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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

19 Sep 2017

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

War Stories at Opera Philadelphia

A review by James Sohre

Above: Craig Verm as Tancredi and Cecelia Hall as Clorinda in Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda [All photos courtesy of Opera Philadelphia]

 

At the renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art they presented War Stories, a double bill of Monteverdi’s brief madrigal Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda paired with the contemporary I Have No Stories To Tell You by composer Lembit Beecher and librettist Hannah Moscovitch.

Through no fault of the musical or production quality, which was unfailingly high, it was somewhat dispiriting to observe a pairing about the devastating consequences of war written in the 17th century with one written in the 21st century, realizing they bookend four centuries of nearly constant war in between.

The Monteverdi is staged arena style in the cloisters exhibit, the audience seated around the perimeter of the columned edifice with the fountain in the middle of the playing space. En route to the show, we passed through hallways dotted with mid-20th century army cots, dressed with props from barracks life: playing cards, magazines, cigarettes, etc.

Owing to the subdued lighting, we don’t much notice at first that there are two cots in the inner cloister, on which people are asleep. They turn out to be Tancredi and Clorinda. Craig Verm has a potent presence as Tancredi, his virile baritone burning up the confines of the small room. Cecelia Hall’s meaty mezzo matches him in fierce intensity as Clorinda, and both of them summon heart-rending color in their phrases of anguish and defeat. The single narrator role is here split between Samuel Levine and Abigail Levis. Both are remarkably fine, Mr. Levine’s pointed tenor often lashing the air excitedly with aggressive pronouncements, and Ms. Levis notably investing her plangent mezzo with considerable emotional subtext.

The compact composition packs a lot of confrontation and reaction into 20 minutes and the vocal effort was heightened and well partnered by a tight ensemble of period instrumentalists under the smooth direction of Gary Thor Wedow. The design elements were limited to some shadowy, threatening lighting effects devised by Mary Ellen Stebbins, including hand held mini-spots ferried around the action by nimble, squatting extras. I didn’t fully understand Kaye Voyce’s futuristic black one piece uniforms, with hoods and veiled mouths, meant to be armor, but they were definitely a “statement,” and the deliberately delayed reveal of the face and heads of the title characters was fulfilling. As Tancredi carried the lifeless body of Clorinda out of the room, the audience seemed not to want to break the silence with applause. Moving.

WarStories_OT2.png
Cecelia Hall as Sorrel

Beecher and Moscovitch’s I Have No Stories To Tell You was staged on the museum’s imposing grand staircase, and proved to be disturbingly contemporary. It continues the theme of a tragic rift between lovers, but here it involves PTSD and its devastating consequences on a young married couple. Just as armor had obscured Tancredi and Clorinda from each other, here the “armor” of painful memories keeps the lovers from knowing each other fully.

As the service member Sorrel, Ms. Hall turned in a searing vocal performance as a broken woman ravaged by her war experience, her portentous mezzo imparting tremulous weariness and dread as she tries to hang onto her sanity with fingertips of steel. Mr. Verm is achingly vulnerable as her loyal husband, the care and anguish and frustration palpable in his honeyed baritone. Samuel Levine weighted his focused and secure tenor to underscore nagging questions surrounding Sorrel’s enigmatic fellow soldier Noah. A mini Greek chorus that is an unwelcome guest in Sorrel’s mind provides atmosphere, musical texture and commentary. The trio is exceedingly well-matched and wonderfully sung by Sarah Tucker (Memory 1), Rachel Calloway (Memory 2), and Abigail Levis (Memory 3).

Director Guarino took advantage of the different levels to suggest who is influencing the most power over Sorrel at any given point. The couple’s marriage bed is furthest down the staircase and closet to the audience. The husband rarely gets above this level, so diminished is he in the equation. The Memories haunt Sorrel by scurrying about, disrupting the peace, scattering household and battlefield detritus over the stairs. The flashback friend (or is he?) Noah moves deliberately, a gnawing presence hovering over the solvency of the marriage, and a key part of the shocking revelation. The director has elicited emotionally fearless performances from her principles. Ms. Voyce’s apt costumes and Ms. Stebbins’ moody lighting both achieved much with economy of means. Daniel Perelstein’s well-considered sound design added restlessness and danger to the mix.

Ms. Moscovitch’s lean, mean script hits all the right points, and composer Beecher has crafted a unique and stirring sound world for this fluid character study that spans time and place. His writing for the vocalists was very grateful, and scoring it for nearly the same Baroque instrumentation as the Monteverdi was inspired. Maestro Wedow once again provided a luminous reading, ripe with heart and hurt. The subtle lengthening of the flashback episodes in turn as they recurred was a masterful idea and the cumulative revelation of back story was rewarding.

The only thing I might urge the producers to do is tighten up the sequence of events. The group had to split in two for the first piece, but 30 minutes was too long to just chill in the armor exhibit, waiting our turn for the cloisters show. Too, the intermission after the first show was far longer then necessary for the actors to do modest costume changes, and valuable momentum was lost.

Musically, this was a first rate event. Dramatically, I felt it ultimately lacked a fulfilling point of view. War is bad. Of course. War spurs personal tragedy and spares few. At the end of the event, a “button” was needed. I “think” the company wanted us to contemplate how - given the violent history of the world - how we might change course and eliminate war. The second piece, written to complement the Monteverdi “might” have had the opportunity to steer that thought, but chose not to do it, remaining rooted in the parallel tragedy.

Alternatively, perhaps a chaired talk back or discussion could have been offered about enabling peace to break out, or inspiring something, anything positive that could be taken home, prompted by what we had collectively experienced. As it was, I left a dramatically disturbing, musically refined event that took a little too long to unfold, musing I had perhaps just been at the “feel bad” event of O17.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

War Stories:
Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
Music by Claudio Moneverdi and

I Have No Stories To Tell You
Music by Lembit Beecher
Libretto by Hannah Moscovitch

Clorinda/Sorrel: Cecelia Hall; Tancredi/Daniel: Craig Verm; Testo/Noah: Samuel Levine; Memory 1: Sarah Tucker; Memory 2: Rachel Calloway; Testo/Memory 3: Abigail Levis; Conductor: Gary Thor Wedow; Director: Robin Guarino; Design Consultant: Adromache Chalfant; Costume Design: Kaye Voyce; Lighting Design: Mary Ellen Stebbins; Sound Design: Daniel Perelstein; Wig and Make-up Design: Dasvid Zimmerman

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):