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

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Satyagraha</em>, English National Opera
05 Feb 2018

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Satyagraha, English National Opera

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Toby Spence and ENO company, Satyagraha

Photo credit: Douglas Cooper

 

In recent years, there has been a tendency with many of Glass’s scores (one thinks of the First Violin Concerto, for example) to revisit his tempos and this was very notable in the pacing of the opera this time round. It made for a very long evening, but the upside was a transformation in the music that added much needed depth and emotional integrity to a work that sometimes seems to be missing both. A downside, of course, is that in an opera that really has such minimal narrative to keep it moving one’s concentration and endurance is tested to the limits. This sometimes felt like Parsifal on benzodiazepine, or an over-dramatized Bach oratorio - but it is to the credit of a splendid cast and a brilliantly engaged conductor that this performance was so spellbinding. For a first night, which so often isn’t perfect, this was as close to ideal as I’ve heard in many years.

If Satyagraha is the best of the three profile operas it is largely because it has neither the astringency ofEinstein on the Beach nor the monotonal repetitiveness of Akhnaten. Minimalism can sometimes sound very temporal and hollow, but here at such a broad tempo (take, for example, the scene in Act II with the burning of the passes which could have almost been lifted from the pages of re-orchestrated Bach) and the effect was transcendental. That is not to say that the score doesn’t motor onwards like a typewriter - the male chorus, with their taunts of “Ha! Ha! Ha!” were acidic against the ENO woodwind - not always exactly synchronised - but this is a long scene and hugely demanding. The closing pages of Act III, where Gandhi stands beneath the plinth of Martin Luther King against darkening clouds that foreshadow the assassinations of both men, was devastating, yet taken at this chosen speed you felt it was never-ending. The music felt as oppressive as the bleakness of the imagery on stage; chromatic shifts in key from the orchestra were like changing projected film slides on a permanent loop.

For a composer so heavily involved in composing for film, it’s perhaps not surprising that ENO’s production of Satyagraha should acknowledge that debt, however tangentially. Whether it’s a steamship rolling slowly across the corrugated steel that remains the constant backdrop for this staging, or film of civil rights marches in support of King’s speech, the camera is both a means of projection and a means of communication. Before film, there was newspaper and here it is reimagined in every possible way. It is used as a means of peaceful protest, it is used as a means of violence, where the male chorus “stone” Gandhi into submission. It is used as a backdrop against which Sanskrit words are projected, it is used to cultivate fear and terror, where unspeakable violence is carried out behind curtains of newspaper in the darkness of the shadows. Before newspapers, there was just the word. Great tablets inscribed with single Sanskrit letters descend like monolithic slabs that recall the Ten Commandments.

Satyagraha ENO Chorus 2 (c) Donald Cooper.jpeg ENO, Satyagraha Photo credit: Douglas Cooper.

Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the director and designer of this production, have made this opera as theatrical as possible to stem the awkwardness of its lack of narrative. There is an overwhelming sense of austerity, poverty and hardship to the corrugated township of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century South Africa here - and it even extends to the muddied, frayed bottoms of the women’s long dresses as they are dragged through the dirt. The attention to detail misses very little. This is a recycled staging, where the wicker baskets of Tolstoy Farm are magically transformed into giant fish, where torn and scrunched up newspapers are turned into huge monsters and disfigured puppets and where endless streams of sticky tape that served firstly as a fence are then torn down and folded like origami into a giant stick figure of a hangman. You are often awestruck by the acrobatics of Skills Ensemble. Not everything was perfect, but when it worked you couldn’t take your eyes off it. A scene where an image of the earth, spinning like a globe, appeared on a round table, for it and one of the performers, to slowly be lifted towards the roof of the stage was stunning.

