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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 43: Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
18 Aug 2017

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.

Prom 43: Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d'Oustrac performs Manuel de Falla’s El amor brujo

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

But, the ‘Spain’ of Debussy’s Iberia or Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole and L'Heure espagnole was essentially an ‘exoticised’ musical land. Ravel’s mother may have been of Basque origin but Debussy’s experience of the country amounted to a brief day-trip to San Sebastian, although this didn’t stop Spanish composer Manuel de Falla remarking of Debussy’s piano work La Soirée dans Grenade, ‘There is not even one measure of this music borrowed from thee Spanish folklore, and yet the entire composition in its most minute details, conveys admirably Spain’.

De Falla moved to Paris in 1907 where he was welcomed and supported by Ravel, Debussy (with whom he had previously corresponded) and Dukas, and the music that he composed during his Parisian sojourn - such as thePièces Espagnoles for piano solo and the concerto, Noches en los jardines de España - reveals the influence of the Impressionist composers with whom he associated. But the outbreak of war in 1914 forced Falla to return to Spain where he attempted to establish himself as a composer in his native land, his music blending the modernist influences that he had absorbed during his travels in northern Europe with authentic Spanish idioms.

In his one-act ballet with chorus, El amor brujo (usually translated as ‘Love, the Magician’, though brujo literally means ‘male witch’, suggesting more demonic forces) Falla strived to combine art music with genuine gypsy song and dance, but though the composer conceived the work as a gitanería and it was written for Pastora Rojas Monje - the daughter of the famous flamenco dancer Rosario la Mejorana - when the work was premiered in 1915, contemporary critics complained that the music was too ‘French’.

The ballet scenario by Gregorio Martínez Sierra was based upon an Andalusian folktale in which a beautiful gypsy girl, Candelas, is haunted by her dead lover - a wicked, jealous reprobate whom she nevertheless both still loves with a morbid intensity and fears may return, a fierce spectre demanding her devotion. When she is courted by the gallant Carmelo, Candelas is unable to cast off her obsession with the past. Carmelo coaxes pretty Lucia to help him set a trap for the ghost and Carmelo and Candelas are able to exchange the ‘perfect kiss’: their love defeats the evils of the past.

Falla subsequently revised the ballet in the form of an orchestral suite in which four of the twelve movements present songs in which Candelas sings of her heartbreak, of her dead lover’s hypnotic unearthly power and, finally, of her release from the spell by Carmelo’s kiss. And, it was this orchestral suite which opened this Franco-Hispanic Prom presented by Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

For all its pictorial realism and folk authenticity, El amor brujo is also notable for its beautifully detailed orchestration and this was a performance that was more refined than sensuous, as Dutoit focused on instrumental detail and variety of colour at the expense of the score’s earthy vitality and rhythmic fickleness. The Hispanic inflections were somewhat watered down - the woodwind’s flamenco flourishes in the opening bars might have had more kick and éclat for example - and the tempi sometimes felt sluggish, the ostinato rhythms too inflexible and mechanical. The ‘spells’ of ‘Midnight’ (‘A medianoche’) were more stately than sorcerous, heralding a ‘refined’ ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ which sizzled rather than scorched: such elegance and polish would not have frightened the horses, let alone driven out the evil spirits.

But, if Dutoit wasn’t the most transfixing story-teller he proved a vivid scene painter in the score’s descriptive passages. The opening cave scene was appropriately dark and murky, tinged with the menacing crescendos of the tremolando strings and the oboe’s eerie cries against the twinkling of the harp. In ‘El aparecido’ (The ghost), the harp glissandi wailed like a banshee, initiating a lurching ‘Dance of terror’ in which the snatching woodwind and sharply plucking strings taunted each other like whirling spirits. There was some lovely tender string playing in ‘El círculo mágico’ (The magic circle) and the tunefulness of ‘Pantomima’ (Pantomime) was beguiling, though the folk inflections of the latter were muted.

Mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac made a strong impression last year at Glyndebourne, in Laurent Pelly’s Béatrice and Bénédict but her voice is quite light-weight and in this much larger auditorium she struggled to project the love-crazed gypsy’s songs of obsession and bewitchment. She was also rather too score-bound; a little more eye-contact would have helped but, at least from where I was sitting in the Hall, the text seemed to disappear into the score which she held in front of her. In the ‘Canción del amor dolido’ (Song of the broken heart), D’Oustrac attempted some gitanesque mannerisms - ‘deforming’ some of the syllables, fiercely rolling the ‘r’s, reaching for occasional guttural hardness - but her chest voice isn’t sufficiently dark and sultry to make such gestures feel entirely true. The opening ‘ay!’ needed more raw emotion, the melismas more vibrancy and the phrases more colour modulation, to convey the mourning girl’s rapid fluctuations from sadness to anger, through anxiety to bitterness, and finally from delirium to madness.

D’Oustrac fared better in the ‘Canción del fuego fatuo’ (Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp) as the sparser orchestral texture allowed her to imbue the melody with a gentler warmth which contrasted effectively with the fiercely enunciated snarls. But, her characterisation wasn’t helped by Dutoit, as the ‘Danza del juego de amor’ (Dance of the Game of Love) lacked an erotic pulse and the ‘bells of dawn’ rang without lustre.

Violinist Joshua Bell performs Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole,.jpg Joshua Bell plays Symphonie espagnole. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

If passion and intensity were missing from El amor brujo then Joshua Bell more than compensated in a performance of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole - a concerto too seldom performed - which was punchy, grandiose, impish and silkily lyrical, by turn. As he chased Lalo’s melodies up the violin’s G-string, Bell’s sound was never gritty, always soft-edged though well-defined, and beautifully nuanced with judicious portamento, vibrato and rubato. Similarly, the stratospheric passages shone crystalline and pure. The second movement’s seguidilla sparkled and together with the habanera bestowed the scents and sultriness of Iberia that were absent from the preceding Falla suite. The fiendish Rondo flew by with stunning nimbleness but it was the exquisite melodism of the close of the Intermezzo which really took one’s breath away. Massenet’s ‘Méditation’ from Thaïs kept happy those punters eager for further opportunity to relish Bell’s beautiful tone, but I couldn’t help thinking that the high spirits of a dance miniature by Falla or Sarasate - to whom Lalo’s concerto was dedicated - might have stirred the passions more.

Organist Cameron Carpenter joined Dutoit and the RPO for a fittingly thunderous rendition of Saint-Saën’s Third Symphony (the ‘Organ’ Symphony). As in the Lalo, Dutoit drew disciplined, expressive playing from his instrumentalists - the richness of the brass was particularly eloquent - and the structure was underpinned by persuasive rhythmic and temporal fluency. Saint-Saëns’ symphony was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society and first performed in 1886. It was thus a fitting conclusion to a concert during which Dutoit - the RPO’s Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, who made his debut at the Proms 36 years ago in 1981 - was presented with a Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal by John Gilhooly, the Chairman of the RPS, thus becoming the 103rd recipient of the illustrious award.

Claire Seymour

BBC Prom 43: Manuel de Falla - El amor brujo; Édouard Lalo - Symphonie espagnole Op.21; Camille Saint‐Saëns - Symphony No.3 in C minor (Organ)

Stéphanie d’Oustrac (mezzo-soprano), Joshua Bell (violin), Cameron Carpenter (organ), Charles Dutoit (conductor), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Thursday 17th August 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):