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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written - 1968 - a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protestors, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

28 Oct 2018

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!”

Norma, Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Helena Dix (Norma)

Photo credit: Grzegorz Monkiewicz

 

The young Richard Wagner, writing in Heinrich Laube’s Zeitung für die elegante Welt during the 1830s, suggested that German composers should look to learn from the Italians, and particular from the flowing vocal melodies and bel canto expressiveness of Bellini, whom he affectionately nicknamed ‘the gentle Sicilian’. Perhaps less surprisingly, Tchaikovsky, having read the first biography of Bellini, wrote to a friend, “I have always felt great sympathy towards Bellini. When I was still a child the emotions which his graceful melodies, always tinged with melancholy, awakened in me were so strong that they made me cry”.

Despite being standard repertory fare in the 1950s and ’60s, subsequently Norma fell out of favour, perhaps because of the fearsome demands it makes upon the soprano brave enough to embody the titular Druid priestess in all her roles - leader, mother, lover. 2016 was, though, ‘ Norma year’ in London, with ENO staging their first ever production of Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece in February and the ROH presenting the first production at Covent Garden for almost 30 years in September.

Now, Chelsea Opera Group, who tackled Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi in 2014, have mounted a concert performance of Norma. And, if I had any doubts about the wisdom of this repertoire choice, not just because of the challenging writing for the soloists but also because the choruses, though energetic, are not great in number, then these were immediately and absolutely swept away by the stunning performances of the principals - two of whom, like conductor Dane Lam, have Australian origins or links - at Cadogan Hall.

Sopranos who are equipped to follow in the path of Guiditta Pasta, Lilli Lehmann, Rosa Ponselle, Callas and Joan Sutherland, to name but a few illustrious exponents of the role, may be rare, but Helena Dix is undoubtedly one of those with the vocal and expressive qualities to climb to the summit of this operatic Everest. The star of Wexford Festival Opera’s award-winning 2013 production of Jacopo Foroni’s Cristina, Regina di Svezia , her lyric soprano is silky and soars effortlessly. As Cristina, Dix’s poise and dignity were much in evidence in the ceremonial scenes and she brought such gravitas and authority to her role here, establishing the emotional profundity and maturity of the Druid priestess. She was a noble presence, by turns vulnerable and authoritative, her utterances sincere but also at times portentous. We saw a relaxed and caring Norma, in her duet when Adalgisa at the start of Act 2, when the women come together in feminine unity. Her maternal love and distress touched our hearts as she pleaded with her father, Oroveso, to spare her children from suffering and shame after her death.

Dix alternates her chest and head voice with ease and has a lovely clean-edged tone. She softened it beautifully for ‘Casta diva’, demonstrating stunning power, control and expansiveness of breath, to offer the requisite nuance. In the florid cabaletta, though, the Australian soprano released her voice in rapturous flights, gleaming lightly. Elsewhere, Norma’s anger drew forth a full, weighty sound which quelled both Adalgisa and Pollione in the trio at the close of Act 1, while tenderness was served by her beautiful pianissimo. She had the stamina to build towards the fortitude and sense of duty which dominate the close, and if Dix seemed to tire a little at start of Act 2 - some of the phrasing was ‘choppier’ - then she may have simply been saving herself for the final scena.

After Norma’s opening scene, I feared that we would not have an Adalgisa who could match Dix’s vocal authority. I need not have worried: Elin Pritchard’s rich soprano conveyed all the emotional urgency and vacillation of the youthful Adalgisa, who is not burdened with such vast responsibilities but who is driven by overpowering passions. The persuasive characterisation of Pritchard’s Adalgisa was enhanced by the fact that she had learnt the part well enough to sing almost entirely off-score throughout. I’ve seen two of Pritchard’s recent performances, and her Adalgisa confirmed her impressive dramatic and vocal range. It’s hard to imagine a role more different to the motorbike-obsessed Marie in Opera della Luna’s production of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment at Wilton’s Music Hall this summer; and, if she had had no trouble ascending to Marie’s high Es, then the luxurious richness of her middle register which had been so strongly in evidence during her performance as Miss Jessel in Regent Park’s The Turn of Screw once again made its mark. One sensed every atom of Adalgisa’s passion, anguish and guilt during this terrific performance.

I first enjoyed Christopher Turner’s firm lyric tenor in two of Bampton Classical Opera’s recent productions: Salieri's La grotta di Trofonio in 2015 and Gluck's Philémon e Baucis the following year. Currently performing in ENO’s Salome , here Turner was an unusually sympathetic Pollione, overcome by genuine strength of feeling, suffering rather than imposing cruelty on other. From the first, this Roman knew that he had been consumed by a higher force that could not be resisted, whatever tragedy would consequently and inevitably befall him and those he loved. In his opening cavatina, ‘Meco all’altar di Venere’, Turner’s recounting of Pollione’s terrifying dream was paradoxically both remorseful and determined. The tenor avoided over-exaggeration or mannerism but made good use of a convincingly Italianate ring and a ‘sob’ which was occasionally an effective, piercing frisson through the lyricism.

Australian-American bass Joshua Bloom was a thunderous Oroveso, sounding sonorously and magisterially from amid the Chorus: no Druid would surely dare to ignore Oroveso’s instruction to look out for the rising moon (‘Ite sul colle, O Druidi’), but Bloom effectively lifted his song from the choral sound, and allowed it to be re-subsumed. Despite the literal distance between father and daughter, the emotional threads that tie Norma and Oroveso were powerfully communicated at the close of Act 2. The minor roles of Pollione’s friend Flavio and Norma’s confidante Clotilde, were sung very competently by Adam Music and Claire Pendleton respectively.

And, so, what of the Chelsea Opera Group Chorus? Though the tenors were fairly few in number, the combined male forces made a vigorous and wholesome sound, and the full Chorus essayed a stirring War Hymn, invigorated by the relaxed and encouraging gestures of their conductor, Dane Lam. I was impressed by the fluid drama that Lam crafted; accelerations and changes of tempo were clearly and deftly indicated by the left-hander, and if the Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group didn’t always follow his precise commands instantly, then Lam was untroubled and simply worked effectively to wind them up to the mark he had set. He conjured a true sense of grandeur and tragic intensity at the musical and dramatic climaxes, as well as tenderness in the intimate moments. His efforts were rewarded with solid orchestral playing: there was some expressive cello lyricism and in general the strings were much less ragged than they have sometimes been during past COG performances that I’ve attended. There was a real sense, too, that the instrumentalists were listening to the singers, and some particularly note-worthy flute playing from Ben Pateman. Tuning was generally good, though less secure in the quieter, slower passages where horns and brass were sometimes imprecise; and, I’d have liked more confident and forthright playing from across the whole woodwind section, to give their contributions more telling presence.

Perhaps inevitably, during this concert performance, in which the soloists were so striking and compelling, it was the passages of emotional intimacy that held sway over the vast national and religious conflicts. But, this was a good account of this quintessential bel canto gem, one which whetted my appetite for COG’s next two ventures into the rarer parts of the repertoire in the spring and summer of 2019 - Mefistofele by Boito in March and Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon - which will both be performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Claire Seymour

Bellini: Norma

Norma - Helena Dix, Adalgisa - Elin Pritchard, Pollione - Christopher Turner, Oroveso - Joshua Bloom, Flavio - Adam Music, Clotilde - Claire Pendleton; Conductor - Dane Lam, Chelsea Opera Group Chorus and Orchestra.

Cadogan Hall, London: Saturday 27th October 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):