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 Performances

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Britten Sinfonia [Photo © Thomas Skovsende]
02 Apr 2018

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Britten Sinfonia [Photo © Thomas Skovsende]

 

Andrea Gabrieli’s Maria stabat ad monumentum functioned splendidly as an introit: Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb, telling the angels ‘they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him’. It cautioned us against the adoption of anachronistic models of ‘expressiveness’. This is no heart-on-sleeve lament, nor was it in performance. Britten Sinfonia Voices, under Eamonn Dougan offered a warm, nicely flowing account, the choral sound recognisably ‘English’, no doubt, but there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Who on earth, or indeed beyond, knows what the composer’s ‘intentions’ were here, in any case? The very question most likely makes no sense. He would surely have been astonished to hear that the piece was being performed in a London ‘concert hall’ in 2018, let alone that someone was writing about that on a ‘computer’, that writing soon to be posted on a noticeboard on which, in theory, anyone on God’s earth would be able to read it, although most would not.

The same, of course, would go for Mozart, and parts of it would at least have been a stretch for Stravinsky. Their music formed the twin pillars of this concert, the rest of the first half given over to Mozart’s F major Missa brevis, KV 192186f, introduced by and interspersed with short pieces by Stravinsky, the second half offering pieces by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Bruckner, and Gesualdo, leading up to a performance of Stravinsky’s Mass. Both masses were written, ‘intended’ for liturgical performance, although Stravinsky would not have been so greatly surprised to hear of concert performance, however much he might have affected to disdain it, or indeed genuinely done so.

His 1964 Fanfare for a New Theatre heralded ‘the start of the concert proper’, according to Dougan, quoted in Jo Kirkbride’s booklet note. Written for the opening of the New York State Theater, it proved, as ever, blazing, uncompromising, in its forty-second-odd, post-Webern character, whilst at the same time having one wonder: might that actually be a passing reference to Monteverdi? Probably not: one just thinks of Orfeo anyway. In any case, no one time-travels quite like Stravinsky; no one ever remains so much himself. Stravinsky’s Pater Noster and Ave Maria, following Mozart’s ‘Gloria’ and ‘Credo’ respectively, spoke, almost unmediated – or such was the trick. The composer would surely have approved. Choral blend was impeccable, the words highly audible. (Both were given in their later, Latin versions, as per their 1949 revision.) The former sounded a little more Russian, perhaps, as if a neo-Classical remembrance of the world he had left, the latter whiter still, with a strong sense of a musical ‘object’, a Stravinskian icon.

Stravinsky notoriously affected disapproval of Mozart’s early masses: ‘Rococo-operatic sweets of sin,’ he called them, having discovered some scores in 1942: ‘I knew I had to write a Mass of my own,’ he continued, ‘but a real one’. Give me a fake one any day – as well, of course, as Stravinskian ‘reality’. Classical sacred music, whether that of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, or others, less canonical, is woefully un-performed, with the signal exception of Mozart’s Requiem and perhaps, though only perhaps, the Mass in C minor. Granted, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis is not a work for every day. But many of Mozart’s and Haydn’s masses and other works are just that – or should be. Here we heard a small-scale performance of the Missa brevis: small choir, with soloists drawn from it, two violins, cello, double bass, chamber organ, and occasionally, those two Stravinskian trumpets. This was, not unreasonably, the sound world, if hardly the acoustic, of the church sonata, slightly augmented. It worked well in a small hall with nothing of the ‘Rococo-operatic’ to it. One can always go to Salzburg’s churches for that.

Performances were again generally warm, if occasionally less so – an interpretative decision, no doubt – from the solo strings. Words again were crystal clear. I especially liked the rich timbre of Tim Dickinson’s bass, but all solos and ensembles were well sung indeed; a fine balance between solo line and blend. The culminatory nature of the ‘Amen’ in the ‘Gloria’; the learned counterpoint of the ‘Credo’, whose contrapuntal tag has one think, whether one likes it or no, of the Jupiter Symphony; the nimble ‘Osanna’ music; and the darkness of the imploring harmonies of the ‘Agnus Dei’, which yet hung over the concluding ‘Dona nobis pacem’: such were just some of the highlights of a lovely performance, well shaped, without interventionism, by Dougan.

Salonen’s 2000 Concert étude for solo French horn, a homage to his teacher, Holger Fransman, offered an equally refreshing opening to the second half, not least given the outstanding, indeed mesmeric quality of Ben Goldscheider’s performance. It acted here almost like a wordless second introit, Messiaen heard from another, related world. The twin requirements of a single line and, at times, multiple voices (various extended techniques, including singing a line in addition to that played) were handled beautifully and, more to the point, meaningfully. The first of Bruckner’s two Aequale followed from the gallery, rooted in tradition and yet, in both melody and harmonic implications, unmistakeably Bruckner.

Gesualdo’s weird chromaticism – is that the best way to think about it at all? – stood out, without undue exaggeration, in carefully unfolding performances of ‘Omnes amici mei’ and ‘Vinea mea electa’. The former proved, perhaps, more of an object, almost in the Stravinskian sense, the latter more developmental, opening in chaster fashion, yet blossoming. Is this how such music, such words ‘should’ be performed? Who knows? Again, the question is hardly the right one to ask. One could certainly imagine what might have fascinated Stravinsky in this composer’s music.

And so to his ‘proper’ Mass, with its non-string, wind orchestra. I was interested to read Dougan speak of ‘the more lush sound world of the winds and brass in the Stravinsky’, as compared to Mozart’s strings. I hear it the other way around – and did again. Although this was anything but a cold performance, an austere, even angular quality, with roots in Symphonies of wind instruments nevertheless manifested itself. We all have our own Stravinskys, I suppose; yet, as Boulez, once put it, Stravinsky demeure (the title of his Rite of Spring analysis). Is there, was there, something ‘Oriental’, or at least ‘Orientalist’, in the opening wind and vocal arabesques of the ‘Gloria’? Or is/was that just Paris? Whatever it might have ‘been’, it was delightful. The ‘Credo’ perhaps spoke a little, yet only a little, more nostalgically, of a service from ‘home’ now once again viewed or heard as an ‘object’, its jangle of ecclesiastical Latin leading inexorably to a beautifully floated Amen. Intonation throughout was spot on, as it must be, truly permitting one to appreciate the originality of Stravinsky’s own heavenly host in the ‘Sanctus’ and the imploring qualities of the closing ‘Agnus Dei’. As a surprising encore, another object of fascination, we heard Mozart’s Ave verum corpus motet, with accompaniment from the wind orchestra on stage: Mozart and Stravinsky, perhaps, united at last.

Mark Berry


Programme:

Andrea Gabrieli: Maria stabat ad monumentum; Stravinsky: Fanfare for a New Theatre; Mozart: Missa Brevis in F major, KV 192186f, interspersed with Stravinsky:Pater Noster and Ave Maria; Salonen: Concert étude, for French horn; Bruckner: Aequale no.1, for three trombones; Gesualdo: Two movements from Tenebrae Responsories for Good Friday; Stravinsky: Mass. Ben Goldscheider (French horn)/Britten Sinfonia Voices/Britten Sinfonia/Eamonn Dougan (conductor) . Milton Court Concert Hall, London, Wednesday 28 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):