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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Classical Opera, 20th anniversary concert at the Barbican Hall
11 Oct 2017

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Classical Opera, 20th anniversary concert at the Barbican Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Anna Devin

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

 

Haydn’s ‘Representation of Chaos’ from The Creation was a fitting opener, presenting as it does both mysterious obscurity - what Charles Burney described as ‘organised confusion’ - and the explosive brilliance of the birth of Light. Here, sharply defined woodwind sparkled tantalisingly within the sonic darkness; the slightly raw horn sound and the hard edge of the timpani evoked an unruliness which was swept aside by the cleansing power of the fortissimo C-major chord which heralds the blaze of the fire of heaven - a truly divine musical moment. Bass-baritone’s Henry Waddington’s ‘And in the beginning’ was coloured by quite liberal vibrato, slightly at odds with the orchestral delicacy and reticence, and the Classical Opera Chorus’s gentle sotto voce delivery of ‘And the spirit of God mov’d upon the face of the waters’, but subsequently Waddington was a bolstering presence alongside tenor Stuart Jackson (as Uriel).

Ian Page had clearly striven for continuity and links between these first-part items. The programme explained - in a sort of musical Chinese whispers - that Haydn’s librettist, Baron Gottfried van Swieten had been a driving force behind Mozart’s interest in baroque music in his later life and was in possession of an admirable library of scores from which Mozart created re-orchestrations of several works including ‘Leidenschaften stilt und weckt Musik’ from Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day. Jonathan Byers’ cello obbligato was the embodiment of Classical eloquence, while soprano Anna Devin allied a sumptuous tone to a lean musical line. The ensemble was not always ‘perfect’ - I wondered how much time the performers had had to get used to the Hall and its acoustic - but there was much to captivate. I’d have liked a few more consonants from Devin in the first movement of Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate but there was terrific rhythmic verve, aided by some sparky oboe playing.

The entry of the oboes also added greatly to the dignified gentility of the March which precedes Idomeneo’s ‘Accogli, oh re del mar’, from Act 3 of Mozart’s opera seria. The men of the chorus delivered a very focused unison above the vibrant string pizzicato, and Jackson’s phrasing was both earnest and flexible as his private feelings, in the words of Mozart scholar Julian Rushton, are ‘subsumed within the collective, ritual solution to the nation’s agony’.

The first half concluded with Beethoven’s Aria and Chorus, ‘Da stiegen die Menschen an’s Licht’ from the composer’s Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, a work which Beethoven himself never got to hear. Once again, beautiful oboe and bassoon solos imbued the performance with real elegance; indeed, the woodwind rather ‘outshone’ the strings throughout the evening, though I think this may have been because there had not been opportunity to really get the measure of the acoustics of the Hall - filled with a hearty audience - during rehearsal. With Claudia Huckle indisposed, Anna Devin stepped in at short notice, and joined with the chorus to create compelling impetus and joy through the gradual expansion of the sound-scape. The women of the chorus sounded a little strident and rough-edged at times but this did not prevent us going full-circle, with another ascent towards the light.

These musical items were interspersed with short poems, for, as Page reminded us, ‘Words have a powerful effect on us and can play an important part in influencing how we experience music’. Given that for the musical items we had both original language texts and translations in the programme booklet - which, with characteristic comprehensiveness and detail, informed us of both the contextual history and musical detail of the works performed - and English surtitles, it seemed a little odd not to include the poetry texts in the programme; especially as the reader, Barbara Flynn, was positioned on stage right and provided with neither a lectern nor ‘formal’ presentational folder. Thus, there was an air of casualness about the poetry readings which certainly was not present for the musical elements of the evening. Though there was a ‘thread’ of music connecting the poems by Arthur O’Shaughnessy (Ode: ‘We are the music-makers’) and Peter Porter’s ‘Three Poems for Music’, I struggled to link in e. e. cummings’ ‘who knows if the moon’s a balloon’ and Robert Frost’s ‘For Once, Then, Something’, with its questions about what it means to see ourselves, as we ‘kneel’, always ‘wrong to the light’, into a coherent ‘concept’. Given Page’s eloquence elsewhere in the programme booklet, it would have been good to have had some explication.

A swift reading of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony concluded proceedings. Page certainly showed courage and conviction in pushing the tempi - which made the determination of some audience members to applaud each movement even more infuriating - and had a clear vision of the structure of the work. As noted above, the ensemble balance was not always ideal - the woodwind and brass ‘out-played’ the strings, and this was exacerbated by the division of the double basses, who might have given a firmer foundation had they not been separated and placed on both sides of the stage. But, Page found the drama when it was needed, and his soloists - all seated on the conductor’s left - did not let him down. Waddington, positioned far right (those seated at the opposite end of the Hall might have felt ‘cut off’ from the ‘action’ when the solo voices entered), was communicative and sure, his ‘O Freunde,’ an appealing invitation. Natalya Romaniv, replacing the indisposed Miah Persson, soared above all with poise, precision and power. Misgivings about the female chorus withstanding, this was a warm, embracing performance - a fitting tribute to music, culture and democracy - the qualities which Classical Opera/The Mozartists embody.

Claire Seymour

Haydn - ‘The Representation of Chaos’ from The Creation, Handel/Mozart - ‘Leidenschaften stillt und weckt Musik’ from Ode to St Cecilia, Mozart - Exsultate, jubilate (first movement), March and Cavatina, ‘Accogli, oh re del mar’ fromIdomeneo, Beethoven - ‘Da stiegen die Menschen’ from Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, Beethoven - Symphony No.9 in D minor

The Choir and Orchestra of The Mozartists: Ian Page (conductor), Barbara Flynn (reader), Natalya Romanic (soprano), Anna Devin (soprano), Stuart Jackson (tenor) Henry Waddington (bass-baritone).

Barbican Hall, London; Monday 9th October 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):