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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

02 May 2019

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Matthew Rose and Friends: Temple Church

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kate Whitley

Photo credit: Ambra Vernuccio

 

I met with composer Kate Whitely in February to talk about her new settings of Charlotte Mew’s poetry. One of the issues we’d discussed was the way Kate would respond to Mew’s occasional regularity - of rhyme or structure - which seemed to require a different approach to text-setting to that which she usually employed. In the event, what struck me most was the way that the prosaic quality of Mew’s poetry has shaped Kate’s musical response, but also, and correspondingly, the way that the composer imposes her own will on the poetic form and syntax to create persuasive musical structures and idioms.

Much of the success, I feel, of these settings lies in the craftmanship of the accompanying string quartet dramas and conversations. The first poem ‘Sea Love’ commenced with a beautifully free viola gesture (played expressively and confidently by Zoë Matthews) which simultaneously suggests both the capaciousness and capriciousness of the ocean, as the player’s bow whips in a whisper across the strings, mimicking the dynamic surges of wave and tide. But, the instruments are no mere ‘sea-scape’, a backdrop to the vocal line: instead, phrase-endings resume and rework vocal motifs. Matthew Rose’s sonorous bass rang out with the passion and poise of an old sea-farer evoking a man who, like Britten’s Captain Vere, “has experienced much”.

‘The Farmer’s Bride’ - a rural man’s frustrated account of his marriage to a woman who rejects his attentions and demands - was fittingly agitated, Corentin Chassard’s cello line fluttering with breath-consuming anger and impotence, further rent by stuttering leaps. Increasingly, as Rose’s narrative accrued a fearsome, repressed power, I found myself wondering, ‘Where is the woman’s voice?’ In the sustained tones, or in the gestures of movement and escape? The declamatory melodic idiom and steady rhythmic repetitions - “Shy as a leveret, swift as he,/Straight and slight as a young larch tree,/Sweet as the first wild violets, she,/To her wild self. But what to me?” - seemed to embody both the wife’s inscrutability and the farmer’s vexation. Both are violent energies which explode in a crescendoing tremolo at the close, tumbling gratingly through depths of anger, anxiety and ineffectualness.

After ‘Rooms’, in which the ppp violins (Fiona McCapra) evoked the rootlessness of identity and the struggle for communion that Mew seeks to explore and overcome, Rose was replaced by Katherine Broderick for the final three songs. McCapra’s shaping of the violin’s whimsical and impulsive flourishes - all open strings, slippery slithers and sparks - was masterful and established a spirit of youthfulness and rebelliousness in ‘I so liked Spring …’, while gentle pizzicatos, hushed and dry, hinted at the ‘Absence’ at the heart of the following poem-setting, though Whitley never let the momentum dissipate, pushing forward with the “beat, beat/Of hooves that tread dropped roses in the street.”, then allowing the music to succumb to languidness, vanishing at the close: “Over my mouth, I must answer. So,/I will come - He shall let me go.”

Restlessness returned in ‘Moorland Night’, where rushing scales, flutterings and oscillations characterised the string textures. I did find the shift to soprano voice after the first three bass songs, half-way through the sequence, a little unsettling, especially given the ambiguity of the poet-speaker’s voice (and in the light of Mew’s own equivocal sexuality), but in all three settings for soprano Broderick used the text and vocal colour to bring affecting emotion to the fore. Here, the image of the curlew, heard as it “start[s] out from the heath/And [flies] off calling through the dusk” was compelling, all the more so for the sudden quiet that followed its “wild, long, rippling call -:”.

The recital had begun with Tom Poster’s The Turning Year, Poster himself accompanying Rose. I heard the first performance of the pianist-composer’s settings of poetry by his father, Jem Poster, at Wigmore Hall at the start of the month, so won’t comment at length on details. But, I did find that this performance had a greater, and welcome, freedom in delivery. Perhaps it was the Temple Church acoustic that carried the piano’s paradoxically fragile-steely glitterings aloft, and enriched the innate amplitude and warmth of Rose’s capacious and communicative bass, or perhaps it was familiarity - on my part, and on the part of the performers - but The Turning Year engaged me much more intently and emotionally on this occasion. If only Rose had more frequently looked up from his score, so engrossed did he seem to be in the music’s progress. The pictorialisms of the summer landscape - “a fuzz of sound: the hum of bees fumbling the heather-bells,/the burring flight of beetles, the crickets’ seamless song” - here acquired a fresh, urgent presence, and the gradual swirling of the autumn wind burst forth with a frightening, visceral force, which seemed to propel Rose through the text with dynamism and drama, making the easing of the final line - “You draw the curtains, bring food to the table, set the evening right.” - even more affecting. With the coming of winter, the high piano turned brittle, though a melodious falling 6 th in the vocal line, “the hills are white with snow”, offered consolation. Rose’s inky bass wonderfully conveyed the “gathering darkness” at the close which “brings them home”.

