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

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Prom 64: Verdi’s <em>Requiem</em>, London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada
31 Aug 2018

Prom 64: Verdi’s Requiem

“The power of sound” wrote Joseph Conrad, “has always been greater than the power of sense.” Verdi’s towering Requiem is all about the power of sound, not least because of all the great sacred works this is the one that least obviously seems sacred when you hear it.

Prom 64: Verdi’s Requiem, London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Sarah Connolly

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

If the text is religious, the music can seem apocalyptic, coruscating, relentless - and even agnostic. Hans von Bülow, even before he had heard the work, described it as “Verdi’s latest opera, though in ecclesiastical costume”, and for some (though not Brahms), this view remains a valid one. But the scale of this requiem, and the miracle of its orchestration and vocal writing, rather prove the opposite: Where else, except perhaps in Mahler’s Resurrection, does the power of trumpets, on-stage, and antiphonally off-stage, take you towards the precipice of religious cataclysm? In what other sacred work does the timpani sound like a hammer against an anvil? And is there a darker, more sonorous, and bleaker, ‘Amen’ than the one that Verdi writes at the close of his ‘Dies Irae’?

Great performances of Verdi’s Requiem are rare in my experience. They fall short for all kinds of reasons - and yes, the worst do treat this work as an opera. The young Columbian conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, making his Proms debut with this work - as Lorin Maazel had done almost fifty years ago - clearly sees Verdi’s work in very sacred terms. This was in no sense a hard-edged, or even driven, performance in the Solti mould - but nor was it one that lingered over phrases to the point of paralysis as Maazel was wont to do in his later years. That is not to say that Orozco-Estrada doesn’t take time to illuminate details of orchestration. The woodwind phrasing was luscious, for example - but given this conductor’s ear for ravishing sonorities in a work like Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben this didn’t overly surprise me.

It’s difficult to sustain drama and tension in this piece for almost ninety minutes but for most of that span Orozco-Estrada managed to do just that. The ‘Dies Irae’ was taken in almost a single arc and the impact of it was entirely memorable. He brings a younger man’s sense of terror to this music rather than the more usual sense of prophecy than someone like Giulini did. Those indelible piccolos almost seemed to stab themselves through the orchestra like blades, the bass drum thundered, the trombones erupted into pyroclastic clouds of sound. This was a ‘Dies Irae’ with fire scorching like an inferno, the horror of the Day of Wrath painted from the ink of Verdi’s music. But there was room for great luminosity, too: bassoons were sculpted, not just phrased, flutes fluttered like angels. The ‘Agnus Dei’ had an ethereal beauty to it, and this is a conductor who can shape a pianissimo with breath-taking transparency.

Lise Davidson Prom 64.jpgLise Davidsen. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

None of this would have been possible without his soloists or choir, however. Of all the great choral works, Verdi’s Requiem is the most difficult to cast well and this one did much better than most. The Norwegian soprano, Lise Davidsen, I sometimes felt was a touch hard-edged. This isn’t the most obviously beautiful, or creamy, soprano and the sheer steeliness of her voice sometimes felt too harsh. I think anyone who was familiar with Margaret Price in this work would have found her rather cold - even shrill. But where it mattered the accuracy of her singing, the brilliance of her upper register and the ability to scale her dynamics was stunning. She definitely took some time to get into her stride; the ‘Introit and Kyrie’ wasn’t as assured as I’d have liked, but she undoubtedly became more secure as the performance developed. Indeed, her ‘Libera me’ was a tour de force: exquisite strength, imperious high notes and a pianissimo that was ravishing. This is a voice that doesn’t just cut through the orchestra like a sabre; it rises effortlessly above it as well.

The mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, replacing the indisposed Karen Cargill, was magnificent. The voice is rich, yet the tone is so burnished as well, and no-one who heard her sing would have been unmoved by the depth she brought to her part. Perhaps the voice isn’t huge - and certainly it didn’t have the dramatic impact that Lise Davidsen summoned at times - but the pairing of these two voices was symbiotic. The Ukrainian tenor, Dmytro Popov, is that rare thing: A true Verdian tenor. His ‘Ingemisco’, so often a point of anti-climax in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, was staggering. The top notes ring out with a steady evenness that is as disciplined as it is stentorian, and yet that brightness of tone belies a really deep, unquivering lower register that is granitic. Short of stature - it was difficult from where I was sat in the stalls to see him above his music stand - the voice has huge presence. The Polish bass, Tomasz Konieczny, brought the strength and terror of Wotan to his ‘Confutatis’. Again, here was a singer who didn’t just sing his part; he brought a wealth of vocal colour and heroic range to it. Konieczny’s voice is rock-solid at the bottom, the final line of his ‘Confutatis’ - ‘Gere curam mei finis’ - so sonorous you felt it would split the heavens apart. This isn’t just a voice that has strength, however; it abounds in lyricism, too.

Tomasz Konieczny.jpgTomasz Konieczny. Photo Credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

Both the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and its chorus, were fully equal to the demands of Verdi’s score. This was a performance where neither the orchestra, nor the chorus, overwhelmed the other. It wasn’t the weightiest sounding Verdi Requiem I can remember; in fact, it projected a feeling of period performance being both highly disciplined and strongly incisive. Indeed, balances were so in harmony with each other you often felt the whole requiem was like a slow, blossoming flower. Moments like the opening of the ‘Introit and Kyrie’ were exquisitely poetic, defined by playing that was almost inaudible, barely above the level of a ghostly whisper; yet, on the other hand, the ‘Sanctus’, with its double fugue and double chorus, was a triumph of vocal clarity.

This was a sublime concert, magnificently performed and interpreted, and a very notable Proms debut from its young Columbian conductor.

Marc Bridle

Prom 64: Verdi, Requiem

Lise Davidsen (soprano) - Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano) - Dmytro Popov (tenor) - Tomasz Konieczny (bass) - London Philharmonic Choir (Neville Creed, Chorus-master) - London Philharmonic Orchestra - Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor)

Royal Albert Hall, London, 30th 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):