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

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

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):