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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

20 Jul 2019

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Karina Canellakis conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2019 Proms

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Ladislav Elgr (tenor)

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri's new piece had been commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing almost to the day (on 20 July 1969). The work used a large symphony orchestra (including triple woodwind, five horns, four trumpets, tuba and three percussion), plus the BBC Singers, and Di Castri interwove three diverse texts, extracts from Giacomo Leopardi's 1820 Italian poem Alla luna, fragments of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho (in English) and a recent text by Chinese-British writer Xiaolu Guo which references the 1969 Moon landing, the legend of the Chinese goddess of the Moon and the recent Chinese exploration of the far side of the Moon, resulting in a complex multi-layered work which perhaps tried a little too hard to fit too much into its 15 minute duration. Di Castri certainly created a series of striking textures, from the shimmering, glittering over deep bass notes of the opening to busier more vivid moments, she has strong ear for imaginative timbres. Perhaps if the BBC Singers' diction had been somewhat clearer, maybe the work needs a rather larger choir than this, but there were too many moments when the choir contribution was a somewhat distant eerie evocation. On first hearing, the piece did not always read structurally, though Canellakis drew superb performances from her performers.

The programme was very much an evening of 'novelties', with Zosha Di Castri's world premiere being followed by the first Proms performance of Dvořák’s tone poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, and Janáček’s mass which is one of the 30 works being celebrated in this year's Proms as being 'novelties' introduced to the UK by Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms.

The Golden Spinning Wheel is one of a group of tone poems which Dvořák wrote in 1896 on his return to his native Bohemia after his period in New York as director of the National Conservatory. It is a long piece, around 30 minutes, which narrates quite closely the folk tale as told in the ballad by 19th century Bohemian poet Karel Jaromír Erben. Dvořák’s orchestral writing successfully evokes the world the folk tale with the hunting, horse-riding prince, the seductively spinning young woman and the evil step-mother (cue some striking orchestral writing), but by keeping so closely to the narrative detail rather than more generally evoking the themes, Dvořák left himself little time for development and the result at times seemed a series of short breathed episodes. Canellakis drew fine playing from the orchestra, lovingly creating Dvořák’s colourful and beautiful writing.

Karina Canellakis.jpgKarina Canellakis conducts the BBCSO. Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass was premiered in 1928, but has a somewhat complex textual history with Janáček having to hastily revise (simplify) the work just prior to the premiere. Canellakis opted for the final published version from 1930, but previous BBC Proms outing of the work have explored the re-constructions of Janáček’s more complex first thoughts. However, in all its forms the work remains an immense challenge with Janáček’s vocal and instrumental writing taking no prisoners. It is noticeable that in the last 30 years, Western European choirs and orchestras have become more accustomed to Janáček’s style and the writing in the Glagolitic Mass no longer feels quite on the edge of the possible. In fact, one of the features of this BBC Proms performance under Karina Canellakis' direction was how beautifully the work was shaped and performed. Some of the most notorious choral passages were not simply negotiated by the BBC Symphony Chorus, but sung musically and expressively. And the same goes for the soloists, particularly Ladislav Elgr who sang the taxing high tenor part in a way which made it seem the most natural outpouring of religious expression.

Canellakis seemed to take quite a symphonic view of the work, this was beautifully shaped and highly expressive. The radiant sound of the choir and orchestra in the 'Gospodi pomliluj' (Lord have mercy) was magical, and throughout she created beauty out of Janáček’s cragginess. Thanks to the finely technical expertise of the performers, this was a highly sophisticated experience. Perhaps I slightly missed the sheer perverse rawness of some performances, the sense of communal struggle. Janáček’s image of an immense natural cathedral seemed to have been if not tamed perhaps somewhat tidied. More importantly, I did not always feel the intensity of the meaning of the work, whilst Janáček was not necessarily a conventional believer nor is the mass a straightforward liturgical work, but it is certainly about belief and about God. This did not always come across, and for all the many choral beauties it did not feel as if the chorus meant every note and word, and it should.

The soloists are variously challenged in the piece. Asmik Grigorian sang with plangent beauty, making Janáček’s lines radiant without ever quite convincing that the text meant very much to her. Jennifer Johnston, in the short mezzo-soprano part, was wonderfully expressive and trenchant, and I have only the greatest admiration for tenor Ladislav Elgr. Jan Martiník, stepping in as bass soloist at the last minute, sang the bass part almost from memory and made every note seem as if he really meant it. Organist Peter Holder was simply dazzling, in Janáček’s outrageous solo moments for organ, making the Royal Albert Hall organ move with great dexterity.

Robert Hugill

PROM 1: Zosha Di Castri - Long Is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (BBC commission: world premiere); Dvořák - The Golden Spinning Wheel; Janáček - Glagolitic Mass (final version, 1928; Henry Wood Novelties: UK premiere, 1930)

Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass), Peter Holder (organ), Karina Canellakis (conductor), BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Royal Albert Hall, London; Friday 19th July 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):