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

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Time Unwrapped<em>: <em>The Creation</em>, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Kings Place
08 Jan 2018

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Time Unwrapped: The Creation, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Kings Place

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Charlotte Beament

Photo credit: Boyd Gilmour

 

Opening Kings Place’s new Time Unwrapped series - a project which is as bold and inventive as Haydn’s oratorio - Ádám Fischer led the Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, and a trio of young soloists, in a performance which proved that one doesn’t need a whole host, of angels or mortals, to celebrate the wonder and joy of God’s monumental achievement in creating the world.

This was the first time The Creation had been performed in Kings Place’s Hall One, and the small but varied instrumental forces - three flutes nestled beside the fiddles, a rich-red harpsichord dominating the centre, a splendid baroque contra-bassoon which seemed to be stretching upwards to the heavens - and sixteen-strong choir made for an impressive sight, tightly packed on the stage and in the gallery above. The first public performance of the oratorio took place on 19th March 1799 and involved a complement of 180 performers, in imitation of the large-scale performances of Handel’s oratorios that Haydn had admired during his visits to London in early 1790s. But, Fischer - who in 1987 co-founded the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt - and his musicians turned the smaller dimensions of the venue and their own forces into a virtue. This was an intensely dramatic performance in which carefully delineated, strongly articulated musical details, vibrant colours and a vigorous dynamism created enormous energy, excitement and elation.

Moreover, with the choir aloft framed by trombones to the right and timpani and trumpets to the left, seated in the balcony I frequently felt totally immersed in the vibrant sound that Fischer conjured. There was mystery and delicacy, no more so that in the opening representation of Chaos, but there was also robustness and realism. Fischer seemed to delight in the challenging piquancy of those initial dissonances, while the resolving pronouncement, ‘Let there be Light’, was a glorious wall of blazing sound which seemed to possess veritable physical mass and tangible brightness.

The OAE instrumentalists produced grandeur when required, but played with responsiveness and suppleness. There were moments of sublimity - the grace and profundity of the lower strings’ depiction of the ‘great whales’ - and pastoral grace, as the lyrical exchanges between the flute and clarinet charmed the cattle in the meadows and fields.

Fischer Nikolaj Lund.jpg Ádám Fischer. Photo credit: Nikolaj Lund.

Fischer himself was a bundle of boundless, fizzing energy. Performing from memory, he frequently turned to his right to engage with his trio of archangels and enjoy their performances - I don’t think I’ve seen a conductor smile so much during a performance - while a flick of arm, wrist or hand, a raised shoulder or a twitch of baton communicated every musical nuance to his instrumentalists. He generated enormous excitement and a happiness which was powerfully embodied by the taut, disciplined vibrant heavenly chorus raising its voice in praise to tell of the glory of God when ‘Achieved is the glorious work’. Fischer’s arms circled, whipped up a storm or opened widely as if to embrace the entire ensemble; and, if his feet sometimes lost contact with the podium, they did so with a dancer’s surefootedness. When, the trumpets and timpani broke the pianissimo awe of the Fourth Day’s gradual dawn, Fischer’s pummelled his hands as if he could not contain his exhilaration at the timpanist’s heralding of the sun’s appearance over the horizon!

This season saw the OAE launch their Rising Stars of the Enlightenment initiative, selecting eight singers who will perform with the orchestra and musicians such as Sir András Schiff and William Christie, and receive coaching and tutoring. Our archangels on this occasion were, aptly, three of these first ‘rising stars’ and all gave strong, direct performances.

Bass-baritone Dingle Yandell displayed a good sense of drama in Raphael’s opening recitative, as he coloured the text to emphasise the ‘darkness’ which was ‘upon the face of the deep’ in this world without form and void. Yandell’s intonation took a little while to find a true centre, but he proved a clear and fluent story-teller, and has his voice, without undue effort, remains firm and warm at the bottom. Though a little score-bound in Parts 1 and 2, as Adam, in partnership with Charlotte Beament’s Eve, his voice relaxed and warmed in the final Part.

Beament’s soprano was strong and sure, beautifully even across the registers, and silky of tone. She climbed brightly in ‘On mighty pens uplifted soars the eagle aloft’, her account of avian invention illustrated by characterful playing by the OAE’s woodwind section. Tenor James Way made much of the text, using a tight, but not excessive, vibrato to inject the words with vitality and his voice with valour.

This was an ‘operatic’ performance, with the recitatives, arias and choruses unfolding in an unbroken sequence creating a dramatic continuity into which we were persuasively drawn (perhaps it was a pity to break such momentum by the placement of the short Part 3 after an interval?). It was surely an evening - characterised by pace, punch and panache - as exciting as that upon which the first audiences heard Haydn’s oratorio in 1799: an evening of creativity unwrapped and unbound.

Claire Seymour

Haydn: The Creation Hob.XXI:2

Charlotte Beament (soprano), James Way (tenor), Dingle Yandell (bass), Ádám Fischer (conductor), Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment.

Kings Place, London; Saturday 6th 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):