Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>This is Rattle</em>: Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra perform Hector Berlioz’s <em>The Damnation of Faust</em> at the Barbican Hall
22 Sep 2017

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

This is Rattle: Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra perform Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican Hall

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Sir Simon Rattle

 

If Simon Rattle can achieve such excellence in the cramped confines of the Barbican Hall, imagine how Britain's cultural life would be transformed if a world class concert hall with state of the art facilities were built. The arts are central to the nation's economy and prestige. Britain cannot afford to slip.

As Rattle has said, the London Symphony Orchestra have the potential to do a lot more repertoire, given the chance. Berlioz The Damnation of Faust is an extravagant work. The stage was crowded with performers, and the volume projected into the shoebox that is the Barbican Hall threatened at times to overwhelm. On the BBC Radio 3 re broadcast and on medici.tv the sound balance might be better, but the live experience was intoxicating, despite the acoustic. Wisely, Rattle held his forces back, emphasizing instead the intricate orchestration and textures that make this piece so exciting. It is a sprawling drama, whose theatrical effects are embedded in the music. In Berlioz's time audiences didn't need literal realism. They paid attention to the music. This performance was so vivid that the Barbican Hall seemed transformed as if by magic, as Berlioz's music came alive.

Faust, the old scholar, watches peasants dancing in the countryside. "Tra la la , Haha ha!" sing the chorus. It is Easter. Spring has come. Nature blossoms. Christ has risen. Dare Faust dream of rejuvenation? Bryan Hymel sang Faust, the rich, ringing warmth in his voice bringing colour to the role. Hymel then injected chill fear. "Hélas! doux chants du ciel, pourquoi dans sa poussière Réveiller le maudit? ". Faust is no fool: he already senses the immensity of what is to come.

A Faust as strong as Hymel needs an equally singular Méphistophélès. Christopher Purves provided an authoritative counterbalance. The expressiveness in Hymel's voice contrasted with the authority in Purves's voice and his purposeful enunciation. The way Purves sang "Ô pure émotion!" showed how Méphistophélès had sized Faust up. A strong Brander, too, in Gabor Bretz. Though the part isn't big, it's important, for Brander is to the students what Méphistophélès is to Faust. The chorus sang lines that swayed from side to side, as drinkers do. But an undercurrent of violence runs through the merriment. Purves sings the Song of the Flea but the drunks think it's funny. In the Voici des roses, Purves suggested the thoughtful side of Méphistophélès.'s character: low winds and strings evoking melancholy. The devil is dangerous because he understands human sensitivity, and uses that to manipulate. Perhaps Méphistophélès is a kind of Oberon, for Faust is lulled into a dream by a magical flute melody, later taken up by the strings, and the songs of gnomes and sylphs. A magical scene which owes much to Mendelssohn.

For Faust, a reverie of love. For the students, mindless delusion as they march off to war. Hymel's aria "Merci, doux crépuscule! " was a star turn, beautifully articulated, glowing with feeling. The phrase "Que j’aime ce silence," glowed beautifully, followed by a deeply felt "et comme je respire Un air pur!" The orchestra responded in kind, with transparently delicate textures. When Méphistophélès. butts in, a violin plucks a banal ditty, like a student with a lute. But Faust is made of far finer stff, as is Marguerite. Karen Cargill sang the Song of the King of Thule with sincerity. The song is a paean to fidelity, loyalty so strong it defies death. Garlanded by viola and cellos, it's anothe moment of "silence" where Méphistophélès and the world cannot reach.

Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust owes as much to Shakespeatre as to Goethe. In the magical Evocation, fireflies dance, piccolos playing bright figures augmented by darker hued winds and strings. Textures as transparent as these need this kind of definition There was humour, too, in the trombones and tuba, which not every orchestra can carry off as well as the LSO. Purves curled his tongue around the final words, with the menace of a snake, for now Faust and Marguerite have their encounter. Hymel's " Ange adoré" glowed resplendently, and his cry "Marguerite est à moi!" scaled the heights. But the world intrudes. After fast paced exchanges, the lovers are torn apart. The cross currents between soloists, choirs and orchestra were very well defined.

Then, back to solitude. Cargill's Romance showed her at her finest. matched by evocative oboe accompaniment. Although some incarnations of Faust emphasize the God/Devil angles in the legend, Berlioz was very much a Romantic, for whom Nature was an alternative diety. Thus, the importance of the Invocation. Hymel sang the aria Nature immense, impénétrable et fière, with such fervour it seemed an act of faith. But Fast is doomed. Méphistophélès and Faust set off on horses that fly through the sky, defying the laws of Nature. Wailing woodwinds, and a frenzied pace in the orchestra, tensely plucked pizzicato. The children's voices screamed "Ah!" and the tubas wailed pounding staccato, Now, Méphistophélès has little need for formal language. "Hop! Hop!" screamed Purves. My flesh creeped, thinking of the "Hop Hop" at the end of Wozzeck. The men's chorus walked on stage, among the orchestra, singing their demonic chorus: skat lyrics before the term was invented, interspersed with machine-gun staccato. Are the demons the students and soldiers?

"Hosana!" sang the choirs at the back of the stage. Harps sggested angels, and the palpitating, ascending rhythms, the flapping of wings, or the image of water (as opposed to the fires of hell). And then the children's choirs filed into the auditorium, illuminating the darkness with their high, pure voices. Like a miracle!

Anne Ozorio

Hector Berlioz: The Damnation of Faust

Sir Simon Rattle, London Symphony Orchestra, Bruyan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, London Symphony Chorus (concertmaster Simon Halsey) Tiffin School Choirs (concert master James Day).

Barbican Hall, London. Sunday 17th September 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):