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

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Esther</em>: London Handel Festival, Wigmore Hall
25 Mar 2018

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

Esther: London Handel Festival, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Erica Eloff

 

In fact, Handel’s first ‘Israelite oratorio’, Esther, dates from Handel’s early years in London. Like Acis and Galatea, which the London Handel Festival had presented at St. John’s Smith Square a few days earlier, it was written for James Brydges (later Duke of Chandos) and thought to have been performed at Cannons, Brydges’ Middlesex estate, during 1718-20.

The libretto, which was probably fashioned by the poets Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot, is a dramatic adaptation of the Old Testament narrative, in which the pious Esther acts to save the threatened Israelites from a pogrom at the hands of their Persian oppressors, and Jean Racine’s play Esther of 1688 (which had been seen in London in 1715 in an English paraphrase by Thomas Brereton), which emphasises the challenge to God’s authority and the divine salvation of the Israelite people. Musicologists and commentators have sought allegorical relevance in the affirmation of Jewish courage and conviction but have been as likely to suggest a parallel between the English Anglicans and the ‘Chosen People’ as to see the Jewish minority as representative of the English Catholics within a Protestant majority. When the worked received its ‘public’ premiere, in London in 1732, additional text by Samuel Humphreys enhanced the connection to the Hanoverians through implied compliments to George II and Queen Caroline.

This performance by the London Handel Orchestra at Wigmore Hall was stylishly directed by Adrian Butterfield, who fulfilled a dual role as violinist-conductor. In fact, with such an accomplished band of musicians before him, I wondered if Butterfield might not have relinquished his fiddle on this occasion; for, while the vocal standards were high, not all of the young soloists were equally adept at creating character and developing the narrative momentum. The numbers that were most successful were the choruses, when Butterfield laid his violin aside and stood to conduct, creating exciting drive and momentum.

Indeed, one might feel that Handel’s finest achievements in Esther are the choral sections: the contrasting joy - when the Jews rejoice that Esther, a believer, has become Queen - and despair, when they learn of Haman’s vicious decree that they should be annihilated; their confident assertion, ‘He comes!’, that God will defend them; and the magnificent triumphal chorus which closes the oratorio. Almost all of the soloists joined to form the choral ensemble, producing a lively, bright sound, with the strings’ generating zip and vigour and Darren Moore’s trumpet adding majesty and jubilance to the final triumph: ‘The Lord our enemy has slain’.

The instrumental contributions in the arias were no less affecting and accomplished. Stephen Mills’ relaxed, pure tenor was graciously accompanied by the violins’ gentle pizzicato and James Eastaway’s beautiful oboe obbligato, as the First Israelite expressed the people’s unwavering trust in ‘great Jehovah’, and Mills’ clean tone was equally well-suited to persuading us of the condemned Mordecai’s faith. The horns (Gavin Edwards and Clare Penkey) added relish to the glorification of Jehovah of the start of Act 3.

Best of the soloists was Erica Eloff as the eponymous saviour of the nation. The winner of the 2008 Handel Singing Competition, Eloff has impressed before ( Adriano in Siria , Elpidia ) and on this occasion I was struck by the extended range of colours that the South African soprano deployed to convey Esther’s love, fear, doubts and hopes. She really made the text count in Esther’s first air, capturing the deep sincerity of the queen’s prayer, and her angry dismissal of Haman’s ‘flatt’ring tongue’ left none in doubt of Esther’s inner strength, an impression which grew in the elaborated repetitions of the aria’s da capo. Eloff even managed a convincing ‘faint’ when Esther quakes in fear before Ahasverus as she pleads for Mordecai’s deliverance, before reviving to invite her lord to a banquet at which she intends to expose Haman’s vendetta with sufficient beauty of voice and manner to convince Ahasverus to submit to his wife’s entreaties.

As Ahasverus, William Wallace - in common with some of the other soloists - took a little while to judge the acoustic of Wigmore Hall, in which a capacity audience was seated. Initially he forced his tenor a little too much, but as Esther’s appeals worked their magic, Wallace’s voice relaxed and charmed in ‘O beauteous Queen’. Baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé colourfully revealed Haman’s vengeful exasperation in the oratorio’s opening aria, expressing his indignant fury with plenty of bluster, though a little less might have been more - the diction was rather muddy.

Timothy Morgan was also somewhat over-earnest as the First Priest of the Israelites, which affected his tuning at times, but Morgan’s counter-tenor is appealing, and he communicated with directness. As the Israelite Boy, Camilla Harris displayed a lovely sheen and graceful phrasing in her single aria, which was further enhanced by exquisite interplay from the pianissimo violins, flute (Rachel Brown) and harp (Frances Kelly). Tenors Ben Smith (Habdonah) and Laurence Kilsby (Officer/Second Israelite) completed the accomplished vocal ensemble.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Esther HWV50
London Handel Orchestra: director/violin - Adrian Butterfield.

Esther - Erica Eloff, Ahasverus - William Wallace, Haman - Josep-Ramon Olivé, Israelite Boy - Camilla Harris, Priest of the Israelites - Timothy Morgan, Mordecai/First Israelite - Stephen Mills, Habdonah - Ben Smith, Officer/Second Israelite - Laurence Kilsby.

Wigmore Hall, London; Thursday 22nd March 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):