Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.



25 Jan 2020

A French Affair: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

A French Affair, as this programme was called, was a promising concept on paper, but despite handsomely sung contributions from the featured soloists and much energetic direction from David Bates, it never quite translated into a wholly satisfying evening’s performance.

A French Affair: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

A review by David Truslove

Above: Nick Pritchard (tenor)

Photo credit: Nick James


Much of this seemed to be the result of hasty planning of the back-of-an-envelope kind. The influence of 17th-century French musical manners on the English Baroque has been an oft-explored recipe, and this snapshot of stylistic assimilation by Henry Purcell was given partial illumination through La Nuova Musica’s choice of anthems and motets associated with the English and French royal courts.

Matters were not helped by the printing of the entire text to Purcell’s 1690 Arise, my muse only to abandon this opulently scored music after its opening movements without any explanation. Some joined up thinking would have helped here, and since the work is one of Purcell’s least performed birthday Odes, it would have been welcome to hear more of it, especially as two uncredited trumpet players were redundant for the rest of the evening. Musically, it was satisfying enough in the sort of way that a film trailer leaves you wanting more, and its opening ‘Symphony’ immediately flagged up Purcell’s borrowing of the French-style overture.

Other Purcell selections included the 1685 Coronation anthem I was glad when they said unto me, curiously performed here with just five singers (plus organ continuo). However impressive singing one-to-a-part maybe, vocal ensembles rarely achieve perfect blend and balance in live performance. The absence of a uniform quality aside and an unvarying vocal weight and tempi, this festive anthem was conceived for the choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal, so this ‘semi-skimmed’ rendition meant that any sense of ceremony and gravitas largely had to be imagined.

Purcell’s music fared better in the wonderful marriage of words and music that is My beloved spake, one of the composer’s finest anthem-symphonies and blest with an undeniable theatrical instinct and youthful vitality. That said, some more joie de vivre could have enlivened its spritely “alleluias” (where evocations of courtly French dances didn’t quite emerge), but that’s not to ignore Nick Pritchard mellifluous tenor depicting a flourishing fig tree or the solo group celebrating “the voice of the turtle”.

No greater contrast could have been achieved beforehand than in the dreamlike repetitions of Cassandra Miller’s newly commissioned work Sleepsinging here receiving its world premiere. Setting a text by the Restoration poet Thomas Betterton, this Canadian composer draws inspiration from two songs belonging to Purcell’s Fairy Queen and melodic reimaginings from Christopher Lowrey and Nick Pritchard for whom the work is written. This collaboration comprises a series of slow descending canons (and not so subtle portamenti) given to the string players, against which smoothly fashioned meditative vocal lines add to its trance-like mood and culminates in a closing paragraph of rapt beauty.

More involving musically was a superb account of John Blow’s Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell forming the emotional centrepiece of the evening. Both Lowrey and Pritchard successfully negotiated its awkward tessitura at the start and brought much refinement to the warbling of Dryden’s Lark and Linnet, as did two merrily chirping recorder players Sarah Humphrys and Rebecca Austen-Brown. Throughout, this heartfelt tribute was a thoroughly absorbing affair, whether reflective or rejoicing, voices and instruments in perfect accord.

Not so the trio of women’s voices that sang Jean Baptiste Lully’s Dixit Dominus, a devotional setting, possibly originally intended for performance by Parisian nuns, was rendered with variously unforgiving and woolly tone. It was, otherwise, an excellent choice not least in underlining the dotted rhythms and expressive harmonies that Purcell would later adopt. More persuasive was Charpentier’s extended Passion motet Le Reniement de St Pierre, a dramatic portrait of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ to which La Nuova Musica responded with an intensity of expression marked by strong individual characterisation and stylish direction.

It was good to hear church music from two composers seldom heard beyond the confines of our cathedrals. From the supposedly vain Pelham Humphrey (whom Samuel Pepys considered ‘an absolute Monsieur’) was a poignantly sung Like as the hart. Across the channel came Jean Phillipe Rameau’s Lenten motet Laboravi clamans where five voices outlined its contrapuntal manner embellished with tasteful ornamentation. The programme concluded with Rameau’s ravishing quartet Tendre amour’ from Les Indes galantes, now glowing with some much-needed warmth.

David Truslove

La Nuova Musica: David Bates (director), Christopher Lowrey (countertenor), Nick Pritchard (tenor)

John Blow: Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell,Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Le reniement de St Pierre,Pelham Humfrey: Like as the hart,Jean Baptiste Lully: Dixit Dominus,Cassandra Miller: Sleepsinging, Henry Purcell: Arise, my muse, I was glad when they said unto me, My beloved spake, Jean Phillipe Rameau: Laboravi clamans, Les Indes galantes Tendre amour

Wigmore Hall, London; Thursday 23rd January 2020.

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):