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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Pelléas et Mélisande</em>, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the BBC Proms
18 Jul 2018

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Pelléas et Mélisande, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the BBC Proms

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Christina Gansch (Mélisande, Christopher Purves (Golaud), Pelléas (John Chest)

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

That the semi-staging probably rescued the evening from large-scale failure - as many semi-staging’s do - had much to do with focussing the drama of this opera rather tightly. It was largely beautifully acted, with some of the symbolism and mystery of the text much less micro-managed than in a full-scale production of the opera.

I think Sinéad O’Neil’s staging is mostly admirable. It would have been easy to have done very little, but she does quite the reverse. Some scenes are certainly more compelling than others - Golaud’s hair-pulling scene, with Mélisande writhing as if bound to a stake, is rather monstrously done. Golaud, from one of the choir stalls, acts just like a malevolent puppet-master. The end of Act III, where Golaud persuades Yniold to spy into the windows of the tower, was genuinely rather terrifying - indeed, it’s reasonably rare to find any production where the tension between these two characters seems to fit with the music Debussy wrote but it does here. Pelléas and Golaud wandering through the castle dungeons only worked through careful lighting but it was magnificently sepulchral nevertheless. On the downside, interior scenes looked and felt cluttered and had the unintended effect of making one feel everyone had fallen on very hard times; it often felt like downstairs at Downton Abbey. Importing the original productions hefty over-reliance on hand gestures, especially the perpetual covering of eyes, became slightly grating; one often felt one was trying to read sign language. Often there’s so much going on it’s against the very synthesis of the music itself. Much of this opera, for better or worse, is about stillness and that’s a concept that the staging really didn’t appreciate.

Arkel et al.jpgBrindley Sherratt (Arkel), John Chest (Pelléas), Karen Cargill (Geneviève). Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

I did find the casting a problem. Debussy attached great significance to the libretto of this opera - indeed, the rhythms of the words are quite meticulously designed to be heard in this opera - so it was disappointing that so much of the sung French was so opaque. It had little to do with the fact that the hall sometimes swallowed voices, or they simply disappeared, rather that it wasn’t a particularly refined cast. In one sense this is a rather misty, or ethereal opera, and the lack of detail in the voices rather added to this. Karen Cargill’s Geneviève, for example, was luxury casting - but she was so velvety, so vocally secure that she rather forgot to bring any sense of mystery or depth to her character. Christopher Purves, as Golaud, seemed a tad one dimensional to me. This is perhaps the most vividly drawn character in the entire opera, but that was entirely irrelevant here. What we got was someone who acted beautifully but sang as if Golaud was entirely driven by anger and violence; the fact Purves felt the need to dominate the orchestra again suggested a lack of depth - this is a man possessed by raging jealousy, too, and innately virile; it didn’t come across that way. John Chest’s Pelléas began a little nervously - some of his A flats were flaky - but of all the male leads he was the most successful at pitching the balance between rhythm and concept - and his singing became notably more passionate during the evening. If the voice had been a little frayed earlier on, it was notably more secure by the time of his death. Christina Gansch’s Mélisande was girlish enough, but the blandness of the voice, and the lack of nuance, left me wondering why this particular Golaud and Pelléas would be involved with her at all. Only Chloé Briot’s Yniold - the sole native French speaker among this cast - was really a success at getting to grips with the text, and also doing something meaty with her role.

Golaud and Ynold.jpgChristopher Purves (Golaud), Chloé Briot (Yniold). Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

The undisputed highlight of the evening was the playing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I’ve rarely - if ever - heard this score better played. The LPO is becoming one of the great opera orchestras: time and time again, I found the detail a revelation, the internal instrumental voices, the clarity of phrasing and the impeccable balance of tone and colour remarkable. The woodwind, especially, have such flexibility they can almost do anything asked of them. I think one can certainly quibble with Robin Ticciati’s approach to the opera itself - and this was certainly reflected in the LPO’s overall sound. At times I did feel as if I was listening to Parsifal rather than Pelléas et Mélisande - the Wagnerian inferences are certainly in Debussy’s score but sometimes you wondered if Ticciati thought it was Klingsor wielding the sword rather than Golaud. The strings, too, sounded heavy at times - but what a wonderful, spellbinding richness of sound it was. Ticciati took a somewhat majestic view of the score, too, less overtly sensuous than some, certainly less French, but he can whip up tension and terror when it’s needed but there are also beautifully seductive, dark-hued moments too. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, and sometimes borders on being self-indulgent, but the tightrope he walks is just narrowly a viable one.

The tightrope that Glyndebourne’s semi-staged production walked wasn’t entirely a successful one, but very few productions of this magnificent opera manage to make a complete success of it. Not the most satisfying Pelléas, but a ravishing orchestral feast I won’t soon forget.

Marc Bridle

Prom 5: Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande (semi-staging based on production by Stefan Herheim)

Golaud - Christopher Purves, Mélisande - Christina Gansch, Geneviève - Karen Cargill, Arkel - Brindley Sherratt, Pelléas - John Chest, Yniold - Chloé Briot. Sinéad O’Neill; conductor - Robin Ticciati, London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Tuesday 17th July 2018.

Available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

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):