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

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

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):