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

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

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.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Isabeau</em> at Investec Opera Holland Park
15 Jul 2018

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

Isabeau at Investec Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Isabeau, with Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role (centre)

Photo credit: Robert Workman

 

It’s not just the medieval milieu recreated by takis’ set - high majestic towers, low townhouses with windows that will be sealed tight when Isabeau rides through the streets, twisting stairwells and alleyways - or the heraldic colour and chivalry.

It’s the way that Lloyd-Evans seems to mimic the blending and subversion of genres that Chaucer achieved in narratives such as the Franklin’s Tale in which the quasi-magical romance of the Breton lay form, with its characteristic courtesies and courtly love, is countered with real, painful human passions which defy classification and custom. (Readers seeking a resumé of genesis and plot might like to turn to my interview last month with David Butt Philip , who sings the role of Folco in this production.)

Some of takis’ symbolism has a pre-Raphaelite preciousness about it - the silver falcon sculpted by Benedict Romain and manoeuvred by three ‘angels’ which symbolises the transcending freedom bestowed by Folco’s love; the juxtaposition of glossy crimson, emerald and purple robes with Isabeau’s Christ-like white purity; floral and decorative iconography; Isabeau’s Rapunzel-like red-tresses (a languorous Elizabeth Siddal as painted by Edward Burne-Jones came to mind) - but that’s not unreasonable given the archaisms and allusiveness of Luigi Illica’s libretto.

Sometimes the manoeuvring of the set by the Opera Holland Park Chorus feels rather cumbersome and effortful, as they rotate cottages, slide walls and spiral staircases. And, at the start of the opening night performance, when the round exterior of the drum tower refused to budge and King Raimondo remained concealed within it was unfortunately reminiscent of the malfunctioning of the wobbly sets of 1970s sitcoms. It was also regrettable that when the knights arrive seeking to win the princess’s hand - Ubaldo of Edinburgh, Arundel of Westerne, Ethelberto di Argile, Randolfo of Dublin - Illica’s faux archaic nomenclature raised a chuckle. Despite their resplendent armour and pompous righteousness, Isabeau was clearly not impressed by her Arthurian suitors’ deeds of high honour and derring-do.

Anne Sophie Duprels as Isabeau with the Angels and members of the Opera Holland Park Chorus.jpg Anne Sophie Duprels as Isabeau with the Angels and members of the Opera Holland Park Chorus. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

But, the wide stage area is engagingly filled and populated, and there are some effective moments of dramatic pageantry, such as the lauded arrival of the Outlaw Knight, the King’s nephew Ethel, who lifts his shield aloft to claim his bride. And, the naked horse-ride itself is thoughtful staged and paced, with the musical and dramatic tempo increasing breathtakingly when Folco brazenly admires the humiliated Isabeau, and climaxing in the desperate assertion with is her sole utterance in the second Act, ‘Folco!’ Most especially, the duet which dominates the final Act is tremendously powerful, as both the promise of love and the threat of death escalate to fever pitch.

Folco David Philip Butt.jpg David Philip Butt (Folco). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

When I asked David Butt Philip if Isabeau’s neglect was due to the difficulty of casting two singers who could surmount the demands - sustained high tessitura, stamina - of the two lead roles, the tenor modestly demurred that the while the opera was challenging, Mascagni’s dramatic design helps the singers to pace themselves. Nevertheless, the roles of both Folco and Isabeau sounded pretty taxing to me, and Investec Opera Holland Park were lucky to have two singers who tackled them so boldly and with such persuasive and stirring accomplishment.

Butt Philip conveyed every ounce of Folco’s youthful optimism, passion and directness; the merry woodsman had the openness and spontaneity of a Papageno in Act 1, while Folco’s consuming joy as he showered the naked rider with flowers and sang ecstatic paeans to her beauty, with match his floral tribute, was palpable. When, in the Act 3 duet, he accused Isabeau of hiding her true passion behind a false guilt, Butt Philip’s vocal and physical acting was superb. Throughout he displayed impressive muscular power to match the strength of Folco’s honest feeling.

