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

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

Two of Garsington Opera's 2018 productions to reach a wider audience

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce that on Saturday 6 October, BBC Radio 3’s ‘Opera on 3’, will broadcast the production of its first festival world premiere - The Skating Rink by David Sawer set to a libretto by Rory Mullarkey based on a novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Remembering and Representing Dido, Queen of Carthage: an interview with Thomas Guthrie

The first two instalments of the Academy of Ancient Music’s ‘Purcell trilogy’ at the Barbican Hall have posed plentiful questions - creative, cultural and political.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Prom 67: The Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mahler’s Third

Mahler and I, at least in the concert hall, parted company over a decade ago - and with his Third Symphony it has been an even longer abandonment, fifteen years. Reviewing can nurture great love for music; but it can also become so obsessive for a single composer it can make one profoundly unresponsive to their music. This was my tragedy with Mahler.

Bampton Classical Opera Goes to the Ball

I wonder if Cinderella realised that when she found her Prince she would also find international fame, becoming not just a Princess but also a global celebrity and icon. The glass slipper, placed loving on her shapely foot, has graced theatres, variety halls, cinema screens and opera houses - even postage stamps - and the perennial popularity of this rags-to-riches fairy-tale, in which innocence and goodness triumph over injustice and oppression, shows no signs of waning.

A Landmark Revival of Sullivan's Haddon Hall

With The Gondoliers of 1889, the main period of Arthur Sullivan's celebrated collaboration with W. S. Gilbert came to an end, and with it the golden age of British operetta. Sullivan was accordingly at liberty to compose more serious and emotional operas, as he had long desired, and turned first to the moribund tradition of "Grand Opera" with Ivanhoe (1891).

Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth

Famously, controversy is the stuff of Bayreuth, be it artistic, philosophic or political. As well occasionally a Bayreuth production can simply be illuminating, as is the Barrie Kosky production of Wagner’s only comedy, Die Meistersinger.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

The English Concert at the Barbican Hall
18 May 2017

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sonia Prina and Mary Bevan

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

Gone are the supernatural diversions and obfuscating sub-plots which complicate so many of Handel’s libretti. Here, Antonio Salvi, drawing upon Ariosto’s Orlando Jurioso, provides Handel with a blistering human drama of envy and evil, which hinges on the supposed infidelity of the Scottish Princess Ginevra who, loved by Polinesso, Duke of Albany, prefers the noble Ariodante.

Despite receiving only eleven performances during its first season in 1735, Ariodante has long been admired as one of Handel’s finest operas. The part of the hero Ariodante was written for Giovanni Carestini, who was renowned for his versatility, virtuosity and fully working three-octave range. Alice Coote - deputising in the European performances for the indisposed Joyce DiDonato who will resume the role for the American leg of the tour - matched Carestini’s fabled technique and sang with deep commitment: this Ariodante was an immensely sympathetic hero, and the emotional journey he experiences through the opera was laid bare.

In Act 1, Coote exuded regal confidence. Bold but dignified, Coote used her gloriously rich, bronzed mezzo to convey Ariodante’s serenity and certainty in ‘Quì d’amor’. As her lines floated freely, at times there was a rhapsodic quality to the tone, almost Mahlerian; but, later, when suspicion troubled her tranquillity, an urgency entered the strongly moulded arioso. She used the text brilliantly in her Act 2 aria, ‘Scherza infida’, communicating the bitterness, grief and devastation which spring from the imagined betrayal of her beloved Ginevra; lutenist William Carter wonderfully underscored Ariodante’s despair at the close. Having demonstrated incredible stamina in this long aria, Coote flew through the wide-ranging - literally and in terms of expressive breadth - and astoundingly virtuosic ‘Dopo notte’ in Act 3. She doesn’t make it look ‘easy’ - indeed, she sings with her whole body and almost deliberately seems to strive to convey the visceral intensity by making us notice the vocal and physical demands, further deepening our awe. Coote may have paired her stylish trousers with open-toed stilettos but, despite the flowing blond mane and the sensuousness of her mezzo, there was a convincing, and paradoxical, ‘masculinity’ about her anger. Or, perhaps it was just that gender seemed irrelevant in the face of such consuming despair and ecstasy.

