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

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.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Teseo</em>: La Nuova Musica, 2018 London Handel Festival, St George’s, Hanover Square, London
16 Apr 2018

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Teseo: La Nuova Musica, 2018 London Handel Festival, St George’s, Hanover Square, London

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Olivia Warburton (Teseo)

 

I was rather surprised to read in the programme that this performance by David Bates’s La Nuova Musica and soloists from Royal Academy Opera aimed ‘to recreate the drama in the Perfection that would have been experienced by the audience in 1713 with scenes, decorations, flights and machines’. Okay, the columns, stained glass and reredos of St George’s are not without their architectural drama, but the idea that the sort of stage effects that Handel’s audiences enjoyed - Medea’s magic transforms a palace into a desert inhabited by horrid monsters, while she descends from a cloud in a chariot drawn by fire-breathing dragons - could be accommodated amid the narrow (and uncomfortable) oak pews and aisles would be stretching things somewhat.

I guess that this ambition was metaphorical and intended to be interpreted ‘in spirit’. Fortunately, no flames or thunderbolts flashed in the transepts, though the operations of Westminster Council Refuge Collection services and a few Harley Davidsons racing down St George’s Street towards Piccadilly Circus added some rumbles and reverberation to the proceedings.

However, there is sufficient fire in Handel’s setting of Nicola Francesca Haym’s libretto in five Acts - for the most part, as David Kimbell [1] was among the first to confirm, a translation of Philippe Quinault’s text for Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Thésée which was heard in Paris in 1675 - to keep the passions burning through the unfolding of a plot in which three couples ties themselves in romantic and political Gordian knots even more convoluted than the seria norm.

Let’s just say Medea has come to Athens as she expects King Egeo to fulfil his promise to marry her, so she is not best pleased when she learns that in fact he’d rather hitch up with Agilea, with whom he is obsessed, but who herself is not very enamoured of this proposition as she’d rather tie the knot with Teseo (Theseus, who returns her love, and who is the baby-son abandoned by Egeo in a far-off land - don’t fret about the reasoning or logic). Clizia and Arcane, confidants to Agilea and Teseo respectively, wish everyone would stop fussing so they can get wed, though Arcane is not averse to his own spot of jealous pique of his own, when he thinks Clizia has also fallen for Teseo’s charms. The plot is driven by Medea’s increasingly vengeful jealousy. When sorcery fails to serve up a satisfying resolution she stoops to an attempted poisoning of Teseo, but in the nick of time Egeo recognises his long-lost son and dashes the bitter chalice from his hand. The goddess Minerva intervenes to stop the enraged Medea from igniting a conflagration. All’s well that ends well.

My (minor) gripes first. The choreography of this performance was confusing. Though the da capo form predominates, many of the arias are quite short and there are an unusual number of duets. So, why place two individual members of a duo-number respectively in front of and behind the instrumental forces when they are supposed to be speaking/singing to each other? Why, for example, have Agilea tell Teseo that she longs for the day when she can ‘clasp you to my breast, O dearest!’ when she’d have to clamber over twenty instrumentalists to do so?

Then, tempi - which were, as is the way of things these days, fast. Now, no-one wants a three-hour-plus opera (not least when sitting in these back-breaking pews) to be dragged out to eternity, but there were moments here where Bates’s Tigger-ish impetuousness did not serve his soloists - a superb young cast - as well as more judicious (musical and dramatic) pacing might have done. And, as I commented in relation to La Nuova Musica’s performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Wigmore Hall a week ago, Bates’s obsession (not unworthy) with instrumental detail - at times, here I feared he might slide off the piano stool as he veered left and right, up and down, circling his hands to generate vigour (when things were already fizzing along), punching out bass points - risked making the instrumental parts relentless rather than rhetorically supportive. In general, it all felt rather bass heavy and effortful, whereas in fact Handel has done all the work and the music should simply speak for itself.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t some splendid playing: the strings were charmingly robust but impressively unified in matters of ensemble and articulation; oboes were pungent, and Leo Duarte’s duetting the Agilea in ‘M’adora l’idol mio’ (My beloved adores me) almost stole the show, threatening to outdo the operatic theatricality, as voice and reed chased each other through Handel’s curlicues, up and down the scales and round the cadential corners. And, the accompanied recitatives were as startling as, surely, Handel intended, Medea’s summoning of the ‘Shades’ pierced by flawlessly tumbling unison strings and heart-churning pointed stabbings.

