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

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

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):