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

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

11 Nov 2018

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 Silver Tassie: BBCSO Total Immersion, ‘In Remembrance: World War I’, Barbican Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ashley Riches (Harry) and Louise Alder (Jessie)

Photo credit: Jamie Simonds

 

In recent weeks, there have been so many Armistice centenary events, and commentaries on such commemorations, that the weight of memory, history and collective expectation and responsibility has sometimes felt bewildering or overwhelming. The performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 2000 opera The Silver Tassie - the apex of the ‘Total Immersion’ weekend of performances, screenings and talks inspired by the events of 1914-18 at the Barbican Centre - brought debates about sport and war, violence and religion, love and sexuality, into tense, troubling and heightened theatrical focus. The performance was buffeting and blistering; the musical and emotional punch delivered was knockout; but, just what was being ‘celebrated’ was more equivocal.

As the Guardian’s Senior Sports Editor remarked in the Saturday edition, the centenary of the 1914-18 conflict has seen a veritable ‘blizzard of remembrance’. Barney Ronay was reflecting on the life and achievements of Kent and England cricketer Colin Blythe, who hailed from Deptford in south-east London and, off-season, played violin in concert orchestras around Kent, and whose death - one among half a million men on both sides who were slaughtered in the Battle of Passchendaele, the 101st anniversary of which falls this weekend - was marked in the cricket media and by local people in south-east London this week. Ronay asks, ‘How to grasp this industrialised slaughter? How to remember it in a way that makes any sense?’ One might add a further question: through art? Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera, The Silver Tassie, certainly upholds the continuing argument for and appeal of WW1 as a source of creative inspiration and monument.

Sean O’Casey’s 1928 play on which Amanda Holden’s libretto for Turnage’s opera is based, laments such loss of life - literal and figurative, for many ‘survivors’ were condemned to a living death - in the First World War. The play’s hero, the dynamic star of the local football team, Harry Heegan, leads his fellow sportsmen to victory in the coveted Championship Cup. With the eponymous trophy secured in the cabinet, Harry, the apple of his parents’ eye and worshipped by his girlfriend Jessie, heads off to war, only to return disabled and embittered. Jessie falls in love with Barney who, ironically, has won the VC for saving Harry’s life; Teddy Foran, an abusive husband who lives in a flat above the Heegans, returns from the frontline blinded and dependent upon the wife he has bullied and threatened. Harry and Teddy have to find a way to survive when, in their youth, they are brought to a state of ‘leg-staggering an’ belly-creeping’.

When W.B. Yeats rejected O’Casey’s play for the Abbey Theatre in 1928, he commented that, ‘There is no dominating character, no dominating action, neither psychological unity nor unity of action ...’. In particular, Yeats lamented the contrast between the expressionistic abstraction of Act 2 and the realism of surrounding three Acts - the home-front of the latter being the predominant forum for the unfolding dramatic conflicts. Moreover, the effect of war on the soldiers and the society from which they hailed is uppermost in O’Casey’s play, and everyone - man and woman, church and state, parent and child - is implicated in the horror.

The playwright’s Act 2 chants and songs may have troubled the critical commentators, but they facilitate Turnage, whose operatic adaptation transforms this section of the drama into a grand choral episode delivered from behind the front lines of the Western Front: it is one of the opera’s strongest theatrical statements. The vigorous male voices of the BBC Singers and the animated Finchley Children’s Music Group were poignantly juxtaposed with the passing parade of boy stretcher-bearers. Brindley Sherratt was a sonorous ‘Croucher’, named after those who huddled in the trenches’ and who associates God with destruction, thereby inverting Ezekiel’s vision of the divine, throned chariot.

After an expository Act 1, it’s only really in Acts 3 and 4 of the opera that the human dimensions of the drama assert their grip. And, in the second half of this semi-staged performance there was a terrific balance between collective, communal suffering and individual and personal experience. In its presentation of a caustic cocktail of sex, religion, violence and love, Turnage’s opera reminds me of Britten’s Billy Budd. The role of Susie, the epicentre for the juxtaposition of violent destruction and religion, was terrifically sung by Sally Matthews who displayed power and evenness over a wide vocal range. Harry’s parents were warmly embodied by the discerning Susan Bickley and Mark le Brocq - Sylvester Heegan’s cardigan buttons were veritably popping with pride.

In the communal dance hall in Act 4, a quarrel between Harry and Jessie threatens to wreck the most recent celebrations of a Silver Tassie victory. As Harry, Ashley Riches was brutal and blunt, and paradoxically eloquent, about the effect of his wounds, both physical and emotional. As the inconstant Jessie, Louise Alder sang with characteristic poise but seemed a little under-characterised, and her need to flick briskly through her score weakened the impact of her moment of physical commitment to Alexander Robin Baker’s vehement, vigorous Barney.

Ryan Wigglesworth conducted a vividly colourful and percussive reading of the score, and if at times it felt a little relentless - the singers were subtly amplified but there were a few imbalances - then who am I to complain of a battery of drums and percussive, grating noise. One other thing: though semi-staged effectively and efficiently, Kenneth Richardson’s dramatic presentation seemed - give or take the odd green-and-white striped football scarf - rather Irish-lite, given that Turnage has said, ‘The fundamental thing I was concerned with was the Irishness of the play. Every line is within that Irish tradition.’

That said, there was so much to admire that I’m not entirely sure why I felt a little disconcerted at the close, as the applause echoed rapturously and extendedly, and the individual singers took their bows, joined by stage director Kenneth Richardson, chorus master James Henshaw, and Turnage himself.

I think, though, I wondered exactly what it was that we were applauding. Next month sees the release of Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old, which digitalises archive footage of WW1, following its television screening on Armistice Day on BBC2. The oft repeated misquotation of Laurence Binyon’s poem, ‘For the Fallen’ - ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:’ - seems dispiritedly poignant.

The BBC has recently published on its website an account of survivors’ commemorations in the aftermath of the war : ‘A year after the conflict had ended, villages, towns and cities held parades, church services and observed two minutes’ silence. That was during the day. The evening of 11 November was different. Thousands of people - most of them young - wanted to have fun. “Victory balls” - charity fundraising events involving fancy dress, dancing, singing and copious drinking - were held to cater for this need. […] They celebrated with their comrades and marked the sacrifices of their fellows by living and enjoying their own lives.’

Though such Victory Parties were subsequently criticised, replaced by more sober commemorations, the BBC reports that, ‘One former officer stopped taking part in commemorations, describing them as “too much like attending one’s own funeral”’.

How we commemorate seems no less personal, and political, today.

This performance of The Silver Tassie was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

Claire Seymour

Mark-Anthony Turnage: The Silver Tassie
Harry - Ashley Riches, Susie - Sally Matthews, The Croucher - Brindley Sherratt, Mrs Foran - Claire Booth, Teddy - Marcus Farnsworth, Barney - Alexander Robin Baker, Jessie - Louise Alder, Mres Heegan - Susan Bickley, Sylvester - Mark le Brocq, Dr Maxwell/Staff Officer - Anthony Gregory, Corporal - Benedict Nelson, Finchley Children’s Music Group, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Conductor - Ryan Wigglesworth, Stage director - Kenneth Richardson.
Barbican Hall, London; Saturday 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):