The RAO soloists made the back-breaking endurance unequivocally worthwhile. When I heard Ilona Revolskaya assail the flight-paths of the Air Traffic Controller in Jonathan Dove’s Flight last month - a production which inaugurated the opening of the Royal Academy of Music’s beautifully proportioned, acoustically advantageous new Susie Sainsbury Theatre, designed by Ian Ritchie - I admired the way she prowled along her raised perch and soared through the stratospheric vocal lines with equal imperiousness (Opera, May 2018). Here she was a stunning Agilea, her soprano by turns slicing through the air with ominous power and precision, and touching the heart with the poignant tones of self-sacrifice. Revolskaya has the ability to shape a lyrical line more enchanting than Medea’s magic, and ‘Deh v’aprite, o luci belle’ (Ah, open, lovely eyes) was beautifully enriched by obbligato recorders (Leo Duarte, Bethan White) - a wonderful and much needed moment of space and stillness amid the frantic proceedings, a drop of sweetness to assuage envy’s poison. ‘Amarti sì vorrei’ (Yes, I want to love you) was similar enhanced by Alex McCartney’s expressive theorbo.

I have admired Hannah Poulsom’s performances on several recent occasions, not least in Surrey Opera’s The Life to Come and though we had to wait until Act 2 to hear Medea’s passionate wrath, it was worth waiting for. The gravity with which Poulsom injected her mezzo - complemented by secure centring in the recitatives - captured all of the vengeful Medea’s frustration and anger. The rapid changes of mood proved more problematic, though, and Poulsom was not always able to marry the top and bottom of her voice; but, she was undeniably and winningly courageous and deserving of praise. Medea’s most fiery outbursts may have affected the intonation, but Poulsom effectively carried the drama, flashing blindingly at the top, snarling at the bottom, as required. One couldn’t fault her commitment and if it occasionally felt a bit too premature for her voice, then perhaps that’s what one-off student performances are for …

As Clizia, Alexandra Oomens’ diction was less clear than her peers, but she made good use of the rich colours of her mezzo and was very engaging dramatically: ‘Rispendente, amiche stelle’ (Beam down, friendly stars) seemed aflame with celestial heat, and her duets with Alexander Simpson’s Arcane were unfailingly alert and dramatic - and impressively off-score. Indeed, the precision and coordination of the duo’s cadential trills threatened to upstage the principals! Simpson’s countertenor occasionally seemed to lack supporting weight, but his voice is agile and the coloratura was accurate, especially in ‘Benché tuoni, e l’etra avvampi’ (Although it may thunder, and the sky become red) in Act 4.

Handel wrote the three male roles for soprano castrato (Teseo), alto castrato (Egeo), and female alto (Arcane), but here Teseo was taken by mezzo soprano Olivia Warburton, who characterised the role skilfully, from her first entrance from the rear of the nave. I was impressed by the way that Warburton showed appreciation of the way the Handelian rhythms can lighten the voice and convey heroic optimism and brightness. Moreover, the busy runs of ‘S’armi il fato, s’armi armore (Let fate take up arms, let love take up arms) caused no problem; equally, the simple lyricism of ‘Tengo in pugno l’idol mio’ (I clasp my idol) - noteworthy for some lovely interplay between solo violin and vocal line - was beguiling.

As Egeo, mezzo soprano Frances Gregory used her firm, rich sound impressively - always responsive and expressive - to convey regality and indignation in equal measure (one should note also Rodolfo Richter’s lovely violin obbligato in Egeo’s aria ‘Ricordati o bella’ (Remember, O fair one)).

Given the ceaselessness of the high voices, it was something of a relief when baritone Darwin Prakesh’s Sacerdote entered the raised pulpit in the closing moments, to bring us all down to earth in such warm, consoling and commanding fashion.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Teseo (London Handel Festival)

La Nuova Musica : David Bates (conductor/harpsichord)

Teseo - Olivia Warburton, Egeo - Frances Gregory, Agilea - Ilona Revolskaya, Clizia - Alexandra Oomens, Arcane - Alexander Simpson, Medea - Hannah Poulsom, Sacerdote - Darwin Prakash.

St George’s, Hanover Square; Saturday 14th April 2018.



[1] See Kimbell, ‘The Libretto of Handel's Teseo’, Music & Letters, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Oct., 1963), pp. 371-379.wa y

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):