ASD as Isab .jpgAnne Sophie Duprels (Isabeau). Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Anne Sophie Duprels is fast becoming not so much a princess but a queen of Investec Opera Holland Park, after her acclaimed performances in Mascagni’s in 2016 Iris and last year’s production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà . Duprels’ Isabeau was elevated and chaste - she seemed to share Mélisande’s disconcerting blend of ethereal, fairy-tale other-worldliness and tangible physical sensuality. Vocally, she switched from heavenly to highly charged - and from lyricism and declamation - in an instant. Her voice shone lustrously but there were also rapturous pianissimos - one sustained stratospheric whisper towards the close seemed to suspend time - and there was variety of both colour and dynamics. A truly regal performance.

George von Bergen as Cornelius and Mikhail Svetlov as King Raimondo .jpg Photo credit:George von Bergen (Cornelius) and (Mikhail Svetlov) as King Raimondo Robert Workman.

The minor characters do not really have sufficiently interesting dramatic or musical involvement to make them anything more than two-dimensional, but all of the cast worked hard to create impact and presence. I felt that Lloyd-Evans didn’t make enough of the King’s Councillor Cornelius’ Machiavellian dastardliness, but George von Bergen brought some vocal darkness to the role. Mikhail Svetlov, who impressed as Il Cieco in Iris, rather lacked grading and shading as King Raimondo but was appropriately stentorian as the cruel patriarch.

Fiona Kimm was terrific as Giglietta, her plump, rich tone and urgent projection conveying real love for her grandson and heart-warming courage in pleading for his life. Isabeau’s maids were performed by Nadine Benjamin (Ermyntrude) and Joanne Marie Skillett (Ermyngarde), and their voices blended beautifully with the harp as they showed consoling love for their humiliated mistress in Act 3. The stage was busily populated with extras such as six heralding on-stage trumpeters (who rather overpowered the ‘real’ herald - Thomas Humphreys’ L’araldo maggiore) and the aforementioned three angels who by the close seemed to have become a trio of Grim Reapers.

Fiona Kimm as Giglietta.jpg Fiona Kimm as Giglietta. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

Conductor Francesco Cilluffo relished every rhythmic and harmonic intricacy and surprise, and summoned passionate playing from the City of London Sinfonia, showing the same sort of authority that enabled him to guide Wexford Festival Opera’s 2015 Guglielmo Ratcliff with such accomplishment and drive. The Intermezzo, a ‘Hymn to the Sun’, before the fateful ride gleamed with ardour.

When Isabeau was premiered, under Mascagni’s baton and with Maria Farneti and Antonio Saludas in the leading roles, in June 1911 at the Teatro Coliseo in Buenos Aires, each Act received an ovation, and after productions (again with the composer at the helm) at La Scala and La Fenice the following year the opera remained in the repertoire, in Italy at least, as a star vehicle for tenors such as Bernardo De Muro and Giulio Crimi, with Maria Farneti, Gilda Dalla Rizza and Rosetta Pampanini, among others achieving success in the title role. It subsequently slipped under the radar, and we owe Investec Opera Holland Park gratitude and admiration for having given us a chance to experience an opera which may be dramaturgically unsatisfying, but which has plenty of vocal charisma and dramatic panache to compensate.

William Ashbrook may have, along with others who have viewed the opera as second-rate verismo cliché, condemned the opera as ‘trite bombast’, but on this occasion there was plenty of musical finesse and mesmeric fire.

Performances of Isabeau continue on 18, 20, 26 and 28 July.

Claire Seymour

Mascagni: Isabeau (UK premiere)

Isabeau - Anne Sophie Dupreis, Folco - David Butt Philip, King Raimondo - Mikhail Svetlov, Cornelius - George von Bergen, Ermyntrude - Nadine Benjamin, Ermyngarde - Joanne Marie Skillett, Giglietta - Fiona Kimm, Il cavalier Faidit - Oliver Brignall, L’araldo maggiore - Thomas Humphreys; Director - Matrtin Lloyd-Evans, Conductor - Francesco Cillufo, Designer -takis, Lighting Designer - Robbie Butler, City of London Sinfonia, Chorus of Opera Holland Park.

Investec Opera Holland Park, London; Saturday 14th July 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):