In contrast, I found Jordan Hunt’s Songs Without (in which the composer sets his own text) rather tiresome, though there could be no fault with the performances of Broderick, Poster, violinist Jan Schmolck and cellist Sally Pendlebury. The biography offered in the programme suggests that Hunt, drawing on his experiences as a violinist in The Irrepressibles ‘creates vivid, emotive music, weaving melodic ‘sad pop’ and symphonic-inspired textures’; I found the minimalist rockings, repetitions, oscillations and harmonic stagnation to be disengaging, though the musicians made every effort to introduce dynamic gradation and variety, and Broderick sought to imbue the vocal line with colours inferring popular and folk influences, and to find drama in the text. The voice’s fortissimo rise at the close of ‘Song Without Love/Song Without Abandon’ (“Your pinion to fly/ Your atlas to be free”) generated real movement and freedom. And, there were onomatopoeic accompaniment gestures - as in the metallic snap of “Clipped wings” at the start of ‘Song Without End/Song Without Return’; or the soporific translucence of the string repetitions in ‘Song Without Sleep/Song Without Death’ - that did focus one’s attention. The almost Straussian gloss and richness of Broderick’s soprano at the close seemed to carry the music on into eternity.

David Bruce tackles some challenging texts in Out of Hours, the five poems of which share a theme, being connected by times of the day when we may feel ‘connected to life and emotions’. However, the poetry by Shakespeare, Blake, Dunbar, Donne and Keats expresses its ‘meaning’ as much by its formal patterning and control as by individual images and words, and Bruce’s fragmentation of the text into disjunction words and phrases did not aid our comprehension of the broader semantic and poetic meaning. Thus, the minimalist throbbings and oscillations accompanied Matthew Rose in ‘Full Many a Glorious Morning’ (Shakespeare) seemed to inspire a melismatic elongation of syllable and word which I found disruptive to communication of the poem’s intent. The frisky rhythmic interplay of the violins and violas did conjure the vivacity of the children’s communal games depicted by Blake in ‘The Nurse’s Song’ - the pizzicato playfulness reminded me of Britten’s Simple Symphony - which was dynamically sung by Broderick. And, ‘On Leaving some Friends at an Early Hour’ was notable for some ethereal colours in the strings and the ‘strangeness’ of unearthly harmonics. But, despite the commitment of both Rose and Broderick, I found it hard to engage with these settings.

Bruce employed a string septet, and this offered the opportunity to close the concert with a performance of Strauss’s Metamorphosen arranged for the same forces. I heard the Britten Sinfonia perform this version at Wigmore Hall in February: it’s not easy to master its scale, form and intensity with just seven players. Here, the ensemble was sometimes less than precise - Schmolck did not really seem to ‘lead’ the ensemble, and there were some anxious glances between the players - and the performance was tense rather than imbued with dramatic tension and release. It’s a repetitive work, so the recurring motifs need to be carefully delineated and calibrated for the structural backbone to be discernible; here there was no persuasive sense of gradation, progress, climax and resolution. Perhaps the players had not had adequate time to rehearse? Whatever, it was a competent rather than a compelling performance.

During the evening Kate Whitley was awarded the 2018 Critics Circle Award. Her Six Settings of Charlotte Mew, alongside her other compositions and community-orientated activities, more than justified this accolade and I greatly look forward to hearing more from this talented young composer in the future.

Claire Seymour

Matthew Rose and Friends : Temple Music, Temple Church, London; Tuesday 30th April 2019.

Matthew Rose (bass), Katherine Broderick (soprano), Fiona McCapra/Jan Schmolck/Eloisa-Fleur Thom (violin), Zoë Matthews/Douglas Paterson (viola), Corentin Chassard/Sally Pendlebury (cello), Lynda Houghton (double bass), Tom Poster (piano)

Jordan Hunt - Songs Without; Tom Poster -The Turning Year; Kate Whitley -Six Charlotte Mew Settings (world premiere); David Bruce - Out of Hours (world premiere); Strauss - Metamorphosen.

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):