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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

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):