Despite these sweepingly dramatic moments, so much of Satyagraha remains static. This production doesn’t wear its philosophy lightly. Excerpts from the Gita, or the principles of ‘truth force’ pepper the walls, like religious graffiti. Reading them is a form of stasis in itself. The arrest of the protestors in Act III is symptomatic of the opera’s glacial pacing. The armed soldiers could have been wading through treacle, yet it was oddly balletic to watch. For much of Act II Gandhi doesn’t actually sing a note of music - he wanders the stage like a prophet, and yet it was compelling to watch. The Act II burning of the passes seemed interminable, and would have been had it not been for the absolutely superb playing of the ENO orchestra who brought such intensity to the whole scene. King’s transformation at the end of Act III into a great orator was entirely mimed, and yet for almost twenty minutes you were transfixed as if you were watching a silent movie.

Toby Spence 2 (c) Donald Cooper (1).jpeg Toby Spence. Photo credit: Douglas Cooper.

So to the singing, which I found to be first rate. Toby Spence, singing the role of Gandhi for the first time, was compelling in the title role. The part of Gandhi is difficult because for large sections of the opera the tenor isn’t singing - though he is on stage. Spence is undeniably impressive - he transforms from young lawyer in Act I to philosopher and emerging prophet in the rest of the opera with convincing believability. The voice isn’t stentorian (I don’t think this role really requires that kind of singing), but there is pathos, humanity and deep insight to his interpretation. He is also a formidable stage actor, which isn’t something one should take for granted with an opera singer.

Nicholas Folwell Charlotte Beament Toby Spence Anna-Clare Monk Stephanie Marshall Clive Bayley (c) Donald Cooper.jpeg Nicholas Folwell, Charlotte Beament, Toby Spence, Anna-Clare Monk, Stephanie Marshall, Clive Bayley. Photo credit: Douglas Cooper.

Commanding as Kasturbai was the Canadian mezzo, Stephanie Marshall. The voice is both huge and rich, and this was a powerful assumption of the role of Gandhi’s wife. Charlotte Beament, as Miss Schlesen, Gandhi’s secretary, sounded a touch tentative at first but her brilliant and bright soprano was able to cut through the orchestra like glass. The composer is rather merciless in his demands for this particular role, since so much of it lies in the upper registers of the voice, but Ms Beament was often breath-taking, and her soprano is fresh enough to hold those high notes without the notes cutting short. By any standards, this was outstanding singing. Andri Björn Róbertsson, as Lord Krishna, sang magnificently, but was less compelling to watch I’m afraid. Nicholas Folwell as Mr Kallenbach seemed less secure when singing solo, where the voice appeared small, than he did when singing as part of an ensemble, where he largely excelled.

Karen Kamensek, the conductor, is something of a Philip Glass specialist, and it showed. Her command of the score was almost absolute, and she obtained from the Orchestra of English National Opera playing that was meticulous, sumptuous and impressively coherent. It’s one thing to get the notes in something like the right order; it’s quite another to make this score sound as deeply involving and as profound as Ms Kamensek achieved here. This was a major achievement for her and the ENO orchestra, who should probably now be considered one of the leading opera orchestras for Glass’s major works.

ENO’s Satyagraha was a major operatic landmark when it was first performed over a decade ago. It is still that - and absolutely unmissable.

Marc Bridle

Philip Glass: Satyagraha

Toby Spence - M. K. Gandhi, Charlotte Beament - Miss Schlesen, Anna-Clare Monk - Mrs Naidoo, Stephanie Marshall - Kasturbai, Nicholas Folwell - Mr Kallenbach, Sarah Pring - Mrs Alexander, Eddie Wade - Prince Arjuna, Clive Bayley - Parsi Rustomji, Andri Björn Róbertsson - Lord Krishna, Skills Ensemble; Production: Director - Phelim McDermott, Associate Director & Set Designer - Julian Crouch, Revival Producer - Peter Relton, Costumes - Kevin Pollard, Lighting - Paule Constable, Video - Leo Warner, Mark Grimmer (Fifty Nine Productions),English National Opera Orchestra & Chorus, Karen Kamensek (conductor)

ENO, The Coliseum, London; 1st February 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):