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

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

Death in Venice at Deutsche Oper Berlin

This death in Venice is not the end, but the beginning.

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Sep 2019

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca, Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sonia Prina (contralto)

Photo credit: Javier Teatro Real

 

But, this wasn’t the first time that Handel had turned his attention to the Ovidian love-triangle between the mortal shepherd Acis, the sea-nymph Galatea and the Cyclops Polyphemus who, in a jealous rage, kills Acis, prompting Galatea to transform her beloved into an immortal river spirit. The allegorical tale was also the subject of the 1708 serenata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo which Handel composed in Naples in 1708 for Aurora Sanseverino, Duchess d’Laurenzana as a wedding gift for her nephew, Duke Tolomeo d’Alvito.

The intimate, decorous Wigmore Hall was a fitting setting for this performance by Roberta Mameli, Sonia Prina and Luigi De Donato with the Italian Baroque specialist ensemble, laBarocca, conducted by Ruben Jais. Founded in Milan in 2008, the sixteen-piece ensemble play with a light-textured vitality which here enhanced the delicacy and economy of many of Handel’s aria accompaniments, some of which employ continuo alone while others develop beautifully expressive duets between the solo voices and obbligato instruments. Jais decreed a prevailing gentleness which could then be dramatically enlivened by striking dynamic contrasts, occasional gritty textures and instrumental colour.

Handel’s serenata reveals not only the young composer’s confident appreciation of the requirements and expectations of the form, but also the considerable skill with which he could characterise in music. The role of the male lover, Aci, was written for a soprano castrato, as was the convention, with Galatea performed by a lower female voice. Here Roberta Mameli’s light, bright soprano was perfectly complemented by Sonia Prina’s dark, dense but pliable contralto. In their opening duet - which followed segue from an interpolated Sinfonia (Handel’s score provides no instrumental prelude) - Mameli’s brightness and ‘lift’ captured Aci’s optimism and joy as the day breaks and a serene sky seems to promise the lovers future joy, while Prina thoughtfully supported the higher line, shaping the phrases sensitively to convey Galatea’s passion.

Mameli and oboist Nicola Barbagli intertwined and echoed sublimely in ‘Che non può la gelosia’, their silky running triplets in thirds communicating the shepherd’s unrest when he first learns of Polifemo’s jealousy, strengthened by some thumbing bass line accents. When Aci prepares himself to do battle with the Cyclops, Handel surprising scores his aria for ‘solo cembalo’, even though librettist Nicola Guiva has supplied him with images of eagles’ talons ripping into a snake’s nest inspiring violent and venomous vengeance in the latter. Perhaps he wished us to foreground such imagery without distraction? Here, Jais employed the harpsichord alone but, as Mameli projected forcefully (sometimes a little too much so, with adverse effect on the intonation) the relationship between the voice and the rather fragile, rapid harpsichord part became loosened.

MAMELI-roberta.jpgRoberta Mameli (soprano). Image courtesy of Allegorica opera management.

More successful, and considerably moving, was ‘Qui l’augel da pianta in pianta’ in which Aci reflects first on the carefree carolling of the birds which charms his heart, and then on the contrast between the birds’ happiness and his own grief. The preceding recitative closed with transfiguring gentleness as Aci asks the stars to allow him one more chance to gaze upon his beloved, whereupon he will die content. A weighty silence interposed before Barbagli’s oboe began its sweet song, inviting the shepherd to join in and charm his languishing heart. Here, Mameli employed a tender piano with affecting power and displayed superb accuracy in her avian lilting and trilling. The strings of laBarocca provided a bed of barely there tenderness for Aci’s final anguished ‘Verso già l’alma’, the harmonies softly and subtly altering, communicating the twists of grief in Aci’s heart as Mameli blanched her soprano to the merest, iciest thread.

I have more frequently heard Sonia Prina in roles which require her to rant and rage, which she does with dramatic potency and energy but with occasional mishaps as she leaps between registers and vents unbridled passion and anger. As Galatea she was able to display the more composed emotional depths which her rich contralto, with its velvety bottom and richly focused top, can convey. There was a lovely delicacy when the sea-nymph first tells Aci of the suffering that he must forebear, though strong resentment in the recitative in which she reveals Polifemo’s wrath and cruelty. The fury increased when Prina, arms crossed in indignation, launched into an agile ‘Benché tuoni e l’etra vvampi’ in which Galatea, allied with the oboe, envisions herself as a laurel tree, standing steadfast again the thunder’s fiery flashes as evoked by the dry spiky semiquavers of the strings. Surely few thunder gods would dare to challenge the steely insistence of Galatea’s closing avowal of invincibility, which Prina sustained long and darkly, while her final battle with Polifemo bristled with aggrieved energy and fury.

Luigi De Donato.jpgLuigi De Donato (bass). Image courtesy of Allegorica opera management.

Heralded by a strident fanfare from trumpets and oboe, as Polifemo Luigi De Donato found a good balance between vocal refinement and the Cyclops’ crude clumsiness. De Donato’s diction was excellent, in the recitatives especially, where he used his firm and centre bass to bring the words to life. In his first aria, ‘Se schernito son io’, Polifemo may have been trembling with anger but the bass’s delivery was as authoritative as De Donato’s tall, imposing stance. ‘Fra l’ombra e gli orrori’ caught us unawares with its dark dignity, as Polifemo laments his loss once Galatea has thrown herself in the waves forever. De Donato cleanly negotiated the repeated, challenging leaps in the vocal line, with tight trills in the bass and muted strings signalling his heart-churning distress. The Cyclops has the last word of the drama, and Polifemo’s accompanied recitative of repentance was beautifully hushed.

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo possesses little of the mirth of Handel’s subsequent myth-telling mini-opera and - surprisingly for a work intended to be performed at a nuptial celebration - the tone becomes progressively more sombre and even severe. Jais was not entirely successful in sustaining momentum during a series of subdued and solemn numbers, and perhaps could have looked for greater emotional contrast.

The sudden shift at the close to the brisk moralising chorus was rather destabilising, the characters whom we have been encouraged to empathise briskly shedding their dramatic robes and revealing themselves as personified moral symbols in a philosophical debate. But, if the gruesome end which sees Aci felled by a boulder seemed inapt to the Neapolitan weddings guests in 1708 then they must have been reassured by the final confirmation: “Who loves well has aims of faithful love and pure constancy.”

A few patrons left the Hall before the close, perhaps not anticipating that a performance scheduled to last 90 minutes would over-run by almost a third. But, those who remained offered full-voiced praise to the singers and musicians for a performance that offered dramatic dignity and musical delights.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo HWV7

Aci - Roberta Mameli (soprano), Galatea - Sonia Prina (contralto), Polifemo - Luigi De Donato (bass), Conductor - Ruben Jais, laBarocca

Wigmore Hall, London; Thursday 26th September 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):