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 Performances

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.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

<em>Messiah</em>, Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican Hall
21 Dec 2017

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

Messiah, Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: A Young Known Voice

Photo credit: AAM

 

Director Richard Egarr was a fizzing bundle of energy throughout the performance: swivelling swiftly from his wheeled piano-stool and leaping from his harpsichord to galvanise his 17-person chorus with swishing arm-sweeps, dynamically indicating rhythmic counterpoints and, sometimes extreme and always precisely nuanced, dynamic contrasts. The orchestra of the AAM were alert to every gesture. The overture eschewed the commonly heard double-dotting, Egarr also preferring a more legato bow stroke than we may be used to. The AAM’s playing was prevailingly fresh and spirited, though at times I felt that it was a little bottom-heavy, the organ dominating occasionally - perhaps the absence of oboes was a contributing factor?

I like my Messiahs to unfold like an opera, each number progressing segue into the next, the drama accruing compelling narrative and musical momentum. In this context, tenor Thomas Hobbs’ opening recitative and aria (‘Comfort Ye’ and ‘Every Valley’) felt a little too emphatic for my taste. But, not only did Egarr increasingly put his foot on the accelerator pedal often to thrilling effect - and it was fortunate that the Barbican audience quickly decided not to applaud each number - but Hobbs, too, came into his own in Part 2: ‘Thy rebuke’ really did evoke a heart broken, full of heaviness, while ‘Behold and see’ was assuaging, paradoxically urgent and soothing.

Countertenor Reginald Mobley took a little while to warm up. His voice has undoubted beauty and grace, but it rather lacked focus and weight in ‘But who may abide’, where the registral transitions felt cumbersome. But, the fluidity of ‘He shall feed his flock’ suited Mobley’s effortless lyricism perfectly. ‘He was despised’, sung absolutely off score, was one of the highpoints of the evening, and Mobley’s pointed vocal assertions were accompanied by a dry string timbre and bitter dotted rhythms in the energised central episode.

Christopher Purves gave us a powerfully vigorous ‘Why do the nations’, but one that was not consistently focused, and ‘The trumpet shall sound’, when pushed, strayed sharp - though trumpeter David Blackadder was compelling, combining mellifluousness and rhetoric with a truly beautiful sound. But, in Part 1, Purves’ ‘For behold, darkness shall cover the earth’ was richly foreboding, forming a pleasing complement to the later emotive frissons of ‘Behold, I tell you a mystery’.

Soprano Mary Bevan out-sang the chaps on this occasion, though! The soprano soloist in Messiah has to wait a long time for her first entry, but the recitative introducing us to the shepherds abiding in the fields was compelling and communicative. ‘Rejoice’ was relaxed and carefree, despite the technical demands, and conjured the drama of opera. In Part 2, ‘How beautiful’ spoke of simply, unsullied joy; ‘I know that my Redeemer’ was quite introspective but also persuasively assuring. Bevan’s soprano climbed high and sank low with ease and without disruption to timbre or tone. This was simply wonderful singing.

The real stars of the show, however, were the AAM chorus. When there are just seventeen singers there is nowhere to hide, but no safe haven was needed. If the combined voices couldn’t quite summon the majesty required in ‘Glory to God’, this was more than compensated for by their alacrity and agility in ‘And he shall purify’, in which waves of sound swelled and washed over us. The choral sequence at the start of Part 2 was wonderfully dramatic. We were provided with surtitles, but these were not necessary; soloists and chorus enunciated with clarity and bite, even when the lines danced lightly, as in ‘His Yolk is Easy’. ‘He trusted in God ’ seemed to trip along on tiptoe.

Egarr was able to indulge his whims in the choral numbers. In the first chorus, ‘And the Glory’, the phrases seemed occasionally foreshortened; ‘All We Like Sheep’ was characterised by idiosyncratic dynamic contrasts, and emphatic stress on particular words, such as ‘iniquity’. In the Hallelujah chorus Egarr didn’t ‘milk’ the fermata before the final cadence and seemed impatient to sweep forward with urgency. The homophonic mystery of ‘Since by Man’ tingled the spine, especially as the contrasting fast interludes raced ahead. The wall of resonant sound that pronounced the final ‘Amen’ belied the small forces.

Does Handel’s Messiah need to be made relevant for new, young audiences? I have to confess that, having spent my entire adult life endeavouring to share my artistic passions - musical, literary and visual - with learners young and old, and stubbornly resisting and denying the notion that art needs to be made relatable, my hackles tend to rise in the face of such terms. But, that’s an argument for another day …

This performance of Messiah was prefaced by Hannah Conway’s A Young Known Voice, a work collectively created after a series of workshops, Messiah Who?, in which young students aged 11-15 from various London schools had come together to explore their response to Handel’s work and create a new composition. The result was a palimpsest of Handel, negro spiritual, community anthem, declamatory rap and textual soundbite: a heady, and sometimes powerful and disconcerting mix. Text was whispered and proclaimed by the chorus, and members of the AAM chorus, and declaimed by young soloists who took bravely and assuredly took turns to come to the fore to make their voices heard.

There were startling juxtapositions: ‘Behold I tell you a mystery. It’s gone viral into all lands.’ ‘Death weighs upon our shoulder/ Until nothing is left. The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.’ The unifying cry, ‘Hallelujah!’, was undercut by expressions of alienation, ‘We do not fit in the mould. We are seen as different. You’re not my child. Not my child.’

Conway - an experienced and undoubtedly skilful and empathetic leader of many such projects - said that she hoped the work would make us listen to Handel’s Messiah in a new way. Certainly, the young musicians who participated will undoubtedly remember the night they performed in the Barbican Hall - Mobley's presence and performance must have been an inspiration to some of the young participants - and who knows what artistic pathways such experiences may inspire them to follow.

One heckler, who objected to both Conway’s prefatory evangelism, as she urged us to ‘trust the younger generation’, and to the performance of A Young Known Voice itself, was - following some ‘Out, out!’ cries from nearby audience members - asked to leave by the Barbican Hall ushers. On my last visit to the Barbican Hall , just a few days before, the audience were dancing in the aisles; now they were being evicted from the stalls - Merry Christmas, indeed.

Occasionally, the text cut close to the bone, reminding us of the viciousness of rejection, estrangement and loneliness: ‘You are eight times more likely to be strip searched if you are black’; ‘shouts of Faggot and Queer only fed my fear.’ But, there was hope in the conclusion: ‘We are the future/ The newer generation/ We are the inspiration/ We will lead.’ One hopes that they are right.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Messiah

Academy of Ancient Music: Richard Egarr (director/harpsichord), Mary Bevan (soprano), Reginald Mobley (countertenor), Thomas Hobbs (tenor), Christopher Purves (baritone), Choir and Orchestra of AAM.

Messiah, Who? A Young Known Voice (Hannah Conway): La Retraite RC School, St Paul’s Way Trust School, Tri-Borough Music Hub, Westminster City School.

Barbican Hall, London; Thursday 20th December 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):