Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Unsuk Chin [Photo by Priska Ketterer]
19 Apr 2018

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Unsuk Chin [Photo by Priska Ketterer]

 

Any connections between the first and second halves were not necessarily explicit; this was not an overtly didactic programme (nothing wrong with that, of course). Nevertheless, I fancied I could hear certain pitches, certain turns of phrases, perhaps even certain rhythms, in both; and even if I could not, contrasts fascinated enough.

There was no doubting the avant-gardism of either of the first two composers. Biber’s Battalia opened in lively fashion, soon displaying the composer’s seventeenth-century extended techniques – ‘extended’, by the standards of many a twentieth-century composer too – with col legno playing and foot stamping in its opening ‘Sonata’. Members of the Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen offered a splendidly cultivated, non-puritanical sound. (Certain journalists, having learned of a thing called ‘performance practice’ do not like that. They need rules to help them deliver a ‘verdict’.) Then, to take us all by surprise, lest we latter-day Friends of Karajan were becoming too pleased with ourselves, an ‘older, more ‘fiddling’ sound catapulted us back through time to the bizarre, Ivesian quodlibet of ‘Die leideriche Gesellschaft von allerley Humor’, horribly hilarious in its ‘wrongness’. (Would we think so, though, if we had been told it were twenty-first-century music?) Virtuosic solo passages for Mars – Martian?! – a slow aria whose twists surprised as if they were Purcell’s, a battle in which the post-Montverdian stile concitato (and again Purcell) came to mind, and a touching final lament for ‘Verwundten Musquetirer’: these and much more were presented with a relished concision suggesting that Webern had better look to his laurels – that is, had the concert-going public ever permitted him to collect them in the first place.

I freely admit that I had not previously found Salonen’s Beethoven to my taste, nor, perhaps more to the point, to my understanding. This performance of the Second Symphony, also of course in D major, proved very different, making me keen to hear more. Where previously I had longed for a more modernistic approach such as I suspected might have been his, here it was: not for its own sake, but emerging from score and programming alike, almost as if a Michael Gielen for our times. The opening chord struck me with its rasping natural trumpets; otherwise, there was nothing – thank goodness – especially ‘period’ about this. Salonen even showed that it is perfectly possible to hear dialogue between first and second violins without placing them on opposite sides of each other. The first movement was lively in a different way from Biber, yet suggestive nevertheless of some sort of kinship. Most notable of all was the real sense of return at the onset of the recapitulation, of joy in a Haydnesque, even Handelian manner. The sheer character of the coda made me smile, as it stormed the heavens in a twenty-first century remodelling of ‘tradition’.

The second movement struck an excellent balance between neo-Mozartian flow and the ‘late’ Brahmsian future. Gorgeous, never narcissistic, richness to the inner parts proved an especial joys; as often with the Philharmonia, I could not help but notice the playing of the viola section in particular. Mystery and tension in the minor mode were palpable. This seemed very much a precursor to the ‘slow’ movement of the Eighth, even though I am not sure that it actually ‘is’. The scherzo was sprightly without tending towards brutality, as too often it can (say, in the worst of Karajan). Its musical roots were in Haydn, whilst the Trio peered forward, more ‘modern’ in material and formal instantiation. The finale proved more brazen even than in Gielen’s hands. Yet it still had plenty of time to display woodwind charm and colour. It had space and impetus – which brings us to the second half.

Chin’s Le Chant des Enfants des Etoiles, jointly commissioned by the LOTTE Group and the Philharmonia, had received its world premiere in 2016 from the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and Myun-Whung Chung, to whom it is dedicated. Written for children’s choir (here the outstanding Trinity Boys Choir), mixed choir (Philharmonia Voices, also on excellent form) and large orchestra, it reflects and even perhaps, whatever her intention or not, ‘expresses’ the composer’s longstanding interest in physical cosmology, setting related poems from writers ranging from Henry Vaughan (roughly contemporary with Biber, be it noted), through Blake, Octavio Paz, Shelley, to Edith Södergran, Fernando Pessoa, Juan Ramón Rimenez, Eeva-Liisa Manner, and others. The approach is not so literal-minded as to set them chronologically, but the work itself seemed both to reprise the exploratory historical path announced in the first half and to take it further, in dialogue with and yet not bound by those poems. Tension builds and eventually subsides, perhaps not unlike the life in each of us, every one a piece of stardust – or even of a star itself.

There was no doubting Chin’s grateful writing for voices, nor the intelligibility of most of the words. When one could not immediately discern them, it seemed that that was the point – or at least that intelligibility was not the priority. I was put in mind from time to time of Britten’s ability to write for a range of performers, not all of them professionals, not that, a prominent harp solo notwithstanding, the music sounded like his. Insofar as I could tell, the singers relished their task; such, at any rate, was the performative impression. I wondered whether the earliest sections trod water a little, but perhaps that was more a matter of my ears and mind taking time to adjust; having looked at the score since, I could not tell you why. At any rate, once the shimmering stardust really took flight – at least in my ears – it never looked back. An almost Messiaenesque ecstasy – not as pastiche, yet in spirit – was to be felt as well as heard. An organ cadenza seemed to usher in a world of experimental Gothic Romanticism: Prometheus unbound, or Unbound? Bells, a battery (Biber?) of percussion, gorgeous harmonies took us to climax, prior to a retreat, or perhaps better a twilight, the trebles intoning ‘M’illumino d’immenso’ in the final ‘Matin’. Was this work, was the programme as a whole, more than the sum of its parts? I am not entirely sure, and why should I be, after a single hearing? I tend, however, to think so. I should love to hear both again, if not to find out, then to further my thoughts on the subject. For art, like cosmology, is surely there to broaden our horizons, to stimulate us, not to provide an answer, nor to be ‘correct’.

Mark Berry


Programme:

Biber: Battalia à 10 in D major; Beethoven: Symphony no.2 in D major, op.36; Unsuk Chin: Le Chant des enfants des étoiles (European premiere). Trinity Boys Choir (director: David Swinson)/Philharmonia Voices (director: Aidan Oliver)/Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 15 April 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):