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

Chamber Prom 6, BBC Singers conducted by Sakari Oramo: <em>The Sense of an Ending</em>
21 Aug 2018

The Sense of an Ending: the BBC Singers and Sakari Oramo

We are accustomed to seeing Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo at the helm of a large orchestra, baton in hand, guiding the instrumentalists with unassuming but precise authority and expressive, communicative musicianship.

Chamber Prom 6, BBC Singers conducted by Sakari Oramo: The Sense of an Ending

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sakari Oramo

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

 

However, this lunchtime Prom recital at Cadogan Hall by the BBC Singers showed that he is just as at home before a 24-voice a cappella choir, his open hands as light and elegant as a bird’s wing, his gestures free, natural and masterly in crafting impassioned swells, finely graded fades and wonderfully responsive presentation of the poetic texts presented in this sequence of English part-songs, predominantly dating from early twentieth century but also including a new work by Laura Mvula commissioned by the BBC.

Oramo has been Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra since 2013 - fittingly his first performance as Chief Conductor came during that year’s Prom season - and during his tenure he has presided over many performances involving the BBC Singers, but this was the first time that he had conducted the ensemble a cappella. The repertoire seemed to represent both Oramo’s own love of British music, which developed during the ten years, 1998-2008, he spent as Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and the singers’ own musical heritage. One imagines that many must have encountered these works during their early training in the country’s cathedral establishments. Certainly, they were perfectly attuned to the idiom and the result was an exquisite, blemish-free, consistent like-mindedness which was both a glory and, perhaps, a slight weakness.

For, the programme, entitled The Sense of an Ending, presented a largely homogenous autumnal sobriety and it was delivered with polite gentility and restraint, the sound never other than lovely but perhaps lacking in diversity. And this was a pity in Mvula’s Love Like a Lion, which offered plentiful opportunity for impassioned colouring of the melody and rhythmic drama, and which invited a freedom of expression which the BBC Singers did not fully embrace.

The recital opened with Frank Bridge’s strophic setting of Shelley’s ‘Music, when soft voices die’. Though unpublished until 1979, the work was composed in 1904, the same year that Bridge composed the Three Pieces for String Quartet and Novelletten for string quartet, and perhaps it is not too fanciful to hear the beautiful fusion of of four stringed instruments in the part-song’s seamless vocal blending so wonderful exploited by the BBC Singers here. If Oramo did not emphasise the way the hemiola rhythms point the text in the arching, homophonic phrases, then he did bring to the fore both Bridge’s harmonic intensifications, ‘odours, when sweet violets sicken’, and the fluid interweaving of the inner parts in the second strophe, the tenors rising high with ease and creating forward motion. The diminishing repetitions by sopranos and tenors of the final line, ‘Love itself shall slumber on’, were grounded with perfect fixity by the long pedal bass - the deep breathing of peaceful sleep.

Simple, quiet, consoling, but perhaps a part-song more suited to bringing a concert to a close. The same might be said of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Rest’ (1902), a setting of Christina Rossetti’s sonnet, ‘O Earth, like heavily upon her eyes’. Oramo skilfully captured the stillness of the first part of the sonnet, while maintaining forward momentum. The slightest of pauses before the subito pianissimo on ‘Paradise’, after an impassioned rise, was magical: ‘With stillness that is almost Paradise.’ The volta pushed forward, the sentiments now more confident, the poet desirous of union with God.

Holst’s Latin-text Nunc Dimittis for eight-part choir and soprano and tenor soloists was composed in 1915 for Richard Terry and the choir of Westminster Cathedral, but largely forgotten until it was published in 1979 in an edition prepared by Imogen Holst. The work shares with the Bridge and Vaughan Williams a debt to Tudor polyphony, sensed in the use of modality and antiphonal writing, but Holst’s harmonic language is more individualised, his engagement with the text more dynamic and sometimes surprising, as in the lightly tripping ‘Gloria in Patri’. Oramo built up the layers of the opening phrase persuasively and conveyed the expansiveness of the writing, with the sopranos bright and pure, and the lower regions warm and wholesome in tone.

