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

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."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

23 Feb 2020

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.

Dima Slobodeniouk conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

A review by Marc Bridle

Above: Christine Rice

Photo credit: Patricia Taylor

 

We began this journey through time in 2003 with Jörg Widmann’s Lied for Orchestra. This is a piece centred on melody - and centred on Schubert. It is a work of profound extremes, with an orchestra that is like a Schubert lieder but without being the accompaniment to it. The tenor of the music is indeed more resonant of Schubert than Widmann’s style normally suggests, and if there is a focus on song in this piece it is generated by the orchestra responding to the intimacy of the instrumentation of a piece like the Octet with instruments characterised by instrumental solos replicating their orchestral voices. But, what is also noticeable is what is not Schubert. The debt to Sibelius - especially that composer’s Seventh Symphony - shines like a floodlight. Even more apparent is Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, especially the final movement. The use of the bassoon suggests all its lugubriousness, but it’s the intensity of the string writing, the swelling violins and dark strings which seem just as searing in that movement’s terrifying climax; a trio of trombones has all the effect of overloaded power, the crushing percussion a hammer blow. The work may travel through styles but it’s musically effective and the London Philharmonic played it superbly.

Wind back a century to 1903 and we were in the world of evocative song and ravishing orchestration - Ravel’s Shéhérazade. This was, in many ways, not an ideal performance but Ravel does not make life particularly easy for any mezzo who attempts to sing the part. Christine Rice lacked a certain precision in her French which was magnified, certainly by this particular orchestra. When Juliette Bausor’s principal flute sounded so impeccably shaped, with a tone exquisitely given to stretch her lines into infinity, Rice’s clipping of phrases and tendency to muzzle the distinctive clarity of what she was singing came across as less than accurate.

But that is not to say that her voice itself is often a beautiful instrument. Its very depth and sheen can often give the impression of conveying mystery, although what we got was principally an illusion of it. That long first song, ‘Asie’, should be a melding of two worlds - one of beauty the other of horror; but listening to Rice’s version I’m not sure I got this. There didn’t seem much of either mystery or solitariness in the line “Mystérieuse et solitaire”, nor the distinction between “des rose et du sang” towards the songs close. The panache of the London Philharmonic’s Spanish-inflected rhythms, its oriental shades of Eastern promise were highly expressive but simply highlighted the struggle many singers experience in this cycle.

There are difficulties in the two shorter songs, though I think Rice managed them slightly better. ‘La flute enchantée’ needs to strike a balance between sorrow and joy and that is largely what we got with Rice able to bring a mellowness and sense of radiance to her voice. ‘L’indifférent’ is complex in that it can take a mezzo outside her comfort zone - some find the characterisation of its androgyny difficult to navigate; others embrace it. Rice leaned towards the latter, but principally because the voice’s darker more masculine tones hinted at her ambiguity.

Slobodeniouk-Dima_Marco-Borggreve.jpg Dima Slobodeniouk. Photo credit: Marco Borggreve.

The concert ended in 1803, as it were, with Beethoven’s Eroica. Despite this symphony being an indisputable masterpiece, it never surprises me how many performances of it hang fire. This, however, was one of the most incendiary I have heard in many, many years. I have yet to mention the conductor of this concert, Dima Slobodeniouk. He is not the most precise conductor I have seen, but what he does do is shape what he conducts with great integrity and vision. The gestures are broad in scope as he sweeps his left hand deep into the orchestra. But what is most impressive is that magical illusion of making what he conducts seem much faster than it actually is. The Allegro con brio of this Eroica sounded quite measured but the sheer electricity generated was absolutely thrilling. There was no broadness in those opening chords, so I suppose one might have expected a certain fleetness - but it wasn’t immediately apparent we would get it.

The Marcia Funebre, on the other hand, seemed to work in the opposite direction. This was fast, and there was never any sense it was otherwise. Perhaps the F minor Fugue didn’t quite have sufficient power for my taste, but Slobodeniouk managed to pull some depth from the LPO’s cellos and basses which did at least suggest gravity and that plunge into the turbulent and ferocious development was a thrilling cataclysm of despair. I think one might have preferred divided violins and a different layout of lower strings, but we had what we had.

The brilliance of this performance’s Scherzo was entirely down to the lightness of touch from the orchestra, something which was carried through to the Allegro molto - its storms, fugues, sforzandos and wildly fluctuating dynamics articulated with uncompromising brilliance. A revelatory performance, and one which bookended an often fascinating concert.

Marc Bridle

Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano), Dima Slobodeniouk (conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Festival Hall, London; Saturday 22nd 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):