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

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Na'ama Zisser's <em>Mamzer Bastard</em> (world premiere), ROH/Hackney Empire
16 Jun 2018

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Na'ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere), ROH/Hackney Empire

A review by Mark Berry

Above:
Robert Burt as Menashe, Gundula Hintz as Esther
Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey

 

Even though the journey is now a bit of a pain for me, it is always a joy to visit the Hackney Empire, infinitely preferable to the other of Frank Matcham’s London theatres that is sometimes used for opera. The quality is often very high, the location seemingly inciting visiting companies to their best; I am not sure I have ever seen a better Marriage of Figaro than that from the Royal Academy a couple of years ago . Not only bringing opera to Hackney but also taking it out of the West End is a very good thing; it genuinely seemed to have attracted a new, highly appreciative audience, half of which offered a standing ovation (something even Bernard Haitink receives less often in London than he does). The idea of an opera set in the Hasidic Jewish community was enticing too. I had no idea what to expect from any part of it, which always adds to the anticipation. Moreover, performances from all concerned were excellent, the Aurora Orchestra under Jessica Cottis perhaps the greatest stars of all. One had little doubt that one was hearing what one was supposed to hear. Gundula Hintz, too, shone as the mother, Esther: clearly moved and capable of moving.

Then, alas, comes the matter of the opera itself: so tedious that I genuinely feared - hoped? - I might fall asleep. I suspect something could have been made of some of the material (if not necessarily the musical material), given a few years’ hard work, rethinking, and experience. Director Jay Scheib wrote in the programme of the libretto, by Samantha Newton and Rachel C. Zisser, having been ‘written in the form of a screenplay. Transitions took the form of jump cuts,’ and so on. Would that it had come across with any such focus or direction. It jumps around with much confusion: not dramatic confusion, more ‘let’s say a bit about the Holocaust here … let’s stop for a while and have a “meaningful” pause,’ etc., etc.

The lack of focus in the libretto is redolent more of an initial pub sketch of ideas for an opera than anything more thought out. It is not fragmentary; it is certainly not challenging; it is barely a drama. Sub- (very sub-)Katie Mitchell filming - sometimes with an awkward time-lag - did little to help, and perhaps a little to hinder. In Scheib’s words, ‘Cameras have afforded us access to a dynamic vocabulary normally reserved for the visual world of the cinema.’ Quite apart from the ignorance and arrogance of the claim - have you seen any German theatre recently, even ventured so far as the Royal Court? - little is revealed other than occasional, clichéd flashes of blinding light: appearing, aptly enough, long after lightning is supposed to have struck.

Collin Shay as Yoel, Steven Page as Stranger.jpg Collin Shay as Yoel, Steven Page as Stranger. Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey.


Much, though not all, of the music stands on the verge of embarrassing: swathes of vague electronic noise, sound effects, interspersed with cantorial and other trivial melodies, the marriage of word and text in the latter quickly heading for the divorce courts. (As for the former, it is good, perhaps, to learn that the Church of England holds no monopoly on banal liturgical music.) Attempts to define what is and is not opera are most likely bound to fail. That said, surely the idea that it should in some way or other be more than a play with music, that its music itself should be dramatic, seems a reasonable assumption. There are, at the close, a few signs of such a dawning realisation on Na’ama Zisser’s part. Some simple musical figures start to add up to something a little more than themselves, musically and dramatically. For me, however, it was all too late. As I said, a period of revision would have been in order; such progress might then have been read back into what had gone before, far too much of which came across as something akin to a school project: fine for those involved and their proud parents, but for the wider world? Would you want your sixteen-year-old essays on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything published and distributed?

‘Eine Oper ist ein absurdes Ding,’ Strauss’s Capriccio Count tells his sister. In many ways, yes, although not always. It nevertheless takes a great deal of effort and experience to be properly absurd. The artifice in both Capriccio and Ariadne auf Naxos tell a story, moreover, quite different from that which a superficial reading of their synopses might suggest. Mozart was different, Apollo et Hyacinthus a superior work to half of those in the benighted working ‘repertoire’ of many opera houses. Perhaps if one is not Mozart, one might wait at least a little longer before testing the operatic waters. It has worked - magnificently - for George Benjamin. And yes, this doubtless rests on a view of works, masterpieces, the rest, considered hopelessly outmoded by some. I am not, however, even claiming that a work should necessarily be forever. (Let us leave posterity for another time, as it were.) However, if a work is not for now, or at least not yet ready, then someone ought to have asked questions more searching than the self-congratulatory discussion published in the programme.

Mark Berry

Younger Yoel: Edward Hyde; Yoel: Collin Shay; Stranger: Steven Page; Esther: Gundula Hintz; Menashe: Robert Burt; David: Netanel Hershtik. Director: Jay Scheib; Designer: Madeleine Boyd; Lighting: D.M. Wood; Video: Paulina Jurzec; Soundtrack designer: Yair Elazar Glotman. Aurora Orchestra/Jessica Cottis. Hackney Empire Theatre, London, Thursday 14 June 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):