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

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury, Cadogan Hall
16 Jul 2017

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury, Cadogan Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury, Les Martyrs (Festival Hall, 2015)

Photo credit: Russell Duncan

 

In the nineteenth century, tenor Gilbert Duprez and soprano Julie Dorus-Gras were two of the most celebrated practitioners of the art. Duprez has been mythologised as the man who, during his debut in Paris in June 1837 as Arnoldo in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, established the ‘modern’ tenor technique. Retaining a full-bodied tone, the chest voice, all the way up to the tenor’s high C, Duprez stunned audiences more used to the lighter voix mixte or head voice employed by the leading singers of the day, such as Nourrit or Bassini. So revolutionary was his technique, that in 1840 two French doctors, Paul Diday and Joseph Pétrequin, submitted a scientific report to the Académie des Sciences - ‘Mémoire sur une nouvelle espèce de voix chantée’ - describing Duprez’s timbre and laryngeal posture which they called ‘the voix sombrée ou couverte’ (dark or covered voice).

Julie Dorus-Gras was a leading prima donna in Paris during the 1830s and 1840s, described as by a journalist in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris (June 1839) as having a voice ‘of the most beautiful quality, with great flexibility and extraordinary range’: ‘Since poor Malibran, we have not heard a singer so completely mistress of her voice, which taste and sentiment guide and which practice improves every day.’ Another commented, in May 1841, ‘Take for granted that she was perfect and you will save me as well as yourself the boredom of a lot of clichés and repetition.’

This Bastille Day programme at the Cadogan Hall presented mainly French arias made famous by those two leading figures of the nineteenth-century French and Italian operatic scene and drawn from both the familiar and rare ends of the repertoire. American tenor Michael Spyres and Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury gave superb performances that surely confirmed that they can equal the legendary achievements and artistry of their predecessors.

Spyres and El-Khoury’s former Opera Rara partnership - as Polyeucte and Pauline in Donizetti’s Les Martyrs at the Royal Festival Hall in late 2014 - won accolades, as did the subsequent recording of the opera, released the following year. Reviewing the latter, I admired Spyres’ mastery ‘of the full range of bel canto gestures — not merely its show-stopping audacity’ and noted that El-Khoury ‘matches Spyres for passion and power’, judgements which were more than confirmed on this occasion.

At Cadogan Hall, Spyres used his astonishing range, unwaveringly steady tone and darker, baritonal hue in the lower realms to convey all of Othello’s stature, dignity and sensitivity in the Moor’s entrance cavatina, ‘Venise, ô ma patrie, from Rossini’s Othello. Conductor Carlo Rizzi immediately showed his command of this repertoire too, drawing shapely phrasing from the members of the Hallé and encouraging the instrumental melodies and solos - from clarinet, flute, horn - to engage expressively with the voice. Similarly, in the recitative and air, ‘Dans ces lieux ... Quand renaîtra’, from Halévy’s seldom heard Guido et Ginévra, we enjoyed a superbly expressive trumpet solo and some lovely quiet horn playing, in partnership with the harp, as Guido mourned at Ginévra’s tomb. The recitative was truly focused and engaging, and Spyres and Rizzi were responsive to the harmonic structure, the move to the major key pushing the music forward, and the voice ever relaxed as the repeating cadential patterns built towards the stirring close.

In Auber’s air, ‘Ils s’éloignent … Gentille fée’ (Le Lac des fees) Spyres showed his dramatic nous and presence. Albert and his fellow students find an enchanted lake and when the swans are transformed into fairies he promptly falls in love with one, Zéïla. The recitative which commences this aria was tense and urgent, as Albert watches his friends depart and questions the veracity of his vision and love, but when the besotted student addressed the magical object of his infatuation, the line was beautifully gentle, clean and calm. This boy was truly spellbound, but he didn’t stay transfixed for long: infused with delirium, Albert cries out to the immortal fairy to set him alight so that he may expire in her embrace! Spyres’ ability to switch almost instantly from enthrallment to ecstasy was remarkable; his tenor was so buoyant as he leapt through the excited phrases that he seemed to strive for the stratosphere in the closing section. And, the tenor had the stamina to repeatedly reproduce such feats throughout the evening, without the least hint of strain or marring of the firm, coppery sound.

