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

13 Nov 2018

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.

The Eternal Flame Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski at the Royal Festival Hall

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Andrea Danková

 

When I interviewed Lindberg back in 2001, just before the Related Rocks festival devoted to his music at the Southbank Centre, he explained how if you wanted to compose for the voice you had to solve the problem of melody - and that was something he found difficult to do. It’s probably true to say in Triumf att finnas till… that Lindberg has now resolved the issues he had with writing for the voice, though he has had to abandon much of his earlier style to achieve that. The composer who wrote Kraft in 1985, with its rhythmic punch and rough sonorities, or even works like Aura (1993-4) and Engine (1996) which were works of friction and owed at least something to the kaleidoscopic sound world of Berio or Stravinsky, has now become unmistakably Sibelian - the connectivity between Triumf and Kullervo feels as if it has been fully embraced.

I think if Södergran’s text is specifically an affirmation of the human will to triumph over slaughter, a more existential meditation on life rather than death, then Lindberg’s score sometimes tries to reflect the opposite. Although the work is written in seven stanzas, there is no discernible break between them. Lindberg’s writing for percussion is sustained throughout the work - and if it sounds like shell-fire, the dynamics adjusted to reflect distance and space, this is part of the effect. Your ears adjust to the muffling, just as they do to the penetrating explosions. It often feels like a rather bleak score; tenebrous, and rather like an instrumental requiem. My guest for this concert found it “somnambulant” (and I don’t believe he was alone in this view).

Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra played it well - though it ended up being considerably longer than the advertised playing time. For some, I can imagine Lindberg’s thematic material not surviving the length of time it took Jurowski to get through the music; for others, the score is powerful enough to suggest the apocalypse of war. I think the presumption that every syllable of Södergran’s text was meant to be heard was somewhat undermined by the occluded phrasing of the London Philharmonic Choir. I found much of it rather unintelligible.

Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles has no particular connection to the Armistice, though it is a ritual for the dead if not specifically relating to any one period of time. Radical to the last, Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles (virtually his last completed score from 1965-66) is not in the remotest liturgical, though its fusion of excoriating catharsis, skeletal writing and latent power is more than equal to the terrors of the First World War. Perhaps the most obviously cinematic of the works on the programme - the very opening sounds like gunfire - this is a piece that in a great performance can send shivers through the spine as it creates tension and dread through its terrifying climaxes. For such a compact work it amplifies astonishing force and mourning.

Jurowski and the London Philharmonic gave a very taut performance of it - pungent enough to yield much of the work’s fury and ritualism. The Dies irae had chorus and brass in almost perfect synchronicity, rich and resonant, and this was well contrasted with the piano and strings, almost strained to breaking by a feeling of tremulousness. Maxim Mikhailov’s bass in the Tuba mirum never felt on the verge of the collapse as I’ve sometimes felt in a few performances of this work - and it was idiomatically sung, with a beautifully phrased final note that is never easy to manage. Angharad Lyddon’s Lacrimosa wasn’t in perfect balance to the Tuba mirum, perhaps less divine than the writing suggests.

Janáček often feels as if he has been overlooked as a composer in the United Kingdom. Although Janáček’s The Eternal Gospel had been composed just before the outbreak of the Great War, it was subsequently revised after its premiere in Prague in February 1917. The text, although inspired by events centuries before that of Edith Södergran, does share a vision with her that is less bleak - even though by the time Janáček revised the score at the height of the war Jaroslav Vrchlický’s 1891 ‘legend’ had become completely unrecognisable. The score itself is magnificent, and is oddly reverential and deeply spiritual coming from the pen of a deeply agnostic composer.

This was in many respects a stand-out performance from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Particularly notable were the detailed and exquisite violin solos of the orchestra’s leader, Pieter Schoeman; composed to represent the angel and his gospel of love they were meticulous and perfectly tuned. Such was the clarity of the string playing in this performance, that even when the rest of the violin desks were playing, and no matter what the dynamic range, the different bar lines were absolutely audible. But this is also a score that surges with huge waves of sound - the opening movement rises inexorably and you never quite feel it relents. Janáček vividly described this music as representing “open arms longing to embrace the whole world” something which Jurowski’s conducting achieved by never scaling back on the dramatic impact.

Vsevolod Grivnov, singing Joachim of Fiore, seemed a little hesitant at first but had become mercurial and stentorian by his final epilogue. Andrea Danková, singing as the Angel, actually looked rather sinister; the way she glowered into the audience was, frankly, a little unsettling. But what a voice! I found her singing absolutely compelling. It’s certainly arguable this a soprano which is more resonant than most, has much darker tones, and it was distinctly less ethereal than the magical lines floated by the violin, but the contrast was magical. The London Philharmonic Choir gave their best performance of the evening; the only thing that disappointed was the Festival Hall organ which didn’t really register.

The inclusion of Debussy’s Berceuse héroïque, which had opened the concert, was the slightest of beginnings, though shares with the last work on the programme, The Eternal Gospel, the year 1914. Debussy’s memorial to Belgian forces resisting the German army at the outbreak of the war, it seems to pour into its five-minute duration a lot of elegy, but not much depth. Jurowski managed to make it sound much less like Debussy, and much longer than it needed to.

As with other concerts in this short, but largely compelling, season based on ‘Stravinsky’s Journey’ microphones were present.

Marc Bridle

Andrea Danková (soprano), Angharad Lyddon (mezzo-soprano), Vsevolod Grivnov (bass), Maxim Mikhailov (bass); Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Royal Festival Hall, London 10th November 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):