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

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.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

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):