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 Performances

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

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):