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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

12 Feb 2020

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.

Acis and Galatea: The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, at Cadogan Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The Sixteen

 

It was at this estate near Edgware, north-west of London, that the year before Handel had gained employment among the group of musicians that Brydges maintained to perform in his chapel and at private entertainments.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary in 2019, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen released a recording of Acis and Galatea , performed - in accord with what are thought to be the circumstances of the work’s premiere - by an intimate ensemble of just five singers and nine instrumentalists. A year later, The Sixteen have embarked upon a mini-tour of the work, beginning here at Cadogan Hall with further concert performances to follow in Chichester, Derby and Warwick .

The Sixteen’s 2019 disc won the Preis Der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik Best Listen Award; and, at Cadogan Hall, one could understand why. Handel’s beautiful melodies flowed one after the other, sung with mellifluence, elegance and good taste by the five vocal soloists. The nine instrumentalists from the Orchestra of the Sixteen played with similar graciousness of style. The continuo ensemble - cellist Joseph Crouch, theorbo player David Miller, harpist Frances Kelly and harpsichordist Alastair Ross - provided sensitively detailed support. The many instrumental obbligatos conversed engagingly with the voices, Catherine Latham’s sweet piping unheeding of Galatea’s plea to “Hush, ye pretty warbling quire!”; Hannah McLaughlin’s oboe warmly conveying the heat of passion within the eager Acis’ breast; Kelly’s harp embodying the glow of Galatea’s love when reunited with her smitten shepherd.

Arranged symmetrically - the violinists (leader Sarah Sexton and Daniel Edgar) standing stage-right, balanced by the continuo group stage-left - with Christophers dancing lightly on his toes at their centre, the musicians formed a ear-pleasing consort in front of the seated singers at the rear of the stage. So, what could there be not to like?

Well, while the musical performances could not be faulted, I missed the wit, drama and emotion which is present in both John Gay’s libretto and Handel’s score. In Grove, Stanley Sadie speculates: ‘Whether or not it was originally fully staged, given in some kind of stylized semi-dramatic form or simply performed as a concert work is uncertain; local tradition holds that it was given in the open air on the terraces overlooking the garden (the recent discovery of piping to supply an old fountain, suitable for the closing scene, might fancifully be invoked as support).’ And, when Acis and Galatea was presented in a revised three-act version (incorporating musical material from Handel’s cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (Naples, 1708) with words by Nicola Giuvo) at the King’s Theatre in June 1732, the advertisement read, ‘There will be no Action on the Stage, but the Scene will represent, in a Picturesque Manner, a rural Prospect, with Rocks, Groves, Fountains and Grotto’s; amongst which will be disposed a Chorus of Nymphs and Shepherds, Habits, and every other Decoration suited to the Subject’.

At Cadogan Hall, we had neither a ‘rural Prospect’ of Arcadian serenity nor any ‘Action’. The singers undertook, in turn, a decorous progress to the front of the stage to sing their arias, then retreated to resume their positions in the Chorus. It was all very polite and tasteful: ‘courtly’, said one of my colleagues. But, there was little sense of the emotions or psychologies that the work expresses and explores. When Acis and Galatea stood side by side to celebrate their reunion with the joyous, bubbling cries of “Happy we!”, they scarce looked at each other, their apparent indifference surely at odds with their blissful avowals, “Thou all my bliss, thou all my joy!” Similarly, though Polyphemus stood nearby, the audience not the ogre was the recipient of Galatea’s command, “Go, monster, bid some other guest/ I loathe the host, I loathe the feast”? And, because the monstrous one did indeed beat a retreat, Coridon’s implorations to his master to “Softly, gently, kindly treat her” were sung to no-one in particular.

But, if there was dramatic restraint, there was also musical refinement. In ensemble, the five voices blended well - just occasionally one of the tenor lines rose overly to the fore - and the collective voices captured the expressive contrasts between the pastoral peace at the start, singing with relaxed expansiveness, “O, the pleasure of the plains!”, and the foreboding atmosphere at the start of Act 2: “Wretched lovers!” The singers moved as a group to the front, in order to plead for all the “muses” and “swains” to grieve Acis’ demise, and though there was no prone figure of the slain Acis over which to mourn, they captured both the tenderness and gravity: “the gentle Acis is no more!”

The virginal purity of Grace Davidson’s soprano made this Galatea a truly other-worldly sea nymph. There was perhaps a limited range of colour, such as would imbue Galatea’s excited image of the dove, “Billing, cooing/ Panting, wooing”, with requisite passion; but Davidson’s exquisite sense of line and her tasteful, gentle ornamentation - a graceful appoggiatura or two, an occasional trill to ruffle the nymph’s serenity - were more than recompense.

Acis is a rather dull dude, and Jeremy Budd seemed a little reserved initially. I didn’t sense Acis’ naïve impetuousness in “Where shall I seek the charming fair?”, and the repetitions of the “Love” which “in her eyes sits playing” and “on her lips is straying” might have been more pointed - the mood was jaunty rather than sensuous. But the tenor’s tone was beautifully lucid and softly sweet. As Damon, tenor Mark Dobell conveyed a stronger sense of presence, and the sensible swain’s Act 2 aria, “Consider, fond shepherd”, was persuasively earnest.

Polyphemus shatters the lovers’ Elysian idyll and it was when bass Stuart Young took to the forestage that there was an injection of the sort of dramatic impetus and characterisation that had thus far been lacking. Singing from memory, Young really did “rage - melt - burn” and in “O ruddier than the cherry” he upset the pastoral serenity, singing with strong tone, excellent diction and well-judged rhythmic freedom to suggest the “raging flame” of desire within his heart. Young captured both the ridiculousness of Polyphemus’ hyperbolic passion - Latham’s sopranino recorder adding its ironic commentary - and, in a beautifully coloured “Cease to beauty to be suing”, the monster’s frustration and pathos.

Gay’s libretto balances the ‘high’ with the ‘low’; and in Handel’s music there is wit and irony, as well as deep emotion. If both the levity and the intensity were a little lacking on this occasion, then there was musical earnestness and expressive beauty. A good listen, indeed.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Acis and Galatea

Galatea - Grace Davidson, Acis - Jeremy Budd, Damon - Mark Dobell, Coridon - Simon Berridge, Polyphemus - Stuart Young, Conductor - Harry Christophers, members of the Orchestra of The Sixteen.

Cadogan Hall, London; Tuesday 11th February 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):