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 Reviews

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.

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.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Gesualdo Six</em> at Temple Church (Temple Winter Festival)
15 Dec 2017

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Gesualdo Six at Temple Church (Temple Winter Festival)

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Gesualdo Six

Photo credit: Ash Mills

 

Startling us from our pre-concert chatter, the six singers, led by musical director Owain Park, commenced Brian Kay’s arrangement of the traditional carol at the east end of this glorious late 12th-century church, which was built by the Knights Templar. Then, leaving behind the impressive stained glass of the east windows, they processed through the rectangular chancel, resting in the pointed arch which connects Gothic and Norman parts of the church. The rhythmic tugs and sways of Gaudate were initially complemented by a virile timbre, though subsequent verses offered calmer contrast, before baritone Michael Craddock launched into his solo verse with a confident swagger worthy of a Chaucerian story-teller. A unison clarion rang the piece to a close.

The subsequent items were eloquently introduced by Park, who inspired evident confidence in his singers: his gestures were minimal but efficient; the singers’ eye-contact and obviously pleasure spoke tellingly.

The complex arrangement of Luther’s chorale , Nun Komm, der Heiden Heliand (Now come, saviour of the heathen) by Michael Praetorius throws many challenges at the performers and the Gesualdo Six chose to tackle these by emphasising the strength and character of the individual voices within the ensemble, in order to highlight the vigour of the counterpoint, although the intonation of the whole took a little while to settle.

These Cambridge choral scholars came together in 2014 for a performance of Gesualdo’s Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday in the chapel of Trinity College and so the Gesualdo Six was born. The English choral tradition and its extant institutions, in which the singers have learned their craft, seemed both an asset and limitation here, and throughout the programme. First, this music is clearly and persuasively ‘in the blood’; and there is an assured balance of blended mellifluousness with soloist narrative. But, diction was sacrificed to beauty of sound; consonants often disappeared, and vowels were bent into uniformity.

However, such consistency has its uses! The programme juxtaposed the traditional with the modern and the Gesualdo Six switched between the two with admirable ease. The sweetness of Jonathan Harvey’s The Annunciation was tempered by harmonic piquancy that seemed almost modal in flavour. Likewise, the exploratory chromatic inflections of Tallis’s Videte Miraculum spoke of modern concerns. In the former, solo voices fluently exchanged the melody, setting the words of Edwin Muir, against a gentle but firm background hum; and while, again, I’d have liked more textual definition - which would have given the contrast between homophony and counterpoint stronger meaning - the ‘deepening trance’ of the close was expertly crafted.

Praetorius’s arrangement of Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen offered more familiar musical fare, and an opportunity to enjoy the contrast of the crystalline countertenor solo of the outer verses with the richer hues of the lower voices, firmer of presence, in the middle verse. The crafting of the pianissimo fade into silence at the close was exquisite, symbolising infinity: ‘uns das verleith’. Park’s own On the Infancy of our Saviour was similarly beguiling, hovering in homophonic enunciation, then swelling with quasi-zealous melismatic rapture, though once again I wished for more textual definition. Francis Quarles’s sentimental images of childhood - of the ‘Saviour perking on thy knee!’, ‘nuzzling’ in virgin brest, with ‘spraddling limbs’, and going ‘diddle up and down the room’ - may be rooted in the pragmatic fact that he and his wife Ursula Woodgate had eighteen children, but such images are still whimsical and remarkable in the context of the virgin birth.

The Gesualdo Six repaired to the circular nave, beside the towering decorated spruce at the west end of Temple Church, for the linch-pin of the performance: Thomas Tallis’s Videte Miraculum, in which the plainchant is both woven into the texture and used to underpin the structure through solo reiteration. One could not fault the ease with which Park shaped the grand architecture of the contrapuntal branches, nor the evocation of awed reverence; but, I did feel that the ensemble needed a weightier bass. The countertenors exhibited the occasional tendency to drift sharp and Craddock and bass Sam Mitchell did not exert the gravitational pull to reign them in to an anchored centre - not that this is a criticism of the individual singers, but additional numbers would have helped.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s The Promised Light of Life followed - in what must have been an arrangement as the original is for TTBB: though who could complain when the countertenors’ soft, echoing ‘Christus’ summoned the silvery sheen of the ‘morning star’ which St Bede’s prayer celebrates. This was a hypnotic conjuring of peace and everlasting assurance.

The singers became compelling story-tellers in Herbert Howells’s Here is the little door. Parks relished the quasi-theatrical setting of Frances Chesterton’s ambivalent text: exaggerating the vocal vitality - ‘lift up that latch, of lift!’ - and the blazing sheen of ‘Our gift of finest gold’. But, there was real drama, and perhaps disquiet, in the juxtaposition of the ‘keen-edged sword’ of gold and the ‘Myrrh for the honoured happy dead’, while the withdrawal of sound with the line ‘Gifts for His children, terrible and sweet’ anticipated the awed reverence at the closing sight of ‘such tiny hands/ and Oh such tiny feet’.

William Byrd’s Vigilate shook us from wondrous contemplation, though: ‘Watch ye’! shuddered with rhythmic vibrancy and attack - ‘nescitis enim quando dominus domus veniat’ (for you know not when the lord of the house cometh). Park again exhibited a masterly command, conveyed unfussily, of the architectural majesty of this motet and the balancing of, and transitions between, different moods were expertly handled. The final cry - ‘omnibus dico: vigilante’ (I say to you all: Watch) - had me bristling with attentiveness.

Lawson’s arrangement of the traditional carol Veni, veni, Emmanuel was beautifully delivered, the varying combinations of ensemble and solo voices, and increasing harmonic complexity, executed with confident and consummate musicianship. Jonathan Rathbone’s setting of Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Oxen’ brought the concert to a close: the slow tempo, ambient humming, and flowering of homophony into more complex counterpoint, all pointed to the ambivalent hopefulness of Hardy’s verse. We were left with the tentative but expectant wish of the poet: ‘I should go with him in the gloom./ Hoping it might be so.’

Though the stunning venue and sonorous vocal ambience had combined to mesmeric effect, the noisy interruption of an overhead helicopter briefly forestalled the encore. But, the dulcet performance of Away in a Manger, which allowed us to enjoy the warmth and easy fluency of Sam Mitchell’s bass, briefly lulled us to forget the buses rattling down Fleet Street and the black cabs chuntering over Waterloo Bridge. This was a lovely festive musical banquet.

Gesualdo Six ’s first recording will be an album of English renaissance polyphony, due for release by Hyperion in spring of 2018.

Claire Seymour

The Gesualdo Six : Owain Park (director), Guy James & Alexander Chance (countertenors), Gopal Kambo & Josh Cooter (tenor), Michael Craddock (baritone), Sam Mitchell (bass).

Trad. arr. Brian Kay - Gaudete; Praetorius -Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland à 6; Harvey -The Annunciation; Trad. German, harm. Praetorius -Es Ist ein’ Ros’ Entsprungen; Park - On the Infancy of our Saviour; Tallis - Videte Miraculum; Frances-Hoad - The Promised Light of Life; Howells -Here is the little door; Byrd - Vigilate; Trad. arr. Lawson - Veni, veni, Emmanuel; Rathbone - The Oxen.

Temple Church, London; Thursday 14th 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):