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

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2017, Wigmore Hall
01 May 2017

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2017, at the Wigmore Hall

The Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship Fund was founded in 1953 in memory of the much-loved contralto from Lancashire who died at the tragically young age of 41 and whose career as a singer lasted just 12 years. The purpose of the fund was to make an annual award to a young British singer sufficient to cover the cost of a year’s study and general support. The first competition was held in 1956 and it has continued to provide a few outstandingly talented young singers each year since then with the opportunity of making a start in what is a most difficult and demanding career.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2017, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Julien van Mellaerts

 

The finalists for this year’s award, the 62nd, included singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond - and only one of the six competitors for the £12,500 First Prize was a woman. But, at the Wigmore Hall, on Finals Night, standards were high, programmes were varied, and the musicianship on display, from singers and accompanists alike, promised much for the years to come.

One thing that struck me was the importance of each singer’s programme selection. Admittedly, for this last stage of the competition the finalists have fairly free range: their programmes must not exceed 20 minutes, must contain at least one English song and must present a balance between opera and song. And, performances in the preceding rounds are taken into account; so, the interloper at the concluding stage is perhaps not the best equipped to essay a judgement about ‘losers and winners’. But, those singers who impressed most were those whose chosen repertoire demonstrated both an appreciation of their own innate musical leanings and strengths, and a balance and range which intimated an ability to meet the technical and communicative demands of the successful professional careers which hopefully lie ahead.

The sole female competitor, Nigerian-American soprano Francesca Chiejina - a current member of the Jette Young Parker Young Artists’ Programme at the Royal Opera House - displayed deep and rich colours to convey the indignation of Handel’s jealous sorceress, Melissa, in ‘Il crudel m’abbandona’ (Amadigi di Gaula) and the grief-obsessed weariness of Debussy’s ‘Il pleure dans mon coeur’ (Tears fall in my heart). The latter was complemented by Dylan Perez’s plangent piano ‘tears’. But, her sequence was dominated by the emotive timbre and assertive power of Edward Boater’s arrangement of the spiritual hymn, ‘I want Jesus to walk with me’ and Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, two songs which conjured not dissimilar contexts and sound worlds - even down to the lazy chromatic slithers in the accompaniments. In a recent article , Chiejina has spoken of how she looks up to the American soprano Mary Violet Leontyne Price and her late compatriot Marian Anderson, admiring the duo for shattering racial barriers not just in the US, but also beyond in the world of opera, and her programme presumably reflected her belief that ‘what is about the people should be for all the people. Classical music is very relatable and approachable … and I want everyone, especially young African children, to believe it so’. Chiejina concluded with Richard Strauss’s ‘Ich liebe dich’ in which, as in the Handel and Strauss, the soprano sometimes struggled to centre the pitch and control her vibrato, though she displayed plenty of power and passion.

Strauss had opened the evening’s proceedings, with Catalan tenor Eduard Mas Bacardit’s rendition of ‘Nichts’ (Nothing). It’s always an additional challenge to take to the platform as the first competitor, and - for the inexperienced visitor to the Wigmore Hall - to judge the size and acoustic of the full auditorium. Here, and in de Falla’s ‘Olas gigantes’ which followed, Bacardit sounded a little tense, the phrasing somewhat unyielding, the tone at times lacking in tenderness. The English text of Britten’s setting of Thomas Hardy’s ‘A time there was’ ( Winter Words) was not clearly communicated; Bacardit’s head voice was a little unsteady and the swift tempo and Perez’s weighty piano chords created a strenuous, rather than poignant, mood. However, I had admired Bacardit’s performance in the GSMD’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta last autumn, and he once again characterised spiritedly in Verdi’s ‘De miei bollenti spiriti’ (La traviata), and captured both the bewildered disillusionment of ‘No puede ser!’ (It cannot be so!) from Pablo Sorozábal’s zarzuela La tabernera del puerto and the delicate sentiments of Fernando Obradors’ ‘Del cabello más sutil’ (From the finest hair) from the Canciones clásicas españolas. Hugo Wolf’s ‘Abschied’ (from Mörike-Lieder) confirmed Bacardit as a real stage performer.

