in its day.

Robert Hollingworth directed a performance which urged us to remember what a thrilling occasion the first performance of Orfeo - in the Sala Nuova, 30 metres long and 7 metres wide, of the Gonzagas’ ducal palace in Mantua - must have been. But, his players and singers also made us aware of the musical roots of the opera, commencing the performance with a madrigal, a reminder of the aesthetics of the seconda prattica style - with its emphasis on melody over harmony, and the union of word and tone - from which opera sprung.

At first, I wondered at the appropriateness of adding a ‘preface’ to the ceremonial toccata with which the opera begins, but as the performance continued I appreciated the way the opening madrigal served to reinforce the lack of stylistic division between genres, as elements of the madrigal idiom appeared in the declamatory arioso, in the recitative and in the more discrete formal dances and songs. The latter, in which the voices came together in ensemble or chorus, were vivid portraits of joy and despair: the Act 1 balletta ‘Lasciate i monti’ skipped in pastoral sunshine, while the chorus of lamentation which closes Act 2 was weighted with despondent gloom.

The introductory toccata itself, a gloriously rich explosion of brass, immediately translated us to a world of courtly decorum and majesty. As the musicians took their seats - some in front of the stage, some behind and raised, replicating the placement which made the instrumentalists visible at the first performance - the singers processed in. Hollingworth, who had joined the madrigalists at the start, now took his position behind the organ, and it did not seem fanciful to envisage the hierarchically arranged horse-shoe configuration of the original audience, with the Duke elevated on a balustraded dais. The historical echoes must have been even more resonant when Tom Guthrie’s semi-staged production was first performed by these artists in 2015, in a ‘private’ performance for Martin Randall Travel in the scuola of San Giovanni Battista, Venice.

However, I’m not sure if simply having singers enter from the rear, or sing from the gallery, or assume a variety of positions on the platform really produces a performance which can be genuinely be described as ‘semi-staged’? I may be being unfair to Guthrie, though, for St John’s does not afford much opportunity for adventurous staging and the sight-lines are not good (so it wasn’t a good idea for La Musica to begin the Prologue seated on the floor, removed from view).

Monteverdi employs a large orchestra and the playing of I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble was stylish and incredibly accomplished. Whether it was the piquant descant recorders colouring the repeating Act 1 balletta with squeals of delight; the rhapsodic theorbo of Eligio Quinteiro underscoring the emotions of the text; the fleet, feathery decorative echoes of violinists Bojan Čičič and Jorge Jimenez in Orfeo’s impassioned plea ‘Possente spirto’; or the blazing richness of the cornetts allied with the warm blend of sackbuts singing in consort, the instrumental playing was an integral element in the drama - commenting, reflecting, building tension, celebrating.

In the title role, Matthew Long wonderfully illustrated the rhetorical eloquence of Monteverdi’s ‘musical speech’. Initially I wondered if his tenor would acquire sufficient range of colour to convey the music’s emotional diversity, but in ‘Possente spirto’ he probed every word for nuance and shade, showing sensitive appreciation for the mannerist aesthetic in which the style takes the text as the point of departure. Long treated the declamatory rhythms with just the right touch of flexibility, the slightest looseness deepening the expressive gestures of the vocal melody. The way in which Long gradually opened Orfeo’s heart to the listener, creating ever more heart-tugging empathy, was very impressive. Rachel Ambrose-Evans sang with a clear, attractive tone, but her Euridice was less strongly defined dramatically.

I noted the vivacity of baritone Greg Skidmore’s response to situation and text when reviewing a recent concert by Ex Cathedra , and here, once again, Skidmore had considerable stage presence, distinguishing effectively between the Infernal Spirit and the Shepherd. Christopher Adams’ Carone plumbed cavernous depths complemented by the dark-toned trombones, while Charles Gibbs was a regal Pluto, patently enjoying the affectionate attentions of Clare Wilkinson’s expressive, elegant Proserpina.

Hollingworth was intensely involved in all aspects of the musical drama, moving from the organ to join a madrigal or chorus, returning to the keyboard to supplement the musical mood with a percussive adornment. He epitomised the relaxed flow of the performance as a whole, further emphasising the astonishing formal synthesis of Monteverdi’s innovative and marvellous opera.

Claire Seymour

Monteverdi: Orfeo
I Fagiolini/The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble
Robert Hollingworth (organ & director)
Thomas Guthrie (stage director)

Orfeo - Matthew Long, Euridice - Rachel Ambrose-Evans, Messenger/Silvia - Ciara Hendrick, Ninfa/Proserpina - Clare Wilkinson, Speranza/Shepherd - William Purefoy, Apollo/Shepherd - Nicholas Hurndall Smith, Caronte - Christopher Adams, Plutone/Shepherd - Charles Gibbs, Shepherd/Infernal Spirit Greg Skidmore.

St John’s Smith Square, London; Thursday 18th May 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):