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

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

La pietra del paragone in Pesaro

Impeccable casting — see photos. Three new generation Italian buffos brought startling new life to Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2002 production of Rossini’s first major comedy (La Scala, 1812).

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

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):