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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Whatever Love Is</em>: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall
08 Jun 2018

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Andrew Staples

 

A quick glance down the list of programmed items revealed an appealingly eclectic selection with Britten alongside Bart, Purcell nudging Vaughan Williams, and Finzi juxtaposed with Frances-Hoad. The musical items were to be interspersed with recitations of diverse poetry - written by Rumi, Shauna Robertson and Rachel Rooney, by Alice Oswald and Ian Duhig, by Rosemary Tonks and Mucha herself - as well as psychological and philosophical reflections drawn by Mucha from her recent research into the question which is, apparently, Google’s most common search: ‘What is love?’

The programme note explained that Mucha has travelled over a quarter of a million miles across every continent to conduct interviews with hundreds of people, from eight-year-olds to nonagenarians: ‘people in airports, shops, markets, cafes, restaurants, bars, hospitals, parks, galleries, libraries, museums, buses, trains, planes and ships … people who were religious, atheist, agnostic, male, female, transgender, bisexual, single, married, divorced, widowed, with children, without children, pregnant, cheating, cheated on, entirely faithful … [speaking] in French, Polish, Spanish and English’ have passed on their words of wisdom about what they understand love to be.

So, ‘Love’s philosophy’ - Roger Quilter’s setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley - seemed a good place to start, with its images of the essential unity, one-ness, of the elements of Nature which human love aspires to replicate, and Hogarth and Staples duly established a flowing momentum redolent of the mingling forces of the natural world - rivers and oceans, mountains and skies.

But, as the programme unfolded I became increasingly unsettled … I should have been alerted by the presence on the Wigmore Hall platform of not only of a lectern for Mucha but also a reel-to-reel sound recorder, to Staples’ left, at the front of the stage. For, the inter-song poetry recitations were supplemented by recorded commentary, with Staples in charge of flicking the on-off switch. There was much to enjoy during the evening, so I will get my gripes done and dispensed with. First, the ‘choreography’ and timing of the interspersed elements were obviously meticulously planned and rehearsed, but I was irritated that some musical items began before the spoken/recorded text had finished. So, the direct sincerity of both Purcell’s ‘Ah, how pleasant ‘tis to love’ (text by Dryden, I think, not ‘anon.’ as the programme declared) and the rhythmic impetuousness of Britten’s ‘As it is, plenty’ were disturbed. Likewise, the potency of Staples’ strong and bitter avowal at the close of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Is my team ploughing?’ - ‘I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart, Never ask me whose.’ - was brutally shattered by the intervention of the tape recorder.

The variety of musical and textual idioms and moods was respected by the performers, but the individual items were never allowed to ‘settle’, as the musical worlds created were brusquely swept aside as the ‘narrative’ charged onwards. And, if I was distracted by the incessant switching on and off of the sound recorder, then Staples surely must have found it hard to focus on the singing in between all the switch-operation. I also felt that Mucha did not have sufficient gravity in her speaking voice to persuade me that this was a ‘serious’ exercise and to compel my attention through the texts recited. Admittedly, there was an inevitable tongue-in-cheek playfulness at times; no more so than when Mucha interrupted Staples’ rendition of Dunhill’s beautiful ‘The cloths of heaven’ to order him to leave the platform. (One audience member heckled and stood, as if about to follow; how ironic that W.B. Yeats’ final line is ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’) There then followed an unscheduled folk-song, ‘Lass from the Low Country’ which Verity Wingate sang with unaffected shapeliness, but Michael Head’s ‘Nocturne’ from Over the Rim of the Moon was shunted from the end of the first-half to second-part opener. As the audience weren’t alerted about the change of running order - I was subsequently informed that this was a ‘gag’ - I can’t have been the only listener who spent the interval in a state of bafflement as to whether these ruminations on love were intended to be wisely quizzical or wryly quirky, or both.

All that said, there was purely musical recompenses. Staples, in particular, sang with relaxed ease throughout the evening, culminating in an enchanting, sweet rendition of Finzi’s ‘The Sigh’. I was especially struck by the conversational directness of Rebecca Clarke’s ‘The Seal Man’ (1922): the setting of John Masefield’s text is quite Britten-esque and Staples’ enrichment and withdrawal of the vocal line powerfully communicated both the intensity of passion as ‘The moon made a track on the sea, and they walked down it;/ It was like a flame before them’, and the delicacy of desire: ‘She had a little white throat, and little cheeks like flowers.’ Hogarth’s quiet oscillations at the close poignantly evoked the sad lapping of the waves, ‘She was drowned, drowned’, and if I sometimes found the piano tone a little ‘cold’ - as in Britten’s ‘O Waly, Waly’ - or I missed the evocative string-instruments arguments which invigorate On Wenlock Edge, then I welcomed the lack of schmaltz which characterised Bart’s ‘Where is love?’, as well as the jazzy sassiness of Graham Ross’s ‘Fool’s Love’ and the wry inconclusiveness of the piano’s postlude to this song: ‘So I’ll fall out of love/as I’m nobody’s fool.’