Oramo explained to the audience that he had grown up with the choral tradition, not so much as a singer himself but as an admirer of the work of two uncles who were renowned choral conductors. He first encountered Laura Mvula during his Birmingham years when she was a member of the City of Birmingham Youth Choir which occasionally shared the stage with the CBSO. Oramo spoke with conviction about Love Like a Lion, admiring the way Mvula has engaged with elements from the English choral tradition and with the three poetic texts by Ben Okri which present different stages and facets of love.

The simplicity of ‘Like a child’ conveyed innocence, joy and freedom, and Mvula’s sympathetic text-setting was deeply engaging. ‘I will not die (for him)’, was more troubled, exploiting dissonances and false relations in dense, low chordal textures above which the solo soprano climbed to the stratosphere with starry purity while the baritone responded with resonant urgency. Homophonic pronouncements, ‘I know the music of the sea,/ It is a sweet death lullaby to me.’, brought the various elements back together in slightly restless concord. ‘Love like a lion’ draws on gospel traditions and though the vocal sound and phrasing were unfailingly beautiful, the BBC Singers’ rather strait-laced and polite delivery was a little discomforting; one felt that this music demanded and deserved more visceral passion.

Hubert Parry’s Songs of Farewell concluded the programme. Parry began the fourth song, a setting of John Gibson Lockhart’s ‘There is an old belief’, in 1907 but did not complete the set of six settings of metaphysical texts until 1915, two years before his death. It was wonderful to hear the six part-songs as a whole group, for they create compelling momentum as the voices expand from the initial four-part writing in the first two songs, successively adding a voice and driving towards the double choir eight-part setting of verses from Psalm 39.

Parry’s snidest critics may have quipped that he could make even a telephone directory sound devotional, but one would have to be hard of heart not to respond to Parry’s sensitivity to poetic text in these six ‘motets’, in which he seems to communicate Matthew Arnold’s declaration that poetry, not religion, could serve as a vehicle for devotional thought just as much as his own belief that music, not dogma, could inspire spiritual devotion in an age when religion seemed to have no place.

Oramo’s discerning, sensitive crafting of the musico-poetic forms embraced both the large-scale structures and the slightest of details. In ‘My soul, there is a country’ (Henry Vaughan) the angry vigour of the inner lines of the final verse - ‘Leave, then, thy foolish ranges’ - was marvellously supplanted by the assurance of homophonic conviction at the close: ‘For none can thee secure/But One, who never changes,/ Thy God, thy Life, thy Cure.’ In the following setting of John Davies’ ‘I know my soul hath power to know all things’, the merest pinching of Oramo’s fingers and flick of the wrist brought out the clipped sharpness of the poet’s admission, ‘I know my sense is mocked in everything.’ ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ (Thomas Campion) had a madrigalian sweetness while the Lockhart setting was probing and earnest, particularly in the final stanza where Oramo made the chromatic searching in the final phrase, ‘Earnest be the sleep,/ If not to waken up.’, intensely telling. After the drama and dynamism of ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’ (John Donne), the delivery of Parry’s setting of ‘Lord, let me know mine end’ was simply marvellous; Oramo and the BBC Singers truly relished the flexible and varied choral textures and impassioned counterpoint.

Earlier in the Proms seasons I heard Parry’s Fifth Symphony performed by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales under Martyn Brabbins and my rather flippant, and immediately revised, response was ‘Parry trying to be Brahms’. Here, though, the reference to the German master might be more valid and certainly no diminishment of Parry’s marvellous achievement in these songs; for, surely Parry was influenced by Brahms’ Four Serious Songs which he deeply admired, and he selected the same verse from Psalm 29 that Brahms set in the third part of his German Requiem.

Whatever musical shadows hang over the Songs of Farewell, Oramo and the BBC Singers offered us far-sighted illuminations of departure and a consoling Sense of an Ending.

Claire Seymour

Chamber Music Prom 6: The Sense of an Ending

Frank Bridge - ‘Music, when soft voices die’, Ralph Vaughan Williams - ‘Rest’, Gustav Holst - Nunc dimittis, Laura Mvula -Love Like A Lion (BBC co/mmission: world premiere), Hubert Parry - Songs of Farewell; Sakari Oramo (conductor), BBC Singers.

Cadogan Hall, London; Monday 20th 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):