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

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

The Royal Opera House lets everyone in on the act

The Royal Opera House today opens the doors to its transformed new home, following an extensive three-year construction project.

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

Two of Garsington Opera's 2018 productions to reach a wider audience

Garsington Opera is delighted to announce that on Saturday 6 October, BBC Radio 3’s ‘Opera on 3’, will broadcast the production of its first festival world premiere - The Skating Rink by David Sawer set to a libretto by Rory Mullarkey based on a novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Remembering and Representing Dido, Queen of Carthage: an interview with Thomas Guthrie

The first two instalments of the Academy of Ancient Music’s ‘Purcell trilogy’ at the Barbican Hall have posed plentiful questions - creative, cultural and political.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 62: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko
31 Aug 2018

Prom 62: Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic - one concert, two stellar sopranos

A concert programme that offers a ‘Concerto for coloratura soprano’ and four of Richard Strauss’s orchestral songs promises to tick every box on a lover of the soprano voice’s wish-list.

Prom 62: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Adela Zaharia

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

And, the performances by Romanian soprano Adela Zaharia and Swedish soprano Miah Persson in this Prom, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko, were certainly satisfying, completely and complementarily.

However, the music that they performed did not hit similar heights. Persson’s Straussian credentials were polished at Garsington this summer where her role debut performance as the Countess in Tim Albery’s production of Capriccio was unanimously acclaimed. Gold, silver and pearl: the adjectives bandied about by the critics suggested that the Three Kings had come to Wormsley. But, such effulgence was retrospectively justified by the sumptuousness, gracefulness and purity with which Persson floated - with glorious freedom, suppleness and coloristic range - through the four songs selected here.

Slightly reduced in forces after the interval, the RLPO glistened with the excited heart-flutterings of a love-inflamed adolescent at the start of ‘Ständchen’ (Serenade) - indeed, Persson’s impassioned impetuosity evoked the palpitating ardours of a Cherubino. After the sweet reflectiveness of the first two stanzas of ‘Das Bächlein’ (The Brooklet), the final verse had a wonderful sense of new energy and confident purposefulness, lifted too by the exuberant spiralling in the orchestral texture. In ‘Morgen!’ (Tomorrow!), Persson crafted the vocal line with simple but pure delicacy, her melody embraced by leader Thelma Handy’s eloquent violin solo as the delicious rubatos of the heaven-aspiring harp and the deep resonance of the bass pizzicatos provided a fulfilling accompaniment. There was a ripening of emotion with the declamatory “Stumm warden wir uns in die Augen schauen” (We shall look mutely into each other’s eyes), and Petrenko exploited the harmonic tensions in the sustained chords until feeling overflowed in the final duet of solo violin and harp; Petrenko dared to diminuendo to a whisper and then to nothing, and then still further into silence. The glories of ‘Zueignung’ were over all too soon; the intensification and apotheosis of the third stanza were thrilling.

Persson BBC.jpgMiah Persson. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

Throughout, Persson’s lovely vocal sheen held the Proms audience in still wonderment and joy, though, if one were to quibble, perhaps the soprano might have paid a little more attention to Strauss’s word-painting. There was an occasional verbal-coloristic frisson, as in as ‘Ständchen’, when the dusk fell beneath the linden trees - “Unter den Lindenbaumen” - and Persson’s rich rolling of the ‘r’ - “Und die Rose, wenn sie am Morgen erwacht” - made the flower glow with the night’s rapture; and Strauss’s cadential falling appoggiaturas were discerningly articulated. More of such details would have raised a very fine performance still higher. But, the final phrase of ‘Zueignung’ said it all: “habe Dank!” Be thanked, indeed.

