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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

No Time in Eternity: Iestyn Davies discusses Purcell and Nyman

Revolution, repetition, rhetoric. On my way to meet countertenor Iestyn Davies, I ponder if these are the elements that might form connecting threads between the music of Henry Purcell and Michael Nyman, whose works will be brought together later this month when Davies joins the viol consort Fretwork for a thought-provoking recital at Milton Court Concert Hall.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

Garsington's Douglas Boyd on Strauss and Skating Rinks

‘On August 3, 1941, the day that Capriccio was finished, 682 Jews were killed in Chernovtsy, Romania; 1,500 in Jelgava, Latvia; and several hundred in Stanisławów, Ukraine. On October 28, 1942, the day of the opera’s premiere in Munich, the first convoy of Jews from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 90 percent of them went to the gas chamber.’

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra perform <em>Duke Bluebeard’s Castle</em> at the Barbican Hall
17 Jan 2018

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra perform Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican Hall

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra perform Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with Rinat Shaham (mezzo-soprano) and Robert Hayward (bass-baritone) (at the Nottingham Theatre Royal)

Photo credit: Tracey Whitefoot

 

Duke Bluebeard didn’t really get much international exposure until the 1950s - it premiered in France in 1950, New York in 1952 and London in 1957. Bartók certainly calls for a large orchestra, but even he would have been impressed by the sheer scale of the one fielded by the National Youth Orchestra for their performance at the Barbican - some 160 musicians.

The scale of the orchestral forces required, even in a standard performance, underpins much of the work’s psychological layers and its musical narrative. This isn’t an opera where the stage is overly important, hence why it’s usually performed in concert rather than in the opera house. It can undeniably seem a static work, and this was even the case in concert here, but it remains a magnificent opera nevertheless. You cannot escape the minor second in this opera - it’s everywhere. Like a knife being twisted in slowly, inch-by-inch, Bartók evokes sadness and despair, shock and danger through fluctuating musical scenes that while sounding dissonant (and in this performance they were grounded in phenomenally charged beacons of brilliance) they remain largely tonal. You get Judith’s “blood motif”, but you’re also aware of the sheer tonality of passages that breathe throughout Door Three and then the massive, blazing major triads that herald the opening of the Fifth Door, one of the greatest pieces Bartók ever composed.

It was perhaps not surprising that Sir Mark Elder brought an element of early Schoenberg and Wagner (Siegfried came to mind) in this performance. It was notably expansive, with some broad tempos - but this worked allowing the scale of the opera to unfold very grandly. There was something very Gothic about this castle, a touch lurid perhaps, almost as if one could touch the blood running through it - helped by some glorious string playing and some febrile and nervous, but assured, wind playing, that if it at first suggested more Hammer Horror was always authentically Bartókian. The Seventh Door was menacing and brooding, perhaps a little darker than we might normally hear - but with twelve double basses there was no shortage of depth of tone here. The First Door had thrown up a potential problem which was how successfully the two singers, Rinat Shaham, the mezzo-soprano, singing Judith, and Robert Hayward, as Bluebeard, would tackle the large orchestra. Ms Shaham in particular sounded a touch overwhelmed at the beginning of the opera (in fact, I initially thought the voice too high for the part) but she proved more than able to fight against the massed forces of the National Youth Orchestra, and her bottom range was often sumptuous. I still came away from this performance largely preferring a darker, more tenebrous, voice such as Christa Ludwig or Birgit Nilsson in the role of Judith but after the initial problems and inertia of Ms Shaham’s “crimson sunrise” in Door One she adequately played the part. She was a little too stuck to her score but was expressive enough with her hands and body to give Judith some humanity. Mr Hayward was rich and powerful and found it easy to ride above the orchestra. Daisy Evans’ direction of the opera, with its coils of alternating light switching colours, was sparse, but effective.

A brief mention of the first half of the concert, if only because it showed how ineffective a conductor can be, or perhaps something else entirely. Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake was quite superbly done, in fact it was exquisite, showing exactly what a huge orchestra can do in shaping dynamics. Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was probably the least magical performance I’ve heard in the concert hall. But perhaps it’s just wrong to think of Dukas’ piece like this: it is, after all, dark, sinister and rather terrifying. In an age of Harry Potter, Walt Disney is much more difficult to bring off, it seems.

Marc Bridle

Bela Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Sir Mark Elder (conductor), Robert Hayward (bass-baritone), Rinat Shaham (mezzo-soprano), Daisy Evans (director), National Youth Orchestra.

Barbican Hall, London: Sunday 7th January 2018.

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):