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

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 23: Handel’s <em>Israel in Egypt</em>
02 Aug 2017

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.

Prom 23: Handel’s Israel in Egypt

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: William Christie conducts the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

Christie conducted the Choir of the Enlightenment and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Handel’s original 1739 version of the oratorio, which includes the rarely performed Part One which is essentially ‘The Ways of Zion do mourn’, his Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, with new words, and the soloists were all drawn from the ranks of the professional singers in the choir (in Handel’s day the soloists also sang in the choral movements), here they were Zoe Brookshaw, Rowan Pierce, Christopher Lowrey, Jeremy Budd, Dingle Yandell and Callum Thorpe.

Whilst today we think of the chorus as the mainstay of Handelian oratorio, in Handel’s day this was not so and his audience rather expected a dramatic work with lots of solos. This meant that both Israel in Egypt and Messiah failed to please when first presented to the London audience. Messiah eventually did take, but Handel adapted Israel in Egypt very early on by dropping the original part one and adding lots of extra solos. The original Part One (now 'The Lamentation of the Israelites for the death of Joseph') does indeed make a tricky opening to the work as the piece has such a sober intensity about it, and it is a profoundly satisfying work in its own right.

William Christie used rather larger forces than usual, reflecting the wide open spaces of the Royal Albert Hall, with a choir of 49 and an orchestra of 42.

Part One started with a drum beat before the sober symphony. The whole was a remarkable piece of concentrated and intense choral drama. The singers giving us fine sculptural phrases and lovely control. There were moments of drama, and some of quietly hushed intensity, but the overall feel was of the sober sweep of the piece. This was supported by the fine singing, and characterful support from the orchestra. In whatever guise, this is remarkable music and Christie and his performers ensured that it made the maximum effect.

As Handel probably intended, Part Two was a complete change in mood. The choral singers clearly enjoyed the various challenges which Handel gave them in depicting the different plagues. Choruses like 'He spake the word' were not only full of vivid contrasts, but the singers really relished the words like 'flies' and 'lice', whilst 'He sent thick darkness' as very atmospheric, all ending with a wonderfully expansive 'And Israel saw'. Whilst Christie's speed were not excessive, some passages went a quite a pace so that we had some vividly virtuoso choral singing. The solos were similarly characterful with Christopher Lowrey singing with lovely tone, and again relishing the 'frogs', 'blotches and blains'. We also had one of Handel's extra solos which he introduced, 'Through the and so lovely blooming', which was originally from ‘Athalia’. This was rather pastoral and though finely sung by Rowan Pierce, with a lovely clear focussed soprano, it did rather sit oddly in amongst the plagues.

In Part Three, grandeur and rich choral sound gradually gave way to some vivid word-painting, as the chorus described the vicissitudes of Pharaoh's army, with choruses like 'Thy right hand' full of colour. The final chorus was taken at quite a pace, so that the Lord's triumph was not only glorious but full of virtuoso choral singing. The solos and duets were similarly characterful, with Zoe Brookshaw and Rowan Pierce providing to lovely clear firm, yet contrasting voices, in 'The Lord is my strength', whilst Dingle Yandell and Callum Thorpe were similarly terrific in 'The Lord is a man of war' giving us two admirably firm and lithe voices. Jeremy Budd made the various recitatives count, whilst giving us a vivid account of 'The enemy said, I will pursue', taken at quite a tempo. Budd and Lowery provided to lovely intertwining voices in the duet 'Thou in thy mercy'.

I am not sure that the original version of Israel in Egypt will ever become common currency. Though tastes have changed since Handel's day, the large scale, sober lamentation of Part One seems to unbalance the whole. But this was a wonderful opportunity to hear it, with some of the finest choral singing I have heard in a long time, supported by strongly characterful playing, full of crisp detail and elegant line.

The concert is available for 30 days on the BBC iPlayer.

Robert Hugill

Handel: Israel in Egypt (original three-part 1739 version)

Zoe Brookshaw, Rowan Pierce, Christopher Lowrey, Jeremy Budd, Dingle Yandell, Callum Thorpe, Choir of the Enlightenment, Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, William Christie (conductor)

BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall; Prom 2

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):