El-Khoury was announced to be suffering from a summer cold and perhaps this occasionally hindered the full flow of the longest legato lines or affected her ability to control the quietest pianissimos. But, so rich and shining is El-Khoury’s voice that one barely noticed. And, she can certainly establish a dramatic mood and context in a whisker. The opening of Isabelle’s Act 4 cavatina, ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’, from Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable may not have had quite the necessary steadiness of line, but each textual phrase was imbued with meaning as Isabelle pleaded with Robert, dispossessed and dishonoured, to resist the unholy spirits that were tempting him and to put his faith in her mortal love.

In ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ (Lucia di Lammermoor) the coloratura passagework was as clear, and refreshing, as running spring-water and she showed that, summer cold or not, she can withdraw the sound to the slenderest of transcendent silver threads, and then swell and colour with immense control. And, the vocal power and precision were matched by El-Khoury’s dramatic perspicacity, both here and in the less well-known entr’acte and air, ‘Jours de mon enfance’, from Hérold’s Le Pré aux clercs, in which the rather slight melodic interest was supplemented by leader Simon Blendis’ softly floating violin obbligato.

Donizetti’s Act 1 Scena e Duetto Finale from Lucia, brought Spyres and El-Khoury together and showcased - through sweeping, airborne phrases and easeful vocal ascents - both the singers’ supreme mastery of this idiom and the sureness of Rizzi’s direction. But, it was the less well-known repertory that was most intriguing and enchanting. Guido et Ginévra recounts an episode from Florentine history: Ginévra, daughter of Cosimo dei Medici, has been poisoned by a magic veil and collapses during her marriage to the Duke of Ferrara. She is assumed to have succumbed to the plague raging through Florence and is buried in the Medici vault. When she awakens, she goes into the plague-ridden city and the Act 4 Scène et Duo (‘Conduisez-moi … Ombre chérie’) depicts her reunion with Guido in the snow-covered, bandit-controlled streets.

In the first section, for tenor alone, Spyres captured of all of Guido’s anxiety though the voice never pushed dynamically far above the restless pianissimo of the string tremelando. The sound of Ginévra’s cries, though, brought about a wonderful enrichening and ascent. As they marvelled at the miracle of reunion, Spyres and El-Khoury’s voices wound around one another in shining rapture, the melodic climaxes perfectly judged. Pleading with Ginévra to leave, Spyres hardened his tenor a little, creating urgency, and his incredibly high heroic declaration, ‘Je suis ton défenseur!’ was gallantly golden.

Terrific stuff. Spyres and El-Khoury left no doubt that they are worthy heirs to a tradition. And, one can enjoy these and other bel canto thrills on two discs which will be released by Opera Rara in September. Écho features roles associated with Dorus-Gras and to the Donizetti, Meyerbeer and Hérold heard on this occasion, El-Khoury adds arias by Rossini (Guillaume Tell), Halevy (La Juive) and Weber/Berlioz (Le Freyschütz). Spyres’ Espoir offers arias from some of the works - La favorite, Verdi’s Jérusalem - whose instrumental numbers the Hallé and Rizzi performed with discipline and passion at the Cadogan Hall - as well as items from Rosmonda d’Inghilterra and Benvenuto Cellini. Both singers duet on each other’s discs and are accompanied by Rizzi and the Hallé.

Claire Seymour

Joyce El-Khoury (soprano), Michael Spyres (tenor), Carlo Rizzi (conductor).

Auber - Overture to Manon Lescaut, Rossini - ‘Venise, ô ma patrie’ (Othello), Meyerbeer - ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’ ( Robert le diable), Halévy - ‘Dans ces lieux ... Quant renaîtra’ (Guido et Ginévra), Verdi Ballet music fromJérusalem, Halévy - ‘Conduisez-moi ... Ombre chérie’ (Guido et Ginévra), Donizetti - Overture to La favorite, Hérold - ‘Jours de mon enfance’ (Le pré aux clercs), Auber - Ils’ s’éloignent’ (Le lac des fées), Donizetti - ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ (Lucia di Lammermoor), Donizetti - ballet music from La favorite, ‘Lucia, perdona ... Se ad ora inusitata’ ( Lucia di Lammermoor).

Cadogan Hall, London; Friday 14th July 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):