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

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Haydn’s <em>Applausus</em>: The Mozartists/Classical Opera at Cadogan Hall product=yes
16 Mar 2018

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

In this concert at Cadogan Hall, the programme was devoted singularly to Haydn who in 1768 received a commission from a Cistercian monastery in the northern Austrian town of Zwettl, for an Applausus cantata to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of their Abbot, Raynor I. Kollmann.

Haydn would have known what was expected of him: as the name implies, an Applausus cantata was designed to laud and applaud a worthy individual, and commonly took the form of a series of recitatives and da capo arias, à la opera seria. The Latin text (presumably written by one of the Abbot’s Cistercian brothers, and in this case more of an extended poem than a libretto) of Haydn’s Applausus Jubilæum Virtutis Palatium is sung by four allegorical Virtues - Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude - who are guided and encouraged by the measured words of the wise Theologia as they extol the pietistic life within the establishment and take turns to praise their honoree. The vocal soloists are accompanied by an orchestra of strings, oboe, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, and timpani, with harpsichord obbligato.

Occupied by his duties at Esterházy, Haydn was unable to attend either rehearsals or the performance, which took place on 15th May, of the commissioned cantata and so sent a memorandum enumerating his wishes about its production. Some instructions were of a practical nature: should two violin parts be required (an indication of Haydn’s expectations about the likely size of the instrumental forces) the copyist must ensure that the page-turns were arranged differently in each part to avoid half of the fiddle section falling silent at the same time. Elsewhere the composer offered musical mandates: the allegros should be played ‘a bit more quickly than usual’, fortes and pianos should be ‘observed exactly’, and violinists should avoid their frequent, and in his view lamented, practice of articulating tied notes.

This fascinating and valuable historical document - reproduced in the evening’s progamme booklet - has received rather more attention than Haydn’s score itself. For, the acclamatory sentiments of the extended arias - some lasting almost twenty minutes - and the absence of dramatic or narrative impetus, might make Applausus seem like heavy weather for all but the most enthusiastic devotee of opera seria or cantatas.

In an introductory note in the programme, Ian Page poses some sensible questions and provides thoughtful answers. Does it matter that an aria is long and repetitive, if the music is beautiful? If we hear the same line of text many times, does it affect the way we respond to its meaning? Page suggests that as ‘the work has virtually no plot’ the listener should ‘banish any expectations of story or narrative’ and allow him/herself to be transported by the ‘meditative nature of the music’: to become captivated - as Page and his singers had been during rehearsal - by the ‘slow-burn grip’ of the ensembles and arias which ‘pulled us into an enchanting and uplifting reverie’.

Given that there are almost two hours of music, that the text is in abstruse Latin which might perplex even the most able classicist, and that modern audiences are unlikely to share the Cistercian brethen’s taste for moralising laudation, Page issues quite a challenge to the average listener’s powers of concentration! Reverie can quite easily slip into day-dream.

However, the elegant and gracious vocal and instrumental performances that we enjoyed at Cadogan Hall offered plentiful prompts if attentions were prone to wander or wane. Page had obviously taken a great deal of care over the preparation of this performance, not just in terms of attentiveness to Haydn’s specific instructions and the observance of an idiomatic performance style and expressive aesthetic, but also with regard to the musical details of the score itself, many of which were clearly cherished. I felt that, somewhat surprisingly, this especial care was often most persuasively evident in the accompanied recitatives in which instrumental details engaged beguilingly and bewitchingly with the vocal lines - the latter combining textual nuance with declamatory effect, to hint at a specifically dramatic textual energy sometimes absent elsewhere. Accompanied by perfectly tuned violin scurrying, Fortitudo assured Justitia, ‘The sneers of your enemies are held in low esteem here’; Prudentia’s rich-toned celebrations of the delights and wisdom of the Palace were given addition weight by the well-shaped arguments of Luise Buchberger’s cello. Page’s direction of these recitatives was excellent: authoritative but admitting personal expression from his superb instrumentalists.

The helpful acoustic of Cadogan Hall also enhanced the clarity of the orchestral textures and the expressive impact of the inner voices within that texture. The Allegro di molto of the two-movement overture alertly balanced bright violins with nasal brass and wind, and the dynamic contrasts and nimble finger-work of this opening contrasted with the delicate beauty of the ensuing Andante molto. No wonder the Virtues were full of wonder ‘at the beauty of their Palace, an admiration expressed in the opening Quartet, ‘Virtus inter ardua’, sung by Temperantia (Ellie Laugharne), Prudentia (Elspeth Marrow), Justitia (Thomas Elwin) and Fortitudo (John Savournin) in which the soloists’ voices blended warmly, and Page made much of the harmonic arguments.

