Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no 8 Thomas Søndergård, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Chorus, Southend Boys' Choir, Southend Girls' Choir,  Tamara Wilson, Camilla Nylund, Marianne Beate Kielland, Claudia Huckle, Joélle Harvey, Simon O'Neill, Quinn Kelsey, Morris Robinson, BBC Prom 11 - 22nd July 2018
24 Jul 2018

Heavenly choruses - Mahler 8th at the BBC Proms

BBC Prom 11 Mahler Symphony no 8 in E flat major at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Thomas Søndergård conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and a huge cast. The nickname "Symphony of a Thousand" wasn't Mahler's choice but the invention of promoters eager to market it as a showpiece.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no 8 Thomas Søndergård, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Chorus, Southend Boys' Choir, Southend Girls' Choir, Tamara Wilson, Camilla Nylund, Marianne Beate Kielland, Claudia Huckle, Joélle Harvey, Simon O'Neill, Quinn Kelsey, Morris Robinson, BBC Prom 11 - 22nd July 2018

A review by Anne Ozorio

Photo credit: BBC Proms/Chris Christodoulou

 

In music, quality comes before quantity, so many performances scale down the numbers for the sake of the music. But the Royal Albert Hall was created for extravagant choral spectaculars In this vast barn of a building, it's possible to do things with Mahler's 8th that couldn't be done elsewhere. Most of the 6000-strong audience will remember this Prom for years to come. For starters, the Royal Albert Hall is in itself a form of theatre: the dome, the atmosphere, the sense of communal anticipation and the sheer visual impact of seeing the choristers file into their places. All eight rows of the choir stalls were packed, with another row of singers above that still. Across the entire breadth of the hall, two rows of young singers dressed in white. And right at the heart, the Royal Albert Hall organ so majestic that it sustain the whole powerful experience.

With its unconventional structure and eclectic meaning, Mahler's 8th still remains perplexing for many. Why are the two parts so different ? How do they work? Nearly every good performsnce can offer insight. Under Søndergård, the BBC NOW is at a peak but the glory of this performance was built on the choral forces he had to hand - the BBC National Chorus of Wales (Adrian Partington, chorus master), the BBC Symphony Chorus (Neil Ferris) and the London Symphony Chorus (Simon Halsey) with the Southend Boys' Choir and Southend Girls' Choir (Roger Humphreys). Halsey was chorus master of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and of the Berlin Philharmonic before his present post, and Partington, one of the stalwarts of the Three Choirs Festival (which starts next weekend) has conducted Mahler 8 before, at Gloucester Cathedral. Thus the exceptional coherence in the singing : hundreds of individuals operating in unison, negotiating the swift changes with precision, keeping lines fluid and clean. In a symphony that predicates on images of illumination, this clarity is important. Most impressive of all was the stillness these massed voices managed to achieve in the quieter passages. Though the nickname "Symphony of a Thousand" predisposes listeners to expect overwhelming volume, the critical passages are marked by hushed refinement, the "poetical thoughts" of spiritual refinement. Hearing hundreds of voices singing quietly, tenderly and yet in unison was very moving. They even seemed to synchronize turning their pages.

tamara wilson.jpg Tamara Wilson. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

The First Part of this symphony is based on an ancient latin hymn about the Pentecost. Divine fire descends upon the Apostles, inspiring them to go forth on their mission to spread Enlightenment. Hence the direct attack with which "Veni creator spiritus!" was executed , creating an aural force field n which the soloists voices were embedded. Though the soloists - Tamara Wilson, Camilla Nylund, Marianne Beate Kielland, Claudia Huckle, Joélle Harvey, Simon O'Neill, Quinn Kelsey and Morris Robinson - stand at the front of the platform where they can be heard, they are primus inter pares - first among equals - operating as an extension of the chorus and orchestra.

In the Second Part of this Symphony, Mahler was inspired by Goethe's Faust, where Faust is redeemed by divine grace. The soloists are named but they operate as stages in the transformation,: they aren't acting out roles as if in an opera. Take the names too literally and miss the esoteric spirituality, where ego is sublimated for a higher purpose. The variety in the voice types reflects human diversity,. I liked the balance between O'Neill's earnest fervour and Kelsey's rich tone, anchored by Robinson's bass. These parts also operate in musical terms suggesting movement upwards and downwards, on simultaneous planes, also pertinent to meaning. The women's voices supply the Das Ewig-wiebliche, the "Eternal Feminine". This dichotomy between male and female, creator and muse, is central to Mahler's later work. The chorus of Blessed boys operates in parellel. "Wir werden früh entfernt von Lebenchören", They too, have been reborn by an act of faith, but how cheeky and childlike they are, like th child in Mahler Symphony no 4.

Quinn Kelsey.jpg Quinn Kelsey. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

The vocal music in Mahler's 8th inevitably draws attention, and deservedly so. Thus the absolute importance of the silence that follows the ecstasy with which the first part ends. It represents a transition, bridging the two disparate parts, cleansing away what has gone before, settingb the scene for what is to come. But in many ways, the whole Symphony pivots on the first part of the Second Part where the orchestra alone speaks. Søndergård approached it with restraint, letting the detail shine. Pizzicato figures suggest tentative footseps entering the new territory evoked by sweeping strings, called forward by horn and flutes. The Chorus and echo repeat the pattern, marking the transition. Throughout the symphony, details were respected, so individual instruments like flutes, celesta and harps could be heard despite the size of the forces around them. Some conductors achieve much more luminous purity, but Søndergård made the most of generous choral resources at his disposal, which played to the strengths of the Royal Albert Hall.

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):