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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

30 Nov 2019

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.

The Sixteen at Kings Place: Saint Cecilia

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The Sixteen

 

But, no matter. This performance by Harry Christophers’ ensemble at Kings Place was characteristically accomplished and well-composed, in terms of, respectively, the singers’ assurance (though I’m not sure why Christophers needed to employ pitch pipes between items, given the singers’ experience and the harmonic clarity and focus of the works performed) and the balance of compositional styles presented.

Britten’s ‘A Hymn to the Virgin’ (1931) opened proceedings, and here the strengths of The Sixteen were obvious: the clarity of diction; the persuasive nuance of suspension and dissonance; the give and take between phrases which creates fluency; the independence of voices where necessary which injects drama and vigour.

The programme included works by many women composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Ruth Byrchmore’s ‘Prayer of St Teresa of Avila’ was noteworthy for the way harmonic stasis and movement were opposed, creating a dynamism that flowered in rich timbral majesty. In contrast, the lines of the composer’s ‘A Birthday (St Cecilia)’ seemed at times to be swimming against each other, resulting in no less dynamic urgency. The latter climaxed in a sustained proclamation, “my love is come to me”, through which the female voices seemed to evolve from a human to an instrumental to an almost abstract timbre.

We had two works by Cecilia McDowall, ‘Now may we singen’ and ‘Of a Rose’, both of which recalled carolling traditions - and the spirit of John Rutter - in their combinations of melody and drone, and the temporal flexibility which seems to be a direct representation of linguistic veracity. Similarly, there were two works by Margaret Rizza: ‘O speculum columbe’, which sprayed its harmonic light like a fan of colour in the opening stanza, and ‘Ave generosa’ which was one of the evening’s more individual and engaging offerings, bringing together soprano and alto solos in a complementary partnership and culminating in a blaze of jubilation: “Dei Genitricem. Amen.” (Mother of God. Amen)

The programme did evince an occasional waft of ‘English gentility’: Elizabeth Poston’s ‘Jesus Christ the apple tree’ was an exquisite dose of Christmas-come-early; The Sixteen’s Kim Porter showed her choral nous in ‘Christmas Eve’, combining contrapuntal dialogue with harmonic nuance. But any sense of comfort or complacency, however beautiful, was challenged most creatively by Alissa Firsova’s ‘Stabat Mater’, which foraged through piquant harmonic landscapes and sonorities, exploiting false relation and flattened ‘blue notes’, and sculpting an architectural expanse of quiet dignity. Similarly Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘Lullaby for Lucy’ made its mark without undue ceremony: as the text spoke of “plants and creatures of the valley” which “Unite,/ calling a new/ Young one to join the celebration”, so the music expanded organically from tenor solo to tender intertwinings, culminating in startling luminosity: “Lucy came among them, all brightness and light.”

Ironically, if there was one item that left me feeling a bit ‘bristly’ it was Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia. Though the text was well articulated throughout, I longed for more rhythmic swing and suaveness at the opening, to avoid the impression of English-country-house etiquette and stiff-upper-lips. In the second section, “I cannot grow”, there was precision but not tension: the counterpoint was precise but prim. The tuning of some of the unison refrains was not entirely settled, though there was a persuasive organ-like timbre and sonority at time for the appeal, “Blessed Cecilia, appear in vision”; the pause on “Love me” at the close of this second section was distinctly troubled intonation-wise.

With the arrival of the concluding Auden poem, “O ear whose creatures cannot wish to fall”, I longed for more fluency of line: all was absolutely accurate, but, for example, the men’s stepwise lines came across as separate notes rather than a melodic sweep. And, this may be an entirely personal preference or predilection, but I found soprano solo - though powerfully sung by Julie Cooper - too empowered and vibrant: this is surely an angelic song, and if we can’t have a boy soprano then we might have a voice which approximates the abstract elevation of such? Similarly, when it came to the poetic ‘punchline’, so to speak, I felt that Jeremy Budd’s solo tenor proclamation, “O wear your tribulation like a rose”, needed greater spaciousness to take in the import of the text; and that more precise tuning of the chord supporting the fanfare-like declaration was required. This work highlighted, too, the tendency of The Sixteen to over-sing in this venue; they did not need to cast their utterances into a cathedral’s sonic void that would magnify and return and enrich; the acoustic in Hall One is excellent, the space fairly intimate. Less would have been more at times.

Most affecting of all was Herbert Howells’ ‘Take him, earth, for cherishing’, which is often said to have been commissioned following the death of John F. Kennedy, though the real dedicatee is surely Howells’ son, Michael, who died 28 years earlier from polio. The initial unison challenged; imperatives, “Guard him well”, compelled; the counterpoint was simultaneously knotty and dynamic: “Comes the hour God hath appointed/ To fulfil the hope of men:” The plea to the Lord, “O take him, mighty Leader, Take again thy servant’s soul”, was expansive and compelling. The final prayer, “Take him, earth, for cherishing.”, was quietly touching. Christophers sculpted a cathedral of sound, simultaneously gracious and fragile.

Claire Seymour

The Sixteen: Saint Cecilia
Harry Christophers (conductor)

Britten - Hymn to the Virgin, Ruth Byrchmore - Prayer of St Theresa of Avila, Britten - Hymn to Saint Cecilia, Cecilia McDowall - Now May We Singen, Margaret Rizza - O Speculum Columbe, Alissa Firsova - Stabat Mater, Howells - Take Him Earth for Cherishing, Kim Porter - Christmas Eve, Byrchmore - A Birthday (St Cecilia), McDowall - Of a Rose, Roxanna Panufnik - Prayer, Elizabeth Poston - Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, Maxwell Davies - Lullaby for Lucy, Rizza - Ave generosa.

Kings Place, London; Friday 29th November 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):