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

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

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):