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 Performances

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

The Bandits in Rome

AKA I masnadieri, rare early Verdi, though not as rare as Alzira. In 1847 London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre  commissioned the newly famous Verdi to write this opera for the London debut of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.

Utah’s New Moby Dick Sets Sail

It is cause for celebration that Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s epic Moby Dick has been realized in a handsome new physical production by Utah Opera.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sirens and Scheherazade, Prom 18
30 Jul 2017

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Sirens and Scheherazade, Prom 18

A review by Claire Seymour

Ida Falk Winland

Photo credit: Tilo Stengel

 

For his largest and longest work to date, Sirens, Swedish composer Anders Hillborg has turned to Homer’s account of Odysseus being bound to his ship’s mast so that he might hear the eponymous enchanters’ song but resist its lure - and thus avoid the fate of the shipwrecked sailors who have been enticed to their doom on the rocky coast of the sirens’ island. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and first performed in 2011, Sirens was receiving its UK première in this Prom the theme of which was heroics on the high seas.

Homer does not name his sirens but he does give their number as two, and Hillborg’s work is scored for two solo sopranos, mixed chorus and large orchestra. The roles of the mantic temptresses, who with increasing desperation attempt to mesmerise Odysseus with their song, were taken by Swedish sopranos Hannah Holgersson and Ida Falk Winland, who recorded Sirens with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Radio Choir and Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on the BIS label in 2015. Here, the sopranos were joined by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the American conductor James Gaffigan, who was making his Proms debut.

It’s always tempting to identify what is described as a ‘Nordic’ sound - what we imagine as a musical embodiment of the cool stillness and spaciousness of the landscape - and Hillborg’s spectral whispers, chord clusters, sustained harmonies and minimalist gestures might encourage one to use this label. We hear weeping winds; strain after the highest-lying violins; feel dark, unearthly tremors.

Hillborg has stated that the challenge was to create music that was simultaneously irresistibly beautiful and unnervingly menacing. Certainly, both the sensuous and the uneasiness deepened with the entry of the chorus whose floating cries and whistles reverberated around the hall. Time and movement seemed suspended, as if we were falling into a void. Textures would accumulate, as the sound mass seemed almost to tremble; then an individual instrumental voice would pierce through, a ghostly presence. A high ringing ‘whine’ was produced by the percussionists’ fingers, sliding along the edge of two glasses.

hannah_holgersson_Mats scarsson.jpg Hannah Holgersson. Photo credit: Mats Oscarsson.

Winland took the higher of the two solo parts, her soprano rising above the massed sound with crystalline purity and sheen, but Holgersson’s lower lying melodies communicated with equal impact and strength, and the two singers’ voices blended persuasively.

There is no doubt that Sirens is intoxicating. I felt like Odysseus himself, hypnotised and compelled to submit to the sonic beauty of Hillborg’s score. The dreamlike ambience is dangerously destabilising: are the voices Odysseus hears real or imagined?

What was less satisfying was the absence of any definition in the delivery of the text - essentially this was wordless vocalise - with the result that the work had no clear narrative character, though Gaffigan did convey the musical structure’s sense of accumulating danger. Moreover, the text is a combination of Homer, translated into English, and Hillborg, but the latter’s anachronistic contributions sit uncomfortably against Homer’s poetry: ‘Breathe them, hear them, plunge into them. Drown in their sweetness, We’d love to turn you on.’

At the end of Homer’s episode, the sirens declare, ‘No life on earth can be hid from our dreaming … We will take you to the crack between the worlds’. Sirens drifts ambiguously into silence: has Odysseus sailed on, and the defeated sirens perished, or has he succumbed?

The concert opened with the swashbuckling swagger of the overture of Erich Korngold’s score for the 1940s classic film The Sea Hawk in which Errol Flynn played ‘Geoffrey Thorpe’, the fictional Elizabethan privateer who commanded marauding raids against the Spanish fleets to fill the coffers of the English treasury. (At the time, commentators noted parallels between the film and the contemporary political situation: with Hitler-like condescension, King Philip of Spain declares that he will only cease his conquests when the entire world is under his dominion, while the Elizabethan courts policy of appeasement raised similarities with Chamberlain.)

The BBCSO brass provided lots of bite and brilliance but Gaffigan balanced the punchy derring-do with nostalgic warmth in the more lyrical episodes, the solo flute singing sweetly above expressive cello support, and guest leader Sarah Christian providing an eloquent violin solo.

The sea stories after the interval came courtesy of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in which Gaffigan drew stylish, disciplined playing from the BBCSO. But while the rhythmic lilt was persuasive, and the colours clearly defined, I expected the oriental rhetoric to be delivered with rather more flamboyance, as the music swept through Sinbad’s exploits on the open seas and the swirling Festival of Baghdad. The brassy climax was fittingly rousing, though, after which the solo violin brought the evening’s story-telling to a close and the ship returned home to calm waters.

Claire Seymour

Korngold: The Sea Hawk - overture; Anders Hillborg: Sirens; Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade - symphonic suite (Op.35)

Hannah Holgersson (soprano), Ida Falk Winland (soprano), James Gaffigan (conductor), BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Friday 28th 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):