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

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

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):