Persson was replacing Diana Damrau who had withdrawn owing to illness, and Damrau had also been the intended soloist in Iain Bell’s Aurora, a BBC co-commission with the RLPO, written for Damrau with whom Bell has collaborated frequently. It fell instead to Romanian soprano Adela Zaharia to present the world premiere. Operalia 2017 winner Zaharia, making her Proms debut here, won acclaim when she stood in for an ailing Damrau last December in Munich, when the latter withdrew from the first performance of the run of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Bell’s exploration of the coloristic mystery and majesty of the aurora borealis was well served by the ease of Zaharia’s flights into the stratosphere; the darkness and strength of her tone in the middle and lower ranges; and by the powerful muscularity, allied with subtle flexibility, of her soprano, which breezed easily over the varied orchestral textures. Such qualities did much to sustain a narrative arc and expressive focus through the three linked movements of Bell’s nocturnal probing and wonderment. Zaharia worked hard to imbue the vocalise of the first movement, ‘Dusk to Darkness: First Glimmers’, with expressive weight and intent, her voice flickering and glittering over orchestral intimations of coming night, beginning coolly and then accruing warmth, to glow with the luminescent strength of the sky’s display of dancing of electrons and photons. She slithered provocatively and fierily - and with impressive precision - through the frolics of ‘Night-time: Lights Come Out to Play’, rising exuberantly to climactic vocal peaks and soaring over the flourishes of full-textured orchestral playfulness. In ‘Dead of Night: Phantom Shadows’, her florid outbursts were delivered with deceptive ease, untroubled by the aggressiveness of the orchestra’s rhythmic repetitions, brassy challenges and percussive onslaughts. And, in the closing stages, as the sustained low pedal dissipated into the ether, Zaharia shaped the voice’s final declaration of the supremacy of light most beautifully.

Petrenko BBC.jpgVasily Petrenko. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

The work itself, I found less convincing. Bell certainly knows how to exploit orchestral timbres and how to tint textures with flashes of colour, light and tactility. The ear was teased with myriad gestures; one could never anticipate from whence or which instrumental voice would speak, sing, stutter or demand, then disappear back into the shimmering mass. Petrenko shaped the evolving hues and episodes with a sure sense of pace and atmosphere, and, particularly in the central movement, ensured that we appreciated the teasing dialogues between voice and orchestra, in a manner of a ‘traditional’ concerto. But, it’s difficult to sustain a sense of expressive focus through twenty minutes of vocalise, however inventive the instrumental effects; and, in a work centring on colour and conflict, it’s a pity that harmony played a less significant role in Bell’s pictorial arsenal. Overall, what I missed most was the mythic poetry of the aurora borealis, though I certainly hope that we get another chance to hear Zaharia perform in the UK soon.

The vocal items were framed by two exuberant scores in which Petrenko inspired some committed and virtuosic playing from the RLPO. Elgar’s In the South opened the Prom with a blast of Mediterranean heat, sunshine and out-of-doors joie de vivre, though it was the tenderness of the strings’ playing during the episode depicting the shepherd’s pastoral idyll - a lovely, warm viola solo from Catherine Marwood - which was most stirring. Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra allowed the RLPO to demonstrate their individual and collective prowess. The Introduzione offered contrasts of blackness and brightness to complement Bell’s night-time vistas, while the snareless side-drum was an exacting master in Giuoco delle coppie. The central Elegia was somewhat restrained, and Petrenko thus did not emphasis the characteristic arch-structure of the work, but the extremes of decorum and boorishness were entertainingly exploited in the Intermezzo interrotto, while in the Finale: Presto Petrenko threw the orchestral caution to the wind in spectacular style. We needed the gentle beauty of the RLPO’s encore - Rachmaninov song, ‘Zdes’ khorosho’ (All is well here), transcribed for orchestra by the orchestra’s principal horn, Timothy Jackson - to remind us that, indeed, all was well.

Claire Seymour

Prom 62: Miah Persson (soprano), Adela Zaharia (soprano), Vasily Petrenko (conductor), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Elgar - In the South (Alassio); Iain Bell - Aurora (BBC co-commission: world premiere); Richard Strauss - ‘Ständchen’, ‘Das Bächlein’, ‘Morgen!’, ‘Zueignung’; Bartók - Concerto for Orchestra

Royal Albert Hall, London; Wednesday 29th August 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):