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

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."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Orfeo ed Euridice</em>, Longborough Festival Opera Young Artists
06 Aug 2017

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.

Orfeo ed Euridice, Longborough Festival Opera Young Artists

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo)

Photo credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis

 

And, the practice of following performances at Longborough with a trip to London (and in 2015 to Hastings too) has become instituted, to give the young singers the opportunity to gain greater visibility and experience in how to adapt to different performance venues.

At the 450-seater Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge - built and owned by the Charitable Foundation of Guy’s Hospital following donations from Sir James Mantle Greenwood in 1975, and now leased by King’s College London for lectures, student productions and external clients - to which LFO’s production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice travelled this year, such adaptability was necessary. The absence of a pit to accommodate a fairly large orchestra, meant that obstructed sight-lines put the first few rows of seats out-of-action; in addition, and more importantly, the size of the venue seemed to require greater reduction in orchestra forces than was undertaken (some instrumentalists exited after the overture).

Then, though I cannot be sure as I did not attend the preceding performances in Longborough, the stage dimensions seemed to impose some restrictions on the performers’ movement and interactions - quite crucially so in an opera whose well-known narrative is not particularly ‘busy’ but which balances Classical restraint with genuine, intense human passion. Moreover, this particular production foregrounded Gluck’s formal innovations - specifically, the integration of music and dance - which underpin the composer’s ‘revolutionary’ approach to the seria genre: thus, fluidity of movement as the chorus/dancers interacted with the protagonists was crucial.

Designer Richard Studer sought, he says, a design which represented a portal between ‘states in flux’: life and death, heaven and earth, ascent and descent. A circle within a granite square - a void that represents both ‘entombment and release’ - was dramatized by taut lyre-string ribbons stretching up and outwards, reminiscent of the inherent classicism of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, aspiring to abstract beauty.

The stark, or in Gluck’s words, ‘beautiful simplicity’ of director Maria Jagusz’s concept was undoubtedly both apposite and economically prudent. The transitional portal, raised on two right-angled staircases, foregrounded the minimal props: a Grecian funerary urn and Orfeo’s lyre, the strings of which became voluminous ribbons whose undulating waves wafted an intangible music. Dan Saggars’ lighting was generally effective, although the prevailing gloom made little distinction between the Stygian darkness and the wonderful illumination of the Elysian Fields.

Dancers LFO.jpg Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo) and Chorus/Dancers. Photo credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis.

One of the disarming novelties of Gluck’s opera, first seen in Vienna in 1762, was that it broke down musical divisions, integrating recitatives, arias, choruses and dances in organic scenic episodes to create true music drama. Jagusz stays true to this ideal, her twelve-strong chorus adopting a movement vocabulary of archaic ritualism. However, while the principals are associated with Greco-Roman emblems - ‘For Orfeo, his golden lyre; for Amore, the bow; and for Euridice a headdress of golden leaves symbolising her position as oak nymph and daughter of Apollo, as told in the Greek rendering of the tale’ - the chorus’s costumes and narrative sign-language are decidedly Bollywood in derivation.

Moreover, these choric gestures were not only sometimes sloppily executed but also seemed to distract the singers from their primary responsibility - that is, singing. Some of the entries were scruffy and their responses to Orfeo’s desperate questions - ‘Where is Euridice?’ - were somewhat hesitant, lacking conviction: less, ‘Euridice is coming!’ and more ‘She’s on the way, perhaps …’

Conductor Jeremy Silver has impressed me in the past, but if he has an instinct for Donizetti then melodrama of the Gluckian kind eluded him on this occasion. There was little grace or serenity about the orchestral playing and if things did improve after the interval that was largely because the woodwinds and horns are less frequently deployed in the latter scenes and the intonation improved markedly. That said, there was some fine harpsichord playing by Julian Perkins and the strings did settle as the performance proceeded.

Jordan Scrase, Emily Smith.jpg Jordan Scrase and Emily Smith (Blessed Spirits). Photo credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis.

As the mythic quester, Hanna-Liisa Kirchin displayed a mezzo which is not huge but which is sweet-toned and expressive. Interestingly, my guest remarked that at first he was uncertain whether Orfeo was being sung by a countertenor or a mezzo, for Kirchin’s voice does have an unusual colour - one which was most effective in a role initially taken by the castrato Gaetano Guadagni, modified by Gluck for haute-contre tenor when the opera was seen in Paris, and which has since been sung by every voice type from soprano to baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded the role for Deutsche Grammophon in 1982). Kirchin worked hard in ‘Che farò senza Euridice’: her voicing of loss was dignified and imbued with wrenching pain, although sometimes at the expense of seamless, expansive phrasing.

Nazan Fikret (Euridice) - LFO Orfeo ed Euridice 2017 cr Matthew Williams-Ellis (33).jpg Nazan Fikret (Euridice). Photo credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis.

If the ritual formality of the production limited the opportunities for interaction, then Kirchin’s duet with Nazan Fikret’s Euridice was a highlight. Fikret’s soprano may not have captured all of Euridice’s graciousness but her voice has a brilliance which was vivifying. More touching still, though, was the Hamlet-like dance-mime during the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ by Jordan Scrase and Emily Smith, which relived the opera’s narrative of tragic loss and restoration.

Amore cr Matthew Williams-Ellis (7).jpgHe Wu (Amore). Photo credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis.

As a crimson-suited Amore, soprano He Wu brought brightness to the drama, visually and vocally, though occasionally she exhibited a slight tremor in the voice. Diminutive of stature, Amore was easily hoisted onto the shoulders of Jack Holton’s statuesque Spirit, Wu’s golden wings unnecessary.

Jagusz’s production certainly confirmed the artistic power of economy, and the young singers acquitted themselves well.

Claire Seymour

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

Orfeo - Hanna-Liisa Kirchin, Euridice - Nazan Fikrit, Amore - He Wu, Charon/Spirit - Jack Holton, Blessed Spirits - Jordan Scrase and Emily Smith, Director - Maria Jagusz, Conductor - Jeremy Silver, Designer - Richard Studer, Lighting Designer - Dan Saggars, Assistant Director - Ralf Higgins, Choreographer - Mark Smith, Orchestra and Chorus of Longborough Young Artists (Shepherds, Nymphs, Furies, Demons of the Underworld, Heroes and Heroines of Elysium, Companions of Orfeo),

Greenwood Theatre, King’s College London; 4th 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):