JamesWay0851.jpg James Way

James Way was the other tenor in the final, and he really impressed me with his assurance, crystal clear and expressive diction, light but focused tone, and ability to subtly alter the colour and weight of a phrase. After a genial, engaging account of Schubert’s ‘An Silvia’, Mozart’s ‘Ah! qual gelido orror … Il padre adorato’ (Idomeneo) revealed Way’s ability to communicate character and dramatic situation with immediacy and directness, and a sure vocal technique which enabled him to make Idamante’s somewhat breathless perplexity and filial love credible. He was ably aided by Natalie Burch’s crisp, busy accompaniment. In Handel’s ‘I must with speed amuse her’ (Semele), Way demonstrated a strong appreciation of the idiom: the tenor had the vocal strength to truly sing through the line, ornamentation of the da capo was light of touch and clean, and excitement was generated by textual repetitions. This vocal prowess was capped by a charming presence and good eye contact with the audience. Way concluded his programme with Britten first Canticle, My beloved is mine, and here his excellent diction was a real asset, as was his comprehension of the dramatic form and progression of the work. Changes of tone and mood were convincing, as the canticle moved from barcarolle to recitative, from scherzo to slow coda. The second stanza’s expression of fulfilled love - ‘and after long pursuit,/ Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire’ - was impassioned by vibrant freedom of the melismatic vocal line and the new energy propelled by the piano’s tumult. There was a peace at the close, ‘He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place’, which had a divine ambience. Way was awarded Second Prize.

With only one soprano among the six finalists, it was left to Wisconsin-born counter-tenor Patrick Terry to provide some registral balance. He began his programme, accompanied by pianist Somi Kim, with Judith Weir’s ‘Sweet Little Red Feet’, a setting of John Keats which forms one of the movements of The voice of desire (2003) which all present conversations between humans and birds. In this setting, the bird is in fact dead (‘I had a dove and the sweet dove died’), smothered, it is implied, by too much affection. This is a challenging song, both technically and musically, with which to begin, but Terry gave a confident and accomplished performance, his countertenor full and warm of tone, the pitch secure throughout the difficult vocal lines even though little assistance is offered by the piano’s dramatic rhetoric. Terry’s performance of ‘L’enamourée’ (The loved-one) by Reynaldo Hahn was one of the highlights of the evening: there was a real sense of rapture as Théodore de Banville’s poetry flowered from sparse gentleness to rich delight: ‘Tu t’évielles ranimée,/ O pensive bien-aimée’ (You waken, restored to life,/ O meditative beloved’). The exquisitely smooth phrases enticed the listener; the lines were nimbly flexible but contoured with total control. I found Gluck’s ‘Che faro senza Euridice?’ marred by a little too much vibrato and the intonation was less consistent, though Terry again revealed his ability to craft a delicious diminuendo and pianissimo. We were back in modern times for the final work of the programme, Jonathan Dove’s ‘Dawn. Still Darkness’ from his 1999 opera Flight, which was delivered with characteristic intensity. Terry was awarded the Song Prize.

patrickterry_1463479662_21.jpg Patrick Terry.

Two baritones completed the line-up. I thought Daniel Shelvey over-stretched himself a little in his programme choices. Altering the order of the published sequence, Shelvey began with Richard Strauss’s ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ (Secret invitation) and demonstrated dramatic presence and a beguiling tone to equal that which impressed me when he sang the role of Damyan in the GSMD’s premiere of Julian Philips’ The Tale of Januarie in February this year; but, the baritone needed to sing out more and do more with the ardent text to match the rapturous ripples in Perez’s accompaniment. And, Shelvey didn’t quite have the power and swagger for Don Giovanni’s ‘Fin ch’han dal vino’ (Until the wine …), sounding a little pushed even though the tempo was not breakneck, and struggling to stop the pitch wavering in the blustering exclamations. I liked the darker colour he found, however, for the refrain of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Don Juan’s serenade’, the second of two of the composer’s 6 Romances which Shelvey performed (the other being ‘None but the lonely heart’).

gamal1of221.jpg Gamal Khamis.

Both baritones included Billy Budd’s ‘Look! Through the port comes the moon-shine astray!’ in their programmes. Shelvey revealed a quasi-tenorial brightness at times, and found stillness and calm towards the conclusion. New Zealander Julien van Mellaerts used his head voice judiciously, balanced quiet unfolding with emotional enrichening, and captured the strangeness and indeterminacy of this operatic set-piece, in which time seems to stand still. Here and in his opening item, Berlioz’s ‘Mab, la reine des mensonges’ (Mab, queen of delusions) from Rom éo et Juliette, van Mellaerts cut an assured figure on stage, and sang with an open, engaging tone. His pianist, Gamal Khamis, danced lightly through the intricacies of Berlioz’s accompaniment. There was a lovely earnestness to Quilter’s ‘Go, lovely rose’ - just the right side of whimsy. The German texts of Wolf’s ‘Liebchen, wo bist du?’ (Sweetest, where are you?) and Schumann’s ‘Mondnacht’ (Moonlit night) were compellingly delivered, while in the latter composer’s ‘Der Contrabandiste’ (The smuggler) from Spanisches Liederspiel the baritone demonstrated the muscularity and vitality of his voice. Van Mellaerts was a worthy winner of the First Prize. Khamis was awarded the Accompanist’s Prize.

No doubt we’ll be hearing much more of all these performers in the future.

Claire Seymour

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2017

Wigmore Hall, London; Friday 28th 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):