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

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Jul 2019

The 2019 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

This year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance offered a veritable operatic smörgåsbord, presenting sizable excerpts from operas ranging from Gluck to Saint-Saëns, from Mozart to Debussy, by way of some Italian masterpieces, courtesy of Rossini and Verdi.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2019

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Jacquelyn Stucker (Euridice) and Patrick Terry (Orfeo)

(C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda

 

One only has to hear the first few notes of the fiddlers’ wriggle which opens the overture to Le nozze di Figaro for one’s toes to start tapping and one’s ears to jump to attention, so beginning the programme with the overture and first three numbers from Mozart’s opera was a sensible choice which got proceedings underway slickly. Thomas Payne - the first of the performance’s four conductors - led the ROH Orchestra through a light-footed rendition of the opera which, with the pianissimo strings tingling and buzzing, whipped up some energy for the entrance of Michael Mofidian’s Figaro, confidently surveying his domain and energetically waggling a tape-measure.

Michael Mofidian and Yaritza Véliz.jpgMichael Mofidian (Figaro) and Yaritza Véliz (Susanna) (C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda.

The Scottish-Iranian bass-baritone and Yaritza Véliz developed a good rapport during ‘Se a caso madama’, as the Chilean soprano used her sparkling tone - and a shocking-pink frock - to distract the self-absorbed Figaro from his bed-measuring chores, though given the cavernous nature of the soon-to-be-weds’ baroque ‘garret’ it didn’t seem likely that the removers would have any difficulty squeezing in the Count’s nuptial gift. A little of the momentum built up was diffused by the rather slow tempo of Figaro’s ensuing ‘Se vuol ballare’ though Mofidian sang with characteristic precision and control.

The lovely richness of his bass-baritone was showed off to better effect, though, in the closing moments of the Tower Scene from Pelléas and Mélisande, when Golaud entered to scold his wife for behaving so childishly with Pelléas. Golaud’s reflectiveness resonated beautifully - there was a hint of menace, but also vulnerability - and it was good to hear a more youthful voice in the role than is often the case, bringing the half-brothers closer together in age. I had had my doubts about the wisdom of selecting this scene to end the first half of the programme: Figaro may start ‘in media res’, but I feared that it would be a challenge to establish a credible and absorbing theatrical and music ‘ambience’ by extracting a ‘slice’ from Debussy’s dreamy, otherworldly opera. But, I was proved wrong by Noa Naamat’s thoughtful direction of Hongni Wu, and by the freshness and anticipation which the Chinese mezzo-soprano conjured as she draped herself across the window ledge of the ‘tower’ and stretched down to the garden below. The soprano’s initial unaccompanied phrases were as silken as her long tresses confirming that impressive vocal presence that she displayed in Naamat’s recent production of Henze’s Phaedra in the Linbury Theatre. Wu conveyed fairytale-like mystery while never over-gesticulating, while the lightness of British baritone Dominic Sedgewick’s upper range helped to evoke Pelléas’s earnest naivety and fascination. As Sedgewick wrapped himself in Mélisande’s hair, conductor Patrick Milne summoned exquisite nocturnal glitterings and surges from the ROH Orchestra, but the enveloping sensuousness of the moment remained innocent, almost playful. Billy Slocombe’s lighting of this scene contributed enormously to its enchantment, magenta and blue softly darkening to highlight the dusky pink moon.

Hongni Wu and Dominic Sedgwick.jpg Hongni Wu (Mélisande) and Dominic Sedgwick (Pelléas) (C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda.

The Act 2 aria and duet from Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila was lit with similarly striking effect, though here monochrome chiaroscuro effects splashed with red were the order of the day, creating a tense locale. Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina relished the long melismatic legato lines of Dalila’s ‘Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse’, easily encompassing the extensive range as she luxuriated on a black leather couch and wallowed in the seductiveness which she knows will overcome Samson’s strength, richly supported by the ROH Orchestra under James Hendry.

As the High Priest of Dagon, who urges Dalila to use her charms to destroy Samson whose Hebrew followers have just conquered the Philistines, Argentinean baritone Germán E. Alcántara sang confidently but was a little overshadowed by Akhemtshina’s vibrant and luscious-voiced femme fatale. I found Naamat’s direction a little too stylised in this scene - did the High Priest really need to whip out a gun from beneath his black jacket, like a stock-villain? Similarly, in the Act II temporale and trio from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia the singers seemed to be working too hard to engender some comedy; as Almaviva and Rosina relished their planned elopement, urged on by the impatient Figaro, the gestures were as lacking in subtlety as the primary colour costumes. Undoubtedly, the exaggerated quasi-farce effect was intended, but if you’re trying hard to be funny then you probably won’t be. Wu and Sedgwick were pleasingly reunited as Rosina and Figaro, though, while Thando Mjandana, a South African tenor participating in the Link Artist Scheme , was a suave Count.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Dalila).jpgAigul Akhmetshina (Dalila) (C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda.

An excerpt from Act 1 of Verdi’s Rigoletto was considerably elevated by South Korean soprano Haegee Lee’s terrific rendition of Gilda’s ‘Caro nome’. This was a measured and confidently crafted performance which communicated character and feeling most impressively. Her compatriot Konu Kim was an animated and lithe-voiced Duke of Mantua, Akhmetshina returned to imbue Giovanna’s melodies with warmth, while Mjandana (Borsa) was joined by fellow South African Chuma Sijeqa, also a Link Artist, whose appearance as Rigoletto may have been brief but who made an immediate and strong mark. Verdi rounded things off when the full complement of 2018-19 JPYAs joined together for a rather confusing front-of-curtain performance of the fugal finale of Act 3 of Falstaff, which made up for any lack of theatrical clarity with a generous helping of obvious, and engaging, joie de vivre.

The best singing of the night, for this listener at least, came earlier in the evening when the first JPYA countertenor, Patrick Terry, and American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker performed Orfeo’s tragic submission to Euridice’s desperate pleas, as depicted by Gluck in Act 3 of Orfeo ed Euridice. Again, I found Naamat’s direction a little stylised - too much hand-wringing, head-clutching, tree-hugging for my liking - but the establishment of the scene’s emotional tenor was accomplished, and again aided by Slocombe’s lighting designs which turn soft grey to blood red and then, when Véliz’s Amore had restored life, love and liberty, returned through orange to a golden glow of joy. Stucker communicated every atom of Euridice’s confusion, anger, passion and despair, in ‘Che fiero momento … Fortune ennemie’, and so fiercely emotive and vocally compelling was this grand lament that it was no wonder that Terry could resist her pleading no longer before giving in to his own outpouring of grief, ‘Che farò senza Euridice?’, which was no less powerful.

Claire Seymour

Conductors: James Hendry, Patrick Milne, Thomas Payne, Edmund Whitehead; Sopranos: Haegee Lee, Jacquelyn Stucker, Yaritza Véliz; Mezzo-sopranos: Aigul Akhmetshina, Hongni Wu: Counter-tenor: Patrick Terry; Tenors: Konu Kim, Thando Mjandana: Baritones: Germán E. Alcántara, Dominic Sedgwick, Chuma Sijeqa: Bass baritone: Michael Mofidian; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Sunday 21st 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):