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

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

Lise Davidsen: A superlative journey through the art of song

Are critics capable of humility? The answer should always be yes, yet I’m often surprised how rare it seems to be. It took the film critic of The Sunday Times, Dilys Powell, several decades to admit she had been wrong about Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, a film excoriated on its release in 1960. It’s taken me considerably less time - and largely because of this astounding recital - to realise I was very wrong about Lise Davidsen.

Parsifal in Toulouse

Aurélien Bory, director of a small, avant garde theater company in Toulouse, staged a spellbinding Parsifal at the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse’s famed Orchestre National du Capitole in the pit — FYI the Capitole is Toulouse’s city hall, the opera house is a part of it.

An Evening with Rosina Storchio: Ermonela Jaho at Wigmore Hall

‘The world’s most acclaimed Soprano’: the programme booklet produced for Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut was keen to emphasise the Albanian soprano’s prestigious status, as judged by The Economist, and it was standing-room only at the Hall which was full to capacity with Jaho’s fervent fans and opera-lovers.

Schumann Symphonies, influenced by song

John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann series with the London Symphony Orchestra, demonstrate the how Schumann’s Lieder and piano music influenced his approach to symphonic form and his interests in music drama.

Parsifal in Palermo

Richard Wagner chose to finish his Good Friday opera while residing in Sicily’s Palermo, partaking of the natural splendors of its famed verdant basin, the Conca d’Oro, and reveling in the golden light of its surreal Monreale cathedral.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts a magnificent Siegfried

“Siegfried is the Man of the Future, the man we wish, the man we will, but cannot make, and the man who must create himself through our annihilation.” This was Richard Wagner, writing in 1854, his thoughts on Siegfried. The hero of Wagner’s Siegfried, however, has quite some journey to travel before he gets to the vision the composer described in that letter to August Roeckel. Watching Torsten Kerl’s Siegfried in this - largely magnificent - concert performance one really wondered how tortuous a journey this would be.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi in Rome

Shakespearean sentiments may gracefully enrich Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet, but powerful Baroque tensions enthrall us in the bel canto complexities of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Conductor Daniele Gatti’s offered a truly fine bel canto evening at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera introducing a trio of fine young artists.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali makes versatile debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been making waves internationally for some time. The chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is set to take over from Esa-Pekka Salonen as principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2021.

Tristan und Isolde in Bologna

East German stage director Ralf Pleger promised us a Tristan unlike anything we had ever seen. It was indeed. And Slovakian conductor Jura Valčuha gave us a Tristan as never before heard. All of this just now in the most Wagnerian of all Italian cities — Bologna!


Seductively morbid – The Fall of the House of Usher in The Hague

What does it feel like to be depressed? “It’s like water seeping into my heart” is how one young sufferer put it.

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):