Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

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.



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):