Haydn must have been assured that there were five talented singers in Zwettl and its environs, as he requires his soloists to deliver both affecting melodic grace and coloratura sparkle. The tenor role of Justinia was performed by a singer well-known to Haydn and who was entrusted to direct the rehearsals: for his efforts, he was rewarded with two exquisite arias, whose potential ‘long-windedness’ is alleviated by a mini-concerto for harpsichord (at the close of ‘O pii Patres Patriae!’) and a charming violin obbligato (in ‘O beatus incolatus!’), here performed with technical assurance and convincing stylish grace by Steven Devine and leader Daniel Edgar respectively. The former aria was strengthened by lovely woodwind playing and Page’s keen seen of the rhythmic discourse between steady tread and syncopation, but some momentum was lost. Tenor Thomas Elwin did not always make the extended melodic gestures cohere, but his tone was appealing and ‘O beatus incolatus’ was characterised by greater fluency of line and persuasive expressive intensity.

John Savournin’s energised rendering of Fortitudo’s shorter ‘Si obtrudat ultimam’ (If destiny should swallow us up) made a case for the less-might-have-been-more argument: the contrast between the buoyant top and dark bottom of his bass-baritone, coupled with the furious momentum garnered by leaping octaves and striking accents in the accompaniment, and the cello’s continuous racing against the oboe’s interjections, made for real excitement and interest.

At the first performance the soprano parts were taken by ‘two boys’ - Haydn’s letter of instruction shows that he trusted his experienced tenor to offer these young singers appropriate guidance - but here soprano Ellie Laugharne and mezzo-soprano Elspeth Marrow stepped into the shoes of Temperance and Prudence, initially joining forces in a delightful duet which, despite lying quite low in the voice for both singers, was well-projected and further enhanced by gentle trumpet colouring. Of all the soloists, Laugharne appeared most engaged in the unfolding sentiments of the work, and in her aria, ‘Rerum, quas perpendimus’, she made light of the virtuosic demands, engaging intelligently with the horns and cello to suggest a real musical conversation. Laugharne’s vocal commitment did not flag for one moment in this twenty-minute stamina-challenge; nor did her judgement - the chromaticism of the B section was thoughtfully exploited and the trills judiciously brief. No wonder, despite the silent respect shown elsewhere, the audience felt compelled to applaud.

David Shipley took a while to warm up in Theologia’s first admonition to the over-adulatory Virtues but after an initial slightly inhibited tone and lack of melodic elegance, the bass found greater ease of projection and vocal presence.

We can’t know what Haydn though would come of this ‘occasional’ work. But, some of the music was plundered subsequently, with sacred texts replacing the original secular words to render it suitable for church services. Thereafter, Applausus languished in the margins of music history, until in 1958 Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon and conductor Harry Newstone reintroduced the cantata to audiences via a BBC series titled The Unknown Haydn, Newstone conducting the Haydn Orchestra with a solo quartet comprising Joan Sutherland, Marjorie Thomas, Richard Lewis and John Cameron. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Erich Leinsdorf, gave a full performance at Tanglewood in 1964; and, there have been three commercial recordings to date, including a 1991 modern-instrument recording led by Patrick Fournillier on Opus 111.

In giving the first live UK-performance, The Mozartists/Classical Opera offered both musical pleasure and food for thought. Though the absence of narrative momentum occasionally led to a sense that Haydn’s invention was cruising on autopilot, and though in the extended arias the relationship between the sentiments of the text and their musical embodiment threatened at times to disappear, this was a performance which skilfully and expressively communicated the solemnity, sensitivity and sublimity of Haydn’s varied score.

Claire Seymour

Haydn: Applausus

The Mozartists: Ian Page (conductor), solo violin (Daniel Edgar), solo harpsichord (Steven Devine).

Temperantia - Ellie Laugharne, Prudentia - Elspeth Marrow, Justitia - Thomas Elwin, Fortitudo - John Savournin, Theologia - David Shipley.

Cadogan Hall, London; Thursday 15th 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):