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As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about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

12 Sep 2019

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 69: Czech Philharmonic conducted by Semyon Bychkov

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Elena Stikhina (soprano)

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

 

For a soprano who has already sung Brünnhilde (in Siegfried) and is about to take on Norma, there were many assumptions to make about the kind of voice Stikhina might have; none were actually founded in fact. Everything about this performance suggested a thorough grounding in the role’s youthfulness, innocence, and romantic instincts. It was almost unbearable to hear Tatyana’s soul being displayed with such depth; it was if every novel, every chapter and paragraph of a book ever written were being narrated by Stikhina with heartrending insight. What was so unusual about this Letter Scene wasn’t just the careful attention to detail (and the impeccable Russian), it was that you felt she was writing the letter as it happened. Less the vast monologue it often is, it was a gripping and believable performance of time and place which was of the moment.

The voice itself is extraordinarily beautiful and rather wide in what it can do. It has the creaminess of Janowitz yet that rather mezzo-like, shadowy appeal of Ludwig; in a sense it’s febrile, like a molten furnace embracing dark embers from the middle of the chest, right up to a rock-solid spiralling high register that is crystalline. The vibrato is controlled with unwavering precision. Her stage presence is such that she lives the role of Tatyana - and I imagine everything else she sings. She completely charmed a capacity audience, just as she managed to persuade Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic to follow every instinct of a performance that was as sublime as it was utterly incomparable.

The concert had opened with very familiar Czech fare - Smetana. The Overture, and Three Dances to The Bartered Bride fizzed with that unique blend of infectiousness and rustic brilliance which only a Czech orchestra can muster. That reedy woodwind sound, the rather bright brass is never a surprise from this orchestra; what did prove a revelation was the astonishing richness of the strings, particularly a cello section which really left me wondering if there is a finer one anywhere in the world.

One can imagine the work after the interval - Shostakovich’s searing Eighth Symphony - with its distinctive Soviet implications (even though it is markedly differently in tone from the Seventh) - being a touch unsettling for a Czech orchestra. The performance we heard actually suggested it might have been because I have rarely heard one in which the angst, tragedy and eruptions of sound were so visceral. This is indeed a symphony which is marked out by climaxes of terrifying power, and the Czech Philharmonic did not hold back in the slightest. Hard sticks on the timpani were mighty, and scarcely refrained from making an impact which was monumental. Yet, could one have asked for a more bittersweet, more serene cor anglais solo played over lamenting tremolo strings than the mercurial one we heard here? I very much doubt it. But when one heard those grinding climaxes against clarinet and flute duets the dichotomy of a symphony which is always in conflict with itself simply put into focus an orchestra which has an exceptional ability to display itself as a body of craftsmen rather than instrumentalists.

Semyon Bychkov tends towards a more aggressive slant in Shostakovich - a Tenth with the Orchestre de Paris in the 1990s at the Proms was a vividly wild performance - and he coaxed some very grim playing from his Czech players in the central movements of this Eighth. There were great slabs of darkness from the strings, a toccata in the Allegro non troppo that stuttered and grinded like machinery in a great industrial iron foundry; trumpets blazed through the orchestra like gun fire. Those climaxes which seemed to come from nowhere in this symphony were horrific in their power and then just collapsed; in the final movement you felt the weight of the bows against cellos and basses would break their strings.

This was a performance of such magnitude, a gripping brilliance and played with devastating power, that Bychkov was able to hold off applause for a significant amount of time. It really was that exhausting for conductor, orchestra and audience. But this had been an exceptional Prom in every way. Without a doubt the highlight of this year’s season for me.

Marc Bridle

Elena Stikhina (soprano), Semyon Bychkov (conductor), Czech Philharmonic.

Royal Albert Hall, London; Tuesday 10th 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):