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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gluck’s <em>Orfeo ed Euridice</em>, St John’s, Smith Square; London Festival of Baroque 2018
14 May 2018

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, St John’s, Smith Square; London Festival of Baroque 2018

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Iestyn Davies

Photo credit: Chris Sorensen

 

I struggle to think of a performance that might embody the spirit and practice of Gluck’s ‘reform’ aesthetic, as expressed in the composer’s 1767 Preface to Alceste, more pertinently and potently than Iestyn Davies’ rendition of ‘Che farò senza Euridice!’, as enjoyed during this performance of Gluck’s 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice at St John’s Smith Square with La Nuova Music - bringing to a close the opening weekend of the London Festival of the Baroque Music 2018 .

Beautifully direct and dignified, in ‘Che farò’ Davies’s powerful, penetrating but also patrician countertenor was imbued with a perfect balance of tonal purity and expressive colour. As from the Underworld Orfeo pleaded with the Heavens for answers to his dilemma - how to live without his beloved - Davies’ unearthly clarity evoked the supernatural and delicate, even while it rang so resonantly. I was reminded of Michael Tippett’s comment when he heard Alfred Deller sing for the first time, in 1944, that ‘felt the centuries roll back’. For there was timelessness and otherworldliness here.

So much depends upon the singer’s ability, in this oddly major-key aria, to elide love and loss, with the simultaneity of poetry, as joy and grief, present miseries and past memories, are inextricably fused and sung. In the Preface to Paride ed Elena (October 1770), responding to criticisms of the aria’s apparent jolly tonality and ambience, Gluck noted that, ‘Just the slightest change in the mode of expression is needed to turn my aria ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ into a dance for marionettes [ un saltarello di burattini]. One note held longer or shorter, a careless increase in tempo or the voice … may ruin a whole scene in a work like this.’ Davies was the epitome of effortless meticulousness.

From the first, the searing cries, plummeting an octave - ‘Euridice!’ - which puncture the opening chorus of mourning were heartrendingly unswerving - packing an emotional hit where it hurts. This voice cried out to be heard, by us and by the Gods. ‘Che puro ciel!’, sung in anticipation of Euridice’s resurrection and arrival, featured beautiful cadential ornamentation and trills, the perfect alliance of technique and expression. In ‘Chiamo il mio ben così’ Davies descended into a chest register with confidence and weight, enormously supplementing his characterisation of the role. And, while in these arias, the sheer beauty of Davies’ sound was entrancing, there was no lack of interest or striking impact in the lengthy recitatives - in fact there was even more engaging modulation of tone and phrase, fluidity of utterance, and naturalness of dramatic presence, as his countertenor rang and rippled with rapture, indignation and despair.

Fortunately, Orfeo’s partners in the drama, Euridice and Amore, were no less tellingly represented. Rebecca Bottone’s Amore was teasingly taut and bright in her initial recitative exchanges with the stuttering, questioning Orfeo, before Amore’s aria expressing faith in the fortitude of fidelity glistened thrillingly. Sophie Bevan sent rich ripples of sound cascading around the nave of St John’s, Smith Square; her shining expressivity warmed us to Euridice’s passion, disbelief and confusion. And, after so much solo singing, it was a delight to hear Davies and Bevan come together to assuage the preceding desolation in duets of delight.

The opera is formed from paradoxes: a musical representation of the love and loss from which opera sprang. And, as the setting sun shone into the shadows of St Johns, Bates ensured that the music spoke of peaks of both pleasure and pain. Characteristically animated, the conductor drew every hue from Gluck’s score - colourful brass and expressive oboe playing in the overture; a wonderfully paced interweaving of soothing harp and seething Furies in Act 2; a dulcet flute solo in the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ (the one number imported from the 1774 Paris score) which had not a drop of saccharinity; a beautiful airiness at the start of ‘Che puro ciel!’.

The Chorus produced a vibrant sound, by turns relaxed and wrought, warm with bright hopefulness and darkly Hadean; the higher voices seemed to dominate but this was countered by some lovely weightiness in the bass regions of the orchestra, resulting in buoyant, balance and blend.

The final Act 3 ballet sequence was piquantly characterised, the movements forming a compelling summary of discrete, individualised emotions as the pace swept onwards. In fact, Bates probably did not need to work so hard! He doesn’t conduct so much as gesticulate and ‘live’ the music - no bad thing! - but given the quality of responsiveness of his fellow musicians, perhaps not every musical gesture needs such emphatic physical re-enactment. That said, it was a joy to watch Bates’s delightful coaxing of uninhibited, extended thunder-blasts from the St John’s gallery!

If I had one small quibble, it would be to question why an interval was deemed necessary, breaking Act 2 - as Orfeo descended in hopefulness to the Underworld to rescue his beloved - after just 40 minutes.

Gluck’s Alceste Preface has asserted his belief that his opera ‘should achieve the same effect as lively colours and a well-balanced contrast of light and shade on a very correct and well-disposed painting, so animating the figures without altering their contours.’ And, this was indeed a ‘chiaroscuro’ Orfeo in which Bates, La Nuova Musica and the soloists, especially Davies, shone shafts of light which pierced the darkness, leading to the arresting and exultant illumination of the opera’s conclusion.

Claire Seymour

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna edition, 1762)

Orfeo - Iestyn Davies, Sophie Bevan - Euridice, Amore - Rebecca Bottone; La Nuova Musica - David Bates (director)

St John’s, Smith Square, London; Sunday 13th May 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):