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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

BBC Proms 2018, First Night, BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo
15 Jul 2018

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

BBC Proms 2018, First Night, BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Five Telegrams

Photo credit: Justin Sutcliffe

 

But, this year’s Proms will also mark two political events of 100 years ago: the end of the First World War and the 1918 Parliamentary Act which granted suffrage to women over the age of 30. And, both season-strands were present at this First Night performance given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their Chief Conductor, Sakari Oramo, with works composed at the start of the century by English composers placed alongsideFive Telegrams - a new work by Anna Meredith in collaboration with 59 Productions which was jointly commissioned by the BBC Proms, 14-18 NOW and Edinburgh International Festival.

The ‘elegiac’ side of things was confined to the first half of the concert. Vaughan Williams’s Toward the Unknown Region, a setting of text from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, was first performed in 1918, though not heard at the Proms until after the Second World War. Presumably the composer was drawn repeatedly to Whitman’s poetry - in the Sea Symphony and Dona nobis pacem, for example - because of the American poet’s blend of pseudo-religious mysticism and humanistic values. The opening lines were sensitively sustained by the BBC Symphony Chorus, every word carefully declaimed. Oramo kept things moving along and build with grandeur but avoiding triumphalism towards the massive hymn-like climax, encouraging a blossoming swell of sound from his singers. It was resolute but not too nobilmente, the emphasis on song and spirit in the final floating cry: ‘Equip them at last, them to fulfil, O soul!’

Oramo strove for similarly restrained sentiment in Holst’s The Planets, though he allowed his two timpanists to propel ‘Mars’ from dark beginnings to a thunderous tumult, their menacing rhythm pounded with unrelenting insistence, as trombones and horns snarled, and the woodwind sneered. The horn solo at the start of ‘Venus’ sounded a little tentative, but there was much delicacy and sweetness in this movement, not least some lovely string playing enhanced by gentle solos from leader Stephen Bryant. ‘Mercury’ was fleet but sharply defined, a whirl of colour and nuance.

I’d have liked the syncopated motif which introduces Jupiter’s ‘jollity’ to have had a bit more bite and tension, but again Oramo had a good eye for the long-range target, steering fluently through the triple-time accelerando and then easing up, but not too much, for the ‘big theme’. The lack of sentimentalism didn’t stop from one of the audience members seated just behind me from joining, rather untunefully, however; and another small gripe was the applause which punctuated the first few movements. But, the final movements proceeded segue and the compelling momentum which Oramo had formed carried us convincingly onwards, culminating with Neptune’s mystical cry from other unknown regions, as the female voices of the National Youth Choir receded into silence.

The performance had been ‘complemented’ by pulsating colours and lights along the frieze behind the orchestra and the illumination of the Hall’s heights in hot red and cool emerald - a sort of cosmic light-show which anticipated the Son et lumière which was to come.

The concert had commenced at the rather unusual, and not particularly convenient, time of 8.15pm, and after a disproportionately long first half it was 10pm before we had the opportunity to hear the first of this year’s Proms commissions, Anna Meredith/59 Productions’ Five Telegrams. Meredith is one of twenty-two women composers championed by the Proms this summer, with Roxanna Panufnik receiving a commission for the Last Night and eight other women contributing world premieres to the Proms Chamber Music series.

Each of the five movements of this twenty-five-minute work explores one of the forms of communication employed on the Front Lines, and between the war-front and those back home, and is accompanied by a ‘light-show’ which projects a flamboyant and flashy array of colours, patterns and motifs around the auditorium. Meredith has employed big forces, the BBC Symphony Orchestra being complemented by the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble - its 10 trombones, four euphoniums, six trumpets and battery of percussion ranged along the bottom of the choir stalls - and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. And, the work’s statements are bravura. Meredith has explained, ‘We were clear that we didn’t want to create a sepia-toned, lone-bugled kind of piece. No poppy petals gently falling.’

What we have instead is a firework display of illumination and colour, and there’s no denying it was impressive, but often the mood created felt rather too celebratory and frivolous. I’m sure many found the blend of sound and music interesting or stimulating, perhaps even inspiring, but for this listener the incessant abstract swirling and sputtering, floating and flashing was something of a distraction. At times there seemed to be recognisable visual motifs: flames, water, telegraph wires, search-lights perhaps. But too often music and image seemed unconnected.

Meredith’s genre-bending part-pop, part-minimalist idiom was well-suited to the mechanistic quality of the visuals, particularly in ‘Codes’ where patterns and abstractions flickered and flew around the walls of the RAH to the accompaniment of brutal percussive stamping. In ‘Spin’, too, Meredith conjured an impressive weight from the brass, but she showed she could use her forces selectively, as the concluding ‘Armistice’ hesitantly communicated the confusion and uncertainty which sits alongside cessation of conflict. The singers whispered fragments - “I am quite well” - from the Field Postcards that the soldiers were permitted to send home, but which were heavily censored.

There were pyrotechnics of an aural kind at the start of the concert, in the form of a commemoration and celebration of the life and work of Oliver Knussen who sadly died last week. Scheduled too late for inclusion in the programme booklet, the opening bars of Knusssen’s Fireworks with Flourish may left those listeners anticipating Vaughan Williams a little bemused initially, but their ears were soon pricked by Knussen’s characteristically colourful palette and combination of intricate restlessness and painterly refinement. The storm clouds may have broken that evening over the streets of South Kensington, but inside the Royal Albert Hall the 2018 BBC Proms season kicked off with a sparkling fanfare in all senses of the word.

This concert was broadcast live on BBC2 and Radio 3 and can be accessed via BBC iPlayer .

Claire Seymour

PROM 1: Knussen - Flourish with Fireworks, Vaughan Williams - Towards the Unknown Region, Holst -The Planets, Anna Meredith/59 Productions - Five Telegrams.

Sakari Oramo (conductor), BBC Symphony Orchestra National Youth Choir of Great Britain (Ben Parry, chorus master), BBC Symphony Chorus (Neil Ferris, chorus master), BBC Proms Youth Ensemble; Royal Albert Hall, Friday 13 th 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):