In the latter song, Staples’ tenor rang clearly and cleanly, and he made every effort to communicate the nuances of Mucha’s poetry. In contrast, the first persona in ‘Is my team ploughing?’ whispered, like a haunting half-light, and was then assertively answered by the second, strident poetic voice. ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ was supple and free, and Staples skilfully applied pressure when the speaker reflects, ‘She bid me take love easy’, then retreated regretfully, ‘But I, being young and foolish,/With her would not agree); how sad it was, again, that the poignancy of the final lines, ‘But I was young and foolish,/And now am full of tears’, was not allowed to linger in the fading musical resonance, but was rudely cut off by spoken text.

Wingate’s soprano lacks a little tonal variety, but the pitch and line are focused and clear, and these qualities were put to good use in Stephen Hough’s ‘Kashmiri Song’, the clean brightness of the vocal sound forming an effective complement to the piano’s pentatonicism. Michael Head’s ‘A blackbird singing’ was similarly direct and communicative. The singers paired up for ‘O Waly, Waly’, pleasingly performed without undue sentimentality, and Graham Ross’s ‘Don’t Stop’ (from Fool’s Love) which swayed and lurched with syncopated sophistication.

If the presentation of this interesting and varied programme had sometimes seemed to put words and music at loggerheads rather than in sympathy, then the closing song, Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s ‘Love (of the sort that I’m after)’ (2017) found a perfect balance and counterpoint of verbal and musical expression: the setting of Mucha’s text gave the words room to breathe, while offering delicate inferences in the harmony and piano texture, and unaccompanied lines let the abstractions and florid imagery speak for themselves. This song, perhaps alone of all the items heard, truly captured the spirit of a troubadour’s troubled yet courtly love.

The encore was inevitable, and as Britten’s ‘Tell Me the Truth About Love’ began I wryly recalled an anecdote, related by Britten’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter, about the first performance of this song, by Britten and Heidi Anderson, at a send-off party that the Group Theatre held for W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood as they embarked on a journey to the Far East. The song was described by one reveller as the ‘pi èce de résistance’ of the evening, but the party ended in a punch-up, and Britten summed up the event in his diary with the words, ‘Beastly crowd & unpleasant people’. However, there was nothing very riotous about this Cabaret Song which, ironically given the preceding levity, The Prince Consort chose to deliver straight-faced.

Claire Seymour

The Prince Consort: Alisdair Hogarth (director, piano), Verity Wingate (soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor), Laura Mucha (poet)

Quilter - ‘Love's philosophy’ Op.3 No.1, Purcell - ‘Ah! how pleasant 'tis to love’ Z353, Vaughan Williams - ‘Silent Soon’ (from The House of Life), Britten - ‘O Waly, Waly’, ‘As it is, plenty’ (from On This Island Op.11), Graham Ross - ‘Don’t Stop’ (from Fool’s Love: Three Mucha Songs), Michael Anderson - ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’, Lionel Bart - ‘Where is love?’ (from Oliver!), Where is Love (world première), Thomas Dunhill - ‘The Cloths of Heaven’, anon. - ‘Lass from the Low Country’, Michael Head - ‘Nocturne from Over the Rim of the Moon, Rebecca Clarke - ‘The Seal Man’, Graham Ross - ‘Fool’s Love’ (from Fool’s Love: Three Mucha Songs - world premiere), Stephen Hough - ‘Kashmiri Song’ (from Other Love Songs ), Vaughan Williams - ‘Is my team ploughing?’ (from On Wenlock Edge, Britten - ‘The Salley Gardens’, Michael Head - ‘A blackbird singing’ from (Over the rim of the moon), Finzi - ‘The Sigh’ (from A Young Man’s Exhortation Op.14), Graham Ross - ‘The Land of Blue’ (from Fool’s Love: Three Mucha Songs), Cheryl Frances-Hoad - ‘Love (of the sort that I'm after)’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Wednesday 6th 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):