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

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

14 Jun 2018

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

An English Garden : Les Arts Florissants, Le Jardin de Voix, conductor Paul Agnew, Barbican Hall, London. 8th june 2018 A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Henry Purcell

 

The term "garden" here refers to two of Sir William Christie's passions, music and gardens, and to the concept of baroque gardening, bridging nature and art. Baroque gardens turned landscape into theatre, combining art and nature for maximum impact.
Les Arts Florissants has for several seasons created "gardens" where music and song are arranged, like bouquets, to delight the senses. This "garden" brought together the beauties of the English baroque, with highlights from Purcell, Locke, Gibbons, Handel, Arne, Ward and Dowland.

Like a formal themed garden the programe was set out in two distinct parts, "The Mystery of Music" and "A Night of Revels". The scene was set by The Curtain Tune, an instrumental prologue to Matthew Locke's The Tempest (1674) an early English semi-opera adapting the spirit of Lully and Moliere to British theatrical tradition. This Tempest was loosely based on The Tempest of William Shakespeare, where Nature, magic and art come together in glorious mayhem. As the orchestra played, the singers entered the hall, hidden in darkness, their voices ringing out clearly. Placing the two parts of Orlando Gibbons The Cries of London at the start and end of this "garden" gave it structure, but the choice was inspired. Gibbons depicts the sounds of London, market traders calling out their wares "Hot apple pies, hot, Hot pippin pies, hot. Fine pomegranates, fine....buy a rope,,,white cabbage, white young cabbage". Each brief cry follows its own rhythm and the interplay between these simple calls creates intricate polyphony. "Low " society transformed into "high" art. Thence to Handel "O the pleasures of the plains" from Handel's Acis and Galatea , Purcell's If music be the food of love Z379 and Thomas Tomkins' Music Divine.

Lest all be gracious artifice, Thomas Arne's The Singing Club, a nod to the English taste for communal singing. It's humorous - a good singer singing about a singer who can't sing too well. Then a return to fantasy, with Handel and Purcell songs about music and the muse St Cecilia. The songs also showcased individual instrumental colour - flutes, lutes, pipes and violins, paired with complementary voices. From Thomas Arne's The Fairy Prince, "Now all the air shall ring" came the rousing final chorus "God Save the King!" Though Arne gave us our national anthem, the king in this case wasn't George III but the king of Fairyland, since Arne's masque is an adaptation of Ben Jonson's Oberon, itself an adaptation of Shakespeare. One singer waved the Union Flag . I closed my eyes for a moment to concentrate on the music, but suddenly the whole audience burst out in a roar of spontaneous applause. The singers were also waving the flag of the European Union, and the audience loved it ! British culture connects to Europe. Were it not for Handel, Mendelssohn and many others, where would British music be ? And the flags were perfectly appropriate, since the kings of Arnes's time came from Hanover.

Pealing bells ushered in the "Night of Revels" with "O let the merry bells ring round" from Handel's L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Two Purcell songs about Night and dreams "See, even night herself is here" and "One Charming Night" from The Fairy Queen Z629 and John Ward's Come, sable night. Sophie Daneman's semi-staging created great atmosphere. A singer herself, she's worked with Les Arts Florissants for some years, creating sensitive semi staging. Here she had the singers carry lights in the darkness, so we could see as well as hear the patterns of interaction. Night, though, isn't just for sleep. Thus the group of songs for merriment, starting with "In these delightful,pleasure groves" from Purcell's The Libertine, or the Libertine destroyed Z600, followed by "Welcome black night" and later "Cease these false spirits" from John Dowland's A Pilgrim's Solace which is about, to put it coyly, married love. Two Bacchanals from Purcell (Z627 and Z360) release unruly spirits. Men are pitted against women in Purcell's 'Tis women makes us love Z281. "Tis women makes us love, 'tis love that makes us sad. 'Tis sadness makes us drink, and drinking makes us mad!" Delivered, of course, with great panache. Then the famous "Fairest Isle, all isles excelling" from Purcell's King Arthur, or the British Worthy Z628, soothing and graceful. Night leads to morning and three songs of dawn from Handel and Purcell Then, back we were to London at the break of day, with the bustle of market traders and callers in Part 2 of Gibbon's The Cries of London.

This well-planned Garden of Delights came to life with Paul Agnew leading Les Arts Florissants. Part of the Les Arts Flo mission is the nurturing of youthful talent : hence Le Jardin de Voix, the academy for young singers, whose soloists gave vivacious performances. Some are very promising and deserve a good future. Their names - Natasha Schnur, Natalie Pérez, Eva Zaïcik, James Way, Josep-Ramon Olivé and Padraic Rowan.

Anne Ozorio

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):