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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Johann Sebastian Bach (aged 61) in a portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Source: Wikipedia]
02 Apr 2018

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Johann Sebastian Bach (aged 61) in a portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Source: Wikipedia]

 

More often than not, I had been in Germany, either for a Passion in Leipzig (most recently in 2011 ) or for Parsifal (most recently last year). A change is as good as a rest, though – sometimes, at least.

This proved an impressive, indeed moving, performance from a good cast of soloists, the chamber choir, Polyphony, the Britten Sinfonia, and conductor Stephen Layton. An eighteenth-century church, ‘Queen Anne’s footstool’, is a not inappropriate venue, of course; the warmth of the St John’s, Smith Square acoustic certainly helped balance a certain dryness in what one might characterise as an ‘period-ish’, rather English approach.

This was certainly not a Roman Catholic Bach in the vein of, say, Nikolaus Harnoncourt – but nor, after all, was Bach a Roman Catholic. Nor was it really a very German Bach we heard, or perhaps better, nor was it one of the many German Bachs we heard. What was more on my mind, than placing the performance within performance tradition, however, was the thorny matter of anti-Semitism. Such has, of course, been a preoccupation of British news reporting over the past few days. Moreover, having been working on the life and work of Arnold Schoenberg for quite some time now, musical and linguistic coding – as well as more overt violence – have been very much in my thoughts too. What do we do about a text, a sacred text no less, which, were it from anywhere other than the Bible, we might approach with greater apprehension? It is a particular problem with St John’s Gospel, and a particular problem within that, of the telling of the Passion. What, moreover, do we do about those turba choruses, in which Bach’s musical mastery, his extraordinary ability to characterise the crowd, add a further layer of discomfort? I do not know. I am certainly not saying that we should necessarily change the words, either of Bach’s work, or the Gospel; nor, however, am I saying that we should not at least consider making such changes on occasion. I do think, however, that, in a post-Holocaust age, in which the Church has been forced to confront long-standing anti-Semitism amongst its earthly sins, we cannot airily declare that there is no problem, that this is ‘just’ a work of art; nor indeed that a work of art, however ‘great’, is far too important to be implicated.

For those choruses truly proved the beating heart, Christian, (anti-)Semitic, or otherwise, of the drama that unfolded here. Taken generally, yet not unvaryingly, at quite a speed, there was fury in them? Whose fury, though? The (Jewish) crowd’s? Ours? If the latter, then what was our fury concerned with? Those who crucified Christ? And if so, what might that mean on earth as well as in theology? The changing role of Bach’s choir, after all, prompts us to consider our own relationship to it. When it sings the chorales – here, quite beautifully, and occasionally, arrestingly, a cappella – it seems to be ‘us’, as congregants and/or audience. We feel its pain, and/or it ours. It comments, like a Greek Chorus; and yet, also, like that Chorus, it participates. Not for nothing was it a crucial model, more so even than Handel’s oratorio choruses, for Schoenberg’s children of Israel in Moses und Aron .

Another particular strength, I thought, was a keen sense of soloists, almost as figures in an aural painting, coming on stage to portray and to reflect. That is what they do in their arias and other solos, of course, but it somehow came across both with particular differentiation and yet also interconnection on this occasion. I am not quite sure I can explain how or why; perhaps it was just that each of the soloists was on fine form. Lines were clean, yet far from un-emotional. There was, however, no attempt to impose ‘emotion’, least of all anachronistic or otherwise inappropriate, heart-on-sleeve emotion upon the music. All manner of approaches can work, of course, but this did – and it seemed, rightly or wrongly, to be something of a collective decision. Much the same can be said of the playing of the Britten Sinfonia, I think. I might sometimes have missed a little greater warmth, especially from the strings, but my ears adjusted soon enough, and I came to appreciate the performance very quickly for what it was, not for what it was not. Obbligato passages were always well taken, without a hint of narcissism. As voices seemed to emerge from the choir – even though they did not, at least literally so, in this case – so did instruments sound very much as if emerging from the greater instrumental collective. Guiding this all, with a determined dramatic presence, yet also due musical collegiality, were the wise presences of Nick Pritchard’s intelligent, finely sung Evangelist and, of course, Layton as conductor.

This was, then, not just an observance, insofar as a concert can or should be; it also made me think. And all the time, I kept returning to the turbulence of that seething opening chorus – as, I think, does Bach. Wagner himself never wrote a finer, more complete, more troubling instance of music drama.

Mark Berry


Production information:

Evangelist: Nick Pritchard; Christ: Neal Davies; Anna Dennis (soprano); Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano); Hiroshi Amako (tenor); Ashley Riches (bass); Polyphony/Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton (conductor). St John’s, Smith Square, London, 30 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):