Alice Coote.jpgAlice Coote as Ariodante. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Coote’s stunning vocalism held us transfixed but she was out-strutted by Sonia Prina’s dastardly Polinesso. Prina’s Iago-like persuasiveness and prowling were utterly compelling. Visually, the spikes, killer heels, tattoos and lace trousers over shorts were arresting, but the transgender attire was also entirely at one with the dramatic integrity and naturalness which Prina brought to the role. As she strode and slunk across the Barbican stage, she drew the eye, dominating the drama just as the scheming Polinesso coercively manipulates the naïve, Dalinda, toying with her affections so that she will carry out his ruse to make Ariodante believe that Ginevra is faithless.

Prina seemed less concerned with the actual sound produced than with the effect it could and would have - on Dalinda and the audience, equally. Some of the coloratura was less than clean and at the top there was an occasional harsh edge, but this mattered little, so thoughtful and dramatic was the phrasing - the rubato, the ornamentation, the dynamic variety. Prina allies rhetorical power with dramatic flexibility. Entirely off-score throughout the evening, she encouraged and supported her fellow cast members generously.

Christine Karg.jpgChristine Karg as Ginevra. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Christine Karg’s Ginevra was a cooler portrait of tender love and loyalty. In fact, despite her silky scarlet dress which stood out so strikingly amid the prevailing black, I felt Karg’s ‘ice maiden’ Ginevra would have benefited from greater musical contrasts. But technically she was flawless. Act 1’s ‘Vezze, lusinghe’ was poised and eloquent; Karg controlled the line expertly and her soprano had well-defined colour and a strong core. Ginevra’s quiet introspection was an asset, too, in ‘Il mio crudel martoro’; condemned as a whore by her father, the King of Scotland, Ginevra’s inner despair was palpable, immune to Dalinda’s consolatory solace. Karg may not have tapped the full emotional range that Handel offers, but this was a touching performance. And, her duets with Coote were affecting for the way that vocally and dramatically they seemed to draw the best from each other.

Mary Bevan, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Joélle Harvey, held her own impressively alongside the more experienced singers. Confident, characterful and with a nice range of colour, Bevan was a surprisingly spirited Dalinda. Her soprano was powerful in ‘Il primo ardor’, in which Dalinda deflects the smitten Lurcanio’s advances. Exulting in the reward promised her by Polinesso, at the bottom her voice acquired a mezzo-ish weight in ‘Se tanto piace al cor’. ‘Neghittosi or voi che fate?’ was a moving expression of regret and, reunited, Dalinda and David Portillo’s Lurcanio sang a beautiful final duet which was one of the highlights of the evening.

David Portillo.jpgDavid Portillo as Lurcanio. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Portillo had already impressed in Act 2’s revenge aria, ‘Il tuo sangue’, in which the tenor’s vocal athleticism served him well in passages of florid anger, where Carter again provided strongly accented support. Prior to that we had enjoyed Lurcanio’s warm profession of love, ‘Del mio sol vezzosi rai’, and admired Portillo’s lovely clean, even gentleness.

Matthew Brook played the King of Scotland as benign, cultivated patriarch, whose calm civility hides a deeper emotionalism which is distressingly released when he hears of his daughter’s supposed dishonour. A little more heft might have enhanced the regality, but the King’s disbelief was totally credibly and the pathos of his grief heart-rending. Bradley Smith sang the small, predominantly recitative, role of Odoardo with a sure sense of his character’s function in the drama.

English Concert.jpgAlice Coote, Harry Bicket, Christine Karg, Sonia Prina, Mary Bevan, David Portillo, Matthew Brook, Bradley Smith and The English Concert. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Bicket directed the small forces of The English Concert with economy and precision: the barest, swiftest flick of the wrist was all that was needed to bring about a change of colour or to usher a detail to the fore. The instrumental sound was fairly light, though capable of poignancy as well as brightness; it provided the singers with an airy support, and space to project.

This was a ‘concert performance’ but many of the cast dispensed with scores and stands, and the dramatic interaction was sustained and animated. Shakespeare’s tale of jealous delusion ends in tragedy, but in Handel’s opera covetousness and resentment are defeated by love. And, the performance was a veritable triumph.

Harry Bicket and the English Concert return to the Barbican Hall in March 2018 to perform Handel’s Rinaldo, with Iestyn Davies in the title role.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Ariodante (concert performance)
The English Concert: Harry Bicket, conductor

Ariodante - Alice Coote, Ginevra - Christiane Karg, Dalinda - Mary Bevan, Polinesso - Sonia Prina, Lurcanio - David Portillo, King of Scotland - Matthew Brook, Odoardo - Bradley Smith.

Barbican Hall, London; Tuesday 16th 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):