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

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 ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

29 Nov 2017

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Hans Werner Henze : Lieder von einer Insel, Orpheus Behind the Wire, Funf Madrigaleby= SWR Vokalensemble, Ensemble Modern, Marcus Creed

SWR Classic SWR19049CD[CD]

  Click to buy

Calling these "choral" works is a misnomer, since Henze writes so well for vocal ensemble that the voices move as a unity and as individuals, like a parallel orchestra, voices interacting with instruments. Such are the densities of vocal interaction in Orpheus Behind the Wire that Henze can dispense with orchestra altogether. SATB form is stretched with such refinement that the voices are almost microparted, in 12 part a capella. The voices of the SWR Vokalensemble are so perfectly balanced that the singing seems to flow seamlessly, the rich textures, enhanced with great depth.

That sense of flowing movement is significant, for Orpheus Behind the Wire was created to be danced to. Fluid movements, subtle changes which suggest constant evolution. This is music as Greek sculpture, form as clearly defined as muscles carved in marble, or the folds of garments on statues frozen mid-flow. The progress across the five songs is formal, yet elegant and deliberate, as stylized as Greek art. The text was written in 1978 by Edward Bond, and re-tells the story of Orpheus's journey to the Underworld in search of Eurydice with a modern twist : the idea of individuals caught up in situations beyond human control. Orpheus can never unite with Eurydice, but will forever remain alone and alienated from the world around him. When Henze splits the four vocal groups into twelve individual voices, he unites meaning with musical form.

An otherworldy hum underpins the first song, What was hell like?, the vocal line shimmering on several levels. "No echo came from my music". The words “silence, silence" repeated like an echo spreading into empty distance. Orpheus and Eurydice cannot travel together, but the physical death of one means the spiritual death of the other. Thus the long lines reaching out, but not connecting. Undulating lines, where words are broken into particles and scattered, like dust in the wind, "silenced, silenced". This is deliberate irony. The singing is pitch perfect and beautifully modulated but the sentences are hard to make out, for this is the Underworld, where shadows deceive. In Hades, meaning is shrouded. By breaking up the vocal line, Henze is using sound to capture the ambiguity. Like Orpheus we must pay attention and feel our way.

Orpheus grows old, "more strings on this lyre than hairs on my head", but he is not free. Occasionally the men's voices dominate, but the mood is troubled. At last, something stirs. "Pressed" the voices sing on an upbeat, "by the weight of the world". Now tense, more anguished figures, a multiplicity of voices, their lines wavering in tumult. The text draws hope that "somewhere the starving have taken bread/from those who argue the moral of guns/ in assemblies guarded by guns". When the poor no longer shiver in rags, "Then I hear music of Orpheus, of Triumph ! of Freedom!". In the dense layers of texture, the exact words aren't easy to make out, but that might be for the reason that freedom is not yet at hand, meaning must remain occluded, secretive, literally "Behind the Wire".

In Lieder von einer Insel, Henze recalled his close friendship with Ingeborg Bachmann. She wriote the poems in the summer of 1953, when the pair had escaped to Italy, symbol of the "golden South" celebrated by Goethe and so many other northerners before and since. Bachmann's poems are sunlit, but haunted : "Schattenfrüchte fallen von der Wanden". Henze's setting is dominated by celli, trombone and double bass, long, keening lines that suggest darkness. The voices sing in unison, the range of timbres creating a rich lustre. The double bass leads the celli into a solemn dance. The central song, Einmal muss das Fest ja kommen, resembles a festive procession, led by trombone and portative, a small portable organ with connotations of the Middle Ages, extended by simple percussion. The male and female voices separate, singing alternate lines, the vocal parts then alternating with instrumental. The effect of a medieval celebration. But what celebration ? perhaps a brief Carneval before a period of mourning. ? "...die Krater nicht rühn!" Henze sets the men’s voices in the fourth song almost as plainchant, the women's voice high and piping like choirboys. Whoever leaves the island cannot return unless rituals are performed. The mood is sinister : the trombone wails, the portative groans. The final song is deceptively simple, though the images are apocalyptic. "es ist ein Strom unter der Erde, der sengt das Gebein". And we shall bear witness. When Henze set Bachmann's poems, she still had ten years to live, but he knew the dreams they'd had were doomed.

Based on translations of early French poetry, Henze's Fünf Madrigales is a lively mix of mock medievalism and modernism. He was only 21, just emerging from a youth in which music had to conform to Nazi taste. Although it's an early work, we can already hear Henze's distinctive personality in embryo.

Anne Ozorio

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):