Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.



17 Aug 2019

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.

Prom 39: L’enfance du Christ - Maxime Pascale conducts the Hallé

A review by David Truslove

Above: Roderick Williams, Julie Boulianne, Allan Clayton and Neal Davies

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou


In addition, there was eloquent choral singing and much to admire from the baton-less French conductor Maxime Pascal whose sinuous movements conjured a giant flying invertebrate seemingly from another planet. But his skeletal frame and exaggerated gestures - hands and arms frequently elongated and swooping over the front strings - brought so much life to this charming and original score.

In an anniversary year when one might have expected to hear La damnation de Faust or even the Grande Messe des morts, both works matching the magnitude of the Albert Hall, L’enfance du Christ was an interesting choice, and one not performed at a Prom since 2003. Given the pastoralism and restraint of L’enfance du Christ, its imaginative elaboration of Christ’s childhood could have disappeared from view in this cavernous venue had everything not been so convincingly and vividly projected. Pascale and his forces fashioned a compelling and mostly hall-stilling atmosphere, the spirit of Berlioz’s boldly conceived music conveyed with such care and affection that my quibble regarding the inclusion of an interval soon vanished.

Of course, Berlioz’s theatrical instincts in this ‘sacred trilogy’ are understated in a work that largely occupies a devotional mood, its dramas gently but tellingly evoked in a series of tableaux where delineation of character is stylised ‘in the manner of old illuminated missals’. Domestic and political resonances are discreetly outlined, yet its few dramatic moments such as Herod’s scene with the fanatical soothsayers and Joseph’s attempts to find shelter create an operatic dimension that simultaneously blurs distinctions of genre.

Regardless of such formal divisions, this performance unfolded from its strange woodwind sonorities with an absolute sureness of touch, the Hallé frequently subdued yet always captivating and providing much of the work’s cinematic detail. Pianissimo strings (placed antiphonally and underpinned by six double basses behind them) brought a haunting intensity to Herod’s restlessness in the ‘Nocturnal March’ and the cabalistic dance was carried off with aplomb. The Overture to Part Two was beautifully shaped, woodwind sparkled in the domestic preparations by a welcoming Ishmaelite family in Sais and a restful Trio for harp (Marie Leenhardt) and two flutes (Amy Yule and Sarah Bennett) brought exceptional musicianship.

Much was enjoyed too from Roderick Williams - always an engaging presence on the platform - doubling as a warm-toned Polydorus and Joseph. His was a well-matched partnership with Julie Boulianne, a French-Canadian mezzo blessed with radiant tones, ideally cast as Mary. It’s a shame Berlioz doesn’t provide her with more vocal opportunities, but the stable duet was a delight, shaped with effortless control and tenderness. Allan Clayton impressed too as Narrator and Centurion, singing with polished tone that seemed gripped by a quasi-religious fervour in the Epilogue. His traversal of Christ’s early years and return to Bethlehem was sung with bewitching tenderness, almost heart-breaking at the lines, ‘O my soul, what remains for you to do but shatter your pride before so great a mystery?’ Equally compelling was Neal Davies as Herod and Father of the Family, delivering every ounce of emotion in the troubled dream sequence; upper notes purring nicely and with just enough security at the bottom of the stave. Whether malevolent or munificent, Davies taps into the core of the role and commands our attention.

The combined singers of Britten Sinfonia Voices and Genesis Sixteen caught the ear as Ishmaelites, soothsayers and shepherds, although the much-loved leaving taking of the Holy family didn’t quite have me gasping for breath, wondering how any choir can sing so quietly. A shame that the quadruple piano marking in the third verse was ignored and the love of the shepherds for the Christ child not as moving as it might have been. Whatever shortcomings there, compensation arrived with an angelic chorus offstage, and the work’s ethereal apotheosis could not have been better judged - the chorus transcendent.

David Truslove

Julie Boulianne (mezzo-soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Neal Davies (bass), Maxime Pascal (conductor), Genesis Sixteen, Britten Sinfonia Voices, Hallé

Royal Albert Hall, London; Wednesday 14th August 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):