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

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

01 Jun 2019

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Bauci e Philemon and Orfeo: Classical Opera at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Gwilym Bowen (Jupiter)

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega

 

As a long-time employee of the Hapsburg estate, Gluck was required to devise suitable entertainments for festive occasions. The celebrations for the 1769 wedding of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma (who was the grandson of Louis XV of France), and Maria Amalia, Archduchess of Austria (and sister of Marie Antoinette) were elaborate, extensive and drawn out over several months. Alongside feasts, a tournament, a Chinese fair and a display of new scientific inventions, Gluck contributed an opera-ballet titled Le feste d’Apollo comprising a prologue and three acts on Ovidian tales: Aristeo, Bauci e Filemone, and a revised and shortened version of his 1762 opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.

Kiandra Howarth (Euridice) and Lena Belkina (Orfeo).jpgKiandra Howarth (Euridice) and Lena Belkina (Orfeo). Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega.

Classical Opera presented semi-stagings of the last two parts of the trio, their performance of the 1769 score of Orfeo being the UK premiere of this version. The pairing offered a good opportunity to hear the development of Gluck’s style, the ‘conventional’ seria sequence of recitative and aria in Bauci e Filemone evolving into a more dramatic interaction of words and music in Orfeo.

Bauci e Filemone tells of two young lovers, the eponymous shepherd and shepherdess, who show great respect and care for the god Jupiter when he appears before them disguised as a pilgrim. In return, the rustic couple are blessed by Jupiter with everlasting life and elevated to the status of demigods. At the same time, he curses their fellow Phrygians who had refused to help him.

Lena Belkina (Philemon) and Rebecca Bottone (Bauci).jpgLena Belkina (Philemon) and Rebecca Bottone (Bauci). Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega.

It’s a tender pastorale, which Wilkie and his designers, Emily Adamson and Philly Noone, sought to convey by placing a thicket of distressed silver birch trees at the side of Queen Elizabeth Hall stage and illuminating a silhouetted tree on a backdrop swathed in a sequence of strong colours - cerise, ultramarine, indigo. The action unfolded both in front of the orchestra and behind, a raised platform lifting the cast a little higher than the musicians.

The action unfolded gently, though the rather unflattering and indistinctive costumes - all beige smocks and sandals - didn’t immediately assist the ‘story-telling’, the shepherds being less than individualised. But, the music charmed, with some especially vivid and dynamic playing from The Mozartists. Lena Belkina’s Philemon and Rebecca Bottone’s Bauci formed a dulcet-toned and convincing sweet-natured duo in Gluck’s inventive duets, and Bottone confidently tackled Bauci’s stratospheric ascents in ‘Il mio pastor tu sei’, firing out heaven-bound notes that hit their target every time, the tone remaining true and full. Tenor Gwilym Bowen, looking every ounce the golden-haired god once he had cast aside his hessian rags for regal splendour, was a forthright Jupiter, relishing his ‘rage aria’, though the accompanying flickers of light didn’t quite summon a vision of celestial tumult and wrath.

Actors with Belkina.jpgLena Belkina (Orfeo) and Actors. Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega.

Kiandra Howarth sang her contribution as the Shepherdess assuredly, but had more to do as Euridice in the ensuing Orfeo. For this second part of the evening’s entertainment, Wilkie ‘enhanced’ the ragged glade by wheeling on some cheap portable ladders by which Belkina’s Orfeo, clutching a plastic lyre, would descend to Hades to rescue his beloved. Three actors, who doubled up as stage-hands, offered an array of bodily gestures which served a purpose that remained indiscernible and unfathomable to me. With the action repeated retreating to the rear, it was fortunate that the singers projected with strong characterisation and a persuasive sense of Gluckian style.

Rebecca Bottone (Amor).jpg Rebecca Bottone (Amore). Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega.

Dressed in a simple Greek tunic, Howarth expressively conveyed Euridice’s suffering. Belkina’s performance grew in intensity, impressively capturing the depth and diversity of Orfeo’s feelings. Bottone was a personable Amor, though she was encumbered with a pair of outsize wings which, along with the sliding stepladders and the flinging of gladioli about the stage, seemed out of keeping with Wilkie’s generally respectful tone. The Chorus added some of the vitality that was missing from the staging, and Ian Page, without undue fussiness, coaxed some fine playing from The Mozartists.

Last year, Classical Opera’s La finta semplice in the same hall had used costume, minimal staging and strong lighting to excellent dramatic effect. In this double bill, it was the music that took centre stage. With such fine singing and playing, perhaps it was a pity that we had not heard Aristeo too, giving us the opportunity to experience the whole of Gluck’s festale. For, Gluck himself was the star of this show.

Claire Seymour

Gluck: Bauci e Filemone and Orfeo

Lina Belkina (mezzo-soprano), Rebecca Bottone (soprano), Kiandra Howarth (soprano), Gwilym Bowen (tenor) Luke Elliott, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi & Dominyka Morkvėnaitė (actors); John Wilkie (director), Ian Page (conductor), Emily Adamson/Philly Noone (design), The Mozartists.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; Wednesday 29th May 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):