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 Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

29 Apr 2019

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Ravel: L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: François-Xavier Roth

Photo credit: Doug Peters

 

The work which you might have expected to end the program, Boléro, one of the great orchestral showpieces, didn’t come at the final stretch which may in the end have been just as well; this was a performance which didn’t really do much for me, not that it stopped most of the audience thinking otherwise.

L’heure espagnole - as its title suggests - runs close to an hour in length, though at times Roth seemed close to edging it faster. This is Ravel at his most imaginative, the composer astonishingly vivid in his scoring - in one sense this is an opera that literally vibrates, ticks and tocks, clicks with the pulse of swaying metronomes - quite literally, in fact - and has the rhythm of mechanics running through it. It predates Varèse by decades - and who would turn to science, mechanics and the influence of key thinkers like da Vinci in his aural landscapes - but Ravel’s opera is every bit as inventive, if necessarily more primitive in its thinking.

Ravel described L’heure espagnole as an opéra-bouffe - and the best performances of it draw on high comedy and emphasise the sense of ordinariness of the characters. This may be less obviously easy to do in a concert performance as we had here - but it worked because the cast largely achieved that by entering and leaving at the wings of the stage rather as the libretto demanded. It certainly helped that they weren’t just sat there doing nothing (which would have been a travesty for the role of Torquemada, who is supposed to be out for the ‘hour’ winding the town’s clocks, while his wife, Concepción juggles - without much success - between her clumsy lovers).

In every sense this is an opera about time and timing - the muleteer Ramiro stops by to have his watch fixed, Torquemada has to tend to the town’s clocks (so Ramiro has to wait), Concepción doesn’t even have a clock in her bedroom but wants one there, Gonzalve, a poet more interested in his love for words rather the love of another kind, and is eventually stuffed into a clock he can’t get out of, and the banker Don Iñigo hidden in another clock, are metaphors within a comedy. It requires a better than average cast to bring all this off, especially when they’re largely confined on a stage in front of a conductor. To their credit, the five singers did a very notable job of doing just that.

It helped that the surtitles were very funnily translated - and they were even a touch double-edged in their meaning. It was just as well we had surtitles because I found some of the French being sung extraordinarily difficult to follow, even to the extent I sometimes wondered at times what language I was hearing; I’ve rarely heard this opera sound quite that vocally mangled. But never mind. The comedy ended up being beautifully timed. The acting, although it could have been limited by space, was not just considered, it was a joy to watch and very expressive, comic without feeling forced - soaking up every ounce of farce like a sponge from a libretto that sometimes challenges its singers to do so.

Jean-Paul Fouchécourt’s Torquemada rather left no doubt as to why Isabelle Druet’s Concepción might seek amour elsewhere - but how perfect they were as an imperfect coupling. If Fouchécourt engaged with the female violinists of the LSO, in flirtatious exits and entrances, more than he ever did with his wife, Druet’s Concepción left no doubt why the dynamics of this relationship were always in disarrangement. On the one hand, you had the small, but always superbly well-crafted tenor of Fouchécourt, set beside the powerful, sleekly engineered grandeur of Druet’s soprano. It was perhaps a little more lyrical than one might expect - but it worked like clockwork. An ideal couple who revelled in the comedy of being singularly unideal.

Thomas Dolié’s Ramiro was undeniably strapping - a singer who has the kind of rip-roaring baritone that easily strides over an orchestra. But he clearly understood the role as well bringing a silky pathos when needed and an all-knowing understanding to the sexual double-dealing of Concepción. Gonzalve can sometimes seem difficult to cast - it needs a singer who somehow needs to inhabit two rather indistinct worlds. Edgaras Montvidas effortlessly sang the role with much expression, but he was also able to define the poet who rather seems aloof from reality. His tenor was probably the most shining voice of the evening, the one which came closest to mirroring the precision and beauty that came from the orchestra. In Nicholas Cavallier’s Gomez - the grey-haired banker - one related to his ego, and his failures.

Roth’s conducting - as it had been in the first half of the concert - often seemed on the brisk side, but this was also a beautifully proportioned, often mesmerising performance, exquisitely played, by an LSO that didn’t always seem comfortable in this idiomatic music. Indeed, I had found the opening Rapsodie espagnole - a work which in the wrong hands can often outstay its welcome - come tenuously close to drifting off completely. Roth seemed so intent on contrasting the slow and fast sections of this score that I felt I was on a helter-skelter. The opening prelude took a while to get going - and one never really felt that those languorous passages Ravel went to great effort to highlight shadows and time in the music did anything other than linger. On the other hand, there was a Feria which felt fiery - but it came just a little too late. Boléro, too, didn’t really wow me as some other performances have done. There are some conductors who feel they need to conduct this work, and those who feel the work can just play itself - Roth falls into the first category. Brushing aside the distinctly un-French sound of the LSO, especially in the woodwind here (and which actually didn’t at all seem noticeable during L’heure espagnole), and some uncommonly lazy playing, this was a performance which tended to run on the fast side. Roth knows how to ratchet up the tension and suspense in Boléro - this performance felt like a screw tightening - and the climax felt colossal. But if you were looking for something that strived towards the oriental, or that looked into the deeper mechanical workings of a score where each player seems to play like a welder hammering metal, or a mason carving stone this performance wasn’t it.

Earlier in the evening I had caught a short concert of Ravel’s String Quartet in F major. Given by the Marmen Quartet - as part of the Guildhall Artists series - this was a performance which didn’t necessarily seek enormous depth in a work which looks to Debussy’s Quartet for its inspiration. There was no lack of precision here, nor an unwillingness to highlight the shadowy writing that separates the upper and lower instruments; contrast was a hallmark throughout. There was an impressive sense of taking the music in a single arc during movements, even when the time signature changes - as in the Vif et agité. If a single player grabbed my attention it was the cellist, Steffan Morris. His tone is deep, beguilingly rich - even sumptuous. He added weight to a performance which sometimes seemed to spurn it.

This concert will be broadcast on BBC iPlayer on 30th April and will be available for 30 days.

Marc Bridle

London Symphony Orchestra - François-Xavier Roth (conductor)

Isabelle Druet (soprano), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor), Thomas Dolié (baritone), Edgaras Montvidas (tenor), Nicolas Cavallier (bass-baritone)

Marmen Quartet - Johannes Marmen (violin), Ricky Gore (violin), Bryony Gibson-Gore (viola), Steffan Morris (cello)

Barbican Hall, London; 25th April 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):