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

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Faust in Marseille

We sat, bewildered, all of us, watching (enduring) Gounod’s sweet little tear jerker as a nasty drug trip. Except for the Australian Marguerite it was an all French cast and they all gamely played along, the sophisticated verse of Offenbach’s librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré clearly sailing out over an abrasive pit.

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

24 Jan 2019

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Alcina, La Nuova Musica (London Handel Festival)

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: La Nuova Music at St John’s Smith Square (in rehearsal)

Photo credit: Nick Rutter

 

Were the expectant punters enticed by promise of a ‘prelude’ to the 2019 London Handel Festival - which runs from 27th March to 29th April - sung by a superb cast of soloists, or by the appearance of Joanna Lumley as the ‘narrator’ reading June Chichester’s recitative-replacing inter-aria text?

For, the evening’s performance was an “experiment”, one which, according to Katie Hawks’ programme article, “dipped in the waters of authenticity” by following the practice of German opera houses in Handel’s day of singing the recitatives of opera seria in the native language, while retaining the original Italian text of the arias. Here, though, the Italian recitative was done away with altogether, replaced by spoken English summaries which were “intended to convey the drama better”.

Certainly, the romantic entanglements of Alcina do require intricate unravelling. The opera premiered at Covent Garden in April 1735 during Handel’s first season at the Theatre Royal and presents episodes from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso in which the eponymous Sorceress lures heroes to her enchanted island, quickly becomes disenchanted with their merits and charms, and so casts spells which turn her former lovers into animals and trees, rocks and streams. The virtuous Bradamante - disguised as her brother Ricciardo - arrives on the island with her friend Melisso to rescue her fiancé, the bewitched Ruggiero. Complications ensue when Morgana, Alcina’s sister who is loved by the Sorceress’s steward, Oronte, falls in love with ‘Ricciardo’. Her jealousy aroused, Alcina sets out to turn the latter into a wild beast. Magic rings and Ruggiero’s moral awakening intervene, and the Sorceress finds herself suffering the afflictions of true love.

This drama, somewhat absurd and sometimes confusing, is presented in the recitatives; and, even if one does not understand the sung language, one can appreciate the tenor of the situation and action, the changing nature of the relationships, the pace of the drama. The recitatives provide the contexts for the emotional effusions of the arias. And, they provide contrasts of musical colour. Take them away and you’re left with the jewels without a chain to thread them together.

Lumley, Berger.jpgJoanna Lumley and William Berger. Photo credit: Nick Rutter.

Descending from her armchair-throne behind the instrumentalists, Joanna Lumley read June Chichester’s text - which often seemed simply to summarise the arias - with judicious lip-curling, eye-brow raising wryness. Occasionally she addressed a singer directly, at other times she re-positioned a music stand in advance of an aria. But, despite the clarity and nuance of her delivery (was amplification really necessary?), the musico-dramatic focus and momentum drooped during the spoken text. Conductor David Bates worked tremendously hard to drive the drama forwards and drew playing of tremendous rhythmic élan and textual clarity from La Nuova Musica. But, the performance didn’t have the sort of dramatic fluency that can carry the listener through the admitted irrationalities of some of the libretto’s romantic muddles and misunderstandings. I wasn’t convinced that the ‘experiment’ clarified the action, and the omission and re-ordering of some arias did not help in this regard.

John Caird (who is an Honorary Associate Director of the RSC and Principal Guest Director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm) was billed as the ‘director’, but I struggled to discern his contribution. The singers, most of whom used scores, simply did what good singers do; that is, respond naturally to the dramatic situation through voice, gesture, manner. They sang their arias in turn, sometimes standing amid the instrumentalists, sometimes behind them, often seated - unfortunately so in the latter case, given the poor sight-lines in SJSS. Even a simple lighting design would have enhanced our sense of the mystery and menace of Alcina’s fantastical realm, of the Sorceress’s struggle to control her victims and to understand the growing affections of her own heart. And, her devastation when both her magic powers and her former lovers, restored to human form, have vanished, leaving her alone and bereft. There was an elaborate display of candles above the seated singers at the rear, but it wasn’t clear what this was supposed to represent or evoke.

Chen, Terry.jpgAnaïs Chen and Patrick Terry. Photo credit: Nick Rutter.

Fortunately, the musical performances more than made up for these frustrations. Particularly impressive was countertenor Patrick Terry who conveyed both Ruggiero’s initial boyish need for reassurance and affection, and his subsequent self-knowledge when he comes to appreciate the emptiness of his earlier happiness. Handel’s original Ruggiero, the castrato Giovanni Carestini, so the story goes, was dissatisfied with the simplicity of the plaintive ‘Verdi prati’ - in which Ruggiero recognises that the beautiful green island is an illusion which will soon dissolve into a barren reality - and sent it back to Handel, whose riposte was that if Carestini didn’t sing the aria he would be paid nothing. I admired Terry’s singing when I first heard him perform in the Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final in 2017 (when he won the Song Prize), and the fullness of his tone and smoothness of line that I noted on that occasion have grown even more beguiling. ‘Verdi prati’ was the emotional heart of this performance, in which Ruggiero’s regret was enhanced by leader Anaïs Chen’s exquisite violin solo, but Terry was just as stirring in ‘Sta nell’Ircana’ - to which the natural horns of Anneke Scott and Joseph Walters offered a vibrant, colourful complement - phrasing the exuberant runs stylishly and powering sonorously to the final cadence.

Shaw, Bottone, Duarte.jpgMadeleine Shaw, Rebecca Bottone and Leo Duarte. Photo credit: Nick Rutter.

Rebecca Bottone was a characterful Morgana, her upper register shining. Morgana’s initial mischievous flirtatiousness was engagingly embodied by oboist Leo Duarte’s juicy obbligato, while the expressive phrasing of Morgana’s later plea for forgiveness was complemented by the gracious muscularity and plaintiveness of John Myerscough’s cello obbligato. Not surprisingly, Christopher Turner’s Oronte could not resist his wayward beloved’s entreaties, the nuanced legato line of his subsequent ‘Un momento di contento’ expressing the assuagement bestowed by true love. As the hollow-hearted Sorceress, Lucy Crowe sang with characteristic liquefaction and limpidity, but while Crowe’s elegance was unwavering, at times I found her tone rather ‘white’, and not fully expressive of Alcina’s wide-ranging emotions.

As Bradamante, Madeleine Shaw conveyed a feminine warmth beneath ‘Ricciardo’s’ vengeful anger, and baritone William Berger - who, like Terry, sang from memory - projected Melisso’s single aria well, displaying strength at the bottom of his range, and rising easily with even colour. I look forward to hearing both Berger and Terry again when they join the cast of Berenice, at the ROH’s Linbury Theatre, during the forthcoming London Handel Festival ‘proper’.

This performance of Alcina was warmly appreciated by the SJSS audience, and certainly whetted the appetite for this year’s LHF. But, oddly, the real ‘enchantment’ on this occasion occurred during the instrumental obbligatos, which were performed from memory with the solo players moving forward to participate in the ‘action’; here was real musical magic.

Claire Seymour

La Nuova Musica: Alcina

Alcina - Lucy Crowe, Ruggiero - Patrick Terry, Morgana - Rebecca Bottone, Bradamante - Madeleine Shaw, Ornote - Christopher Turner, Melisso - William Berger, Narrator - Joanna Lumley, Director - David Bates, Director - John Caird.

St John’s Smith Square, London; Tuesday 22nd January 2019.

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):