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

18 Dec 2018

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sonoro

 

But in the event, what was most striking about this Fantasia on Christmas Carols was not a spirit of innovation but the continuity and freshness of social, cultural and performance traditions, stretching back over many centuries and, this programme attested, into the future.

The twelve-strong Sonoro were founded in 2016 by their conductor Neil Ferris and composer-pianist Michael Higgins, and the choir has quickly made a strong mark on the musical scene. Their debut album, Passion and Polyphony , featuring music by James MacMillan and Frank Martin, was followed by Christmas with Sonoro , which was chosen as BBC Music Magazine’s 2018 ‘Christmas Choice’. And it was the eclectic selection of carols old and new on that recording that the group performed at Kings Place.

Ferris, who is Chorus Director of the BBC Symphony Chorus and at the Royal College of Music, has a relaxed rapport with his singers, and they clearly enjoy their music-making. His fluid gestures coax a vibrant sound from the group, but an impressive precision and sensitivity is also garnered by focused and unfussy guidance. The choir profess to be notable for their ‘distinctive and perfectly blended sound’, but on this occasion, while some items did demonstrate Sonoro’s ensemble accord and responsiveness, I didn’t feel that the ‘blend’ was always entirely balanced. There was certainly animation and brightness, but occasionally I felt that the vigour unsettled the intonation with the four sopranos not always in absolute agreement; and, I’d have liked a fuller sound from the middle voices to create a richer roundness. But, any blemishes were minor and did not detract from a performance that was characterised by varied colour, energy and joyfulness.

Such qualities were immediately apparent in the opening carol, Malcolm Archer’s A little child there is yborn for voices and piano, in which the lightness of the female voices was followed by robustness from the men, the dynamics always responsive to the text and Ferris’s flamboyance getting the show on the road with flair. A similar ebullience characterised Gareth Treseder’s Blessed be that Maid Marie which was rhythmically vigorous and carefree of spirit.

Several of the unfamiliar carols made a very strong impression. The sonorous bass pedal which opens Cecilia McDowall’s O Oriens is illuminated from above by an aurora of shifting harmonies, creating shimmering waves of sound-light. It’s a truly magical setting of one of the Advent antiphons, and the precision and focus it received here enhanced its transcendental glow. Becky McGlade has found new things to say in setting a well-known text, Christina Rossetti’s ‘In the bleak midwinter’, and Ferris built persuasively through the verses towards the climactic repetition, “give my heart”, then quelled the swelling sound at the final cadence which was marked by a beautifully shaped resolving suspension in the tenor line.

The homophonic mellifluousness that Sonoro achieved here also enriched Paul Spicer’s In a field as I lay, which had a comforting warmth, and there was a notable concord of phrasing and breathing in Sally Beamish’s In the Stillness. In contrast, it was the detailed interplay between the voices which was most striking in Higgins’ own The Angel Gabriel. Here, the finely etched phrases of the lower voices settled against the ‘loop’ created by the four separate sopranos who repeat fragments of melody. The isolation of the sopranos’ revolutions at the close left us with mystery and strange wonder. I particularly liked, too, Kerry Andrew’s Out of the Orient Crystal Skies in which Ferris crafted finely defined vocal lines of strong character which drove towards the harmonically intriguing final cadence.

There were familiar names too among the varied items. Herbert Howells A spotless rose had a lovely fluency and breadth, as the voices ranged apart and came together, and the dynamic ebbed and flowed. It also allowed us to enjoy Stephen Kennedy’s solo baritone as he shaped the melody with sustained pathos. Kennedy was also the soloist in Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols where his thoughtful diction drew forth the meaning of the text - though I have to confess to finding the piano accompaniment less satisfying than the version for string orchestra. Peter Warlock’s Bethlehem Down was one of the highlights of the programme, the fairly low register and ‘flattened’ modality, together with sensitively shaped phrasing, creating deep feeling.

A carol concert would not be complete without the presence of John Rutter, and here we heard Rutter’s arrangement of the twelfth-century Irish carol Wexford carol, as well as the characteristic rhythmic vitality of the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol, which Higgins accompanied with an airy lightness, and which featured a firm, bold tenor solo.

We had enjoyed Higgins’s arrangements of Tomorrow shall be my dancing day - in which he has set himself some keyboard challenges - and Silent Night, in which the movement of the inner voices complements the overall sense of peace. It was fitting, then, that Sonoro chose another arrangement by Higgins for their encore, Away in a Manger, which, like this whole programme, offered a few surprises but was immensely satisfying.

Claire Seymour

Sonoro : Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Neil Ferris (conductor), Michael Higgins (piano)

Malcolm Archer - A little child there is yborn, Cecilia McDowall - O Oriens, Paul Spicer - In a field as I lay, Howard Skempton - Adam lay y-bounden, Michael Higgins -The Angel Gabriel, Gareth Treseder -Blessed be that Maid Marie, John Joubert - There is no rose, Herbert Howells - A spotless rose, Becky McGlade - In the bleak midwinter, Vaughan Williams -Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Trad. (arr. Michael Higgins) -Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, Betty Roe - The holly and the ivy, William Mathias - Sir Christmas, Sally Beamish - In the stillness, Kerry Andrew -Out of the Orient Crystal Skies, Peter Warlock - Bethlehem Down, John Rutter - Shepherd’s Pipe Carol, Will Todd - My Lord has come, Franz Xaver-Gruber (arr. Michael Higgins) - Silent Night, John Rutter - Wexford Carol, Stuart Nicholson - Ding dong! Merrily on high.

Kings Place, London; Sunday 16th December 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):