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 Recordings

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

NAXOS 636943988527
26 May 2020

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

Miryam Magdala – Hila Piltmann (soprano); Narrator (Talmuda) – Matthew Worth (baritone); Yeshua – Kenneth Overton (baritone); Miryam – J’Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano); Kefa/Pilate – Timothy Fallon (tenor); Kayafa – James K Bass (baritone); UCLA Chamber Singers (prepared by James K. Bass); Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus (prepared by Adam Luebke); Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta (conductor); Recorded 13-14 April 2019, Kleinhaus Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, USA.

NAXOS 636943988527 [2CDs]

$20.47  Click to buy

The Passion of Yeshua is a dramatic oratorio by the contemporary composer Richard Danielpour. Written in 2017, the work has been issued by Naxos in a performance recorded in 2019 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, UCLA Chamber Singers and soloists Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon and James K. Bass.

The work is a Passion Oratorio, that is an oratorio written for concert purposes telling the passion story, as opposed to a Passion which sets the Gospel texts and is written for performance in church. (With the adoption of Bach’s Passions as concert works we have rather lost the distinction between the two works).

Danielpour has assembled the text himself from both the Christian Gospels and Hebrew Scriptures, to create a work which uses both Hebrew and English for its text. Danielpour’s aim seems to have been to get back to an earlier conception of Jesus, perhaps a more Jewish conception, which avoids the ‘1800 years of European accretions and horrible acts that were committed in Europe in the name of Christianity.’ Many of the Hebrew texts, which are sung by the chorus and by the two soprano soloists (as Miryam Magdala and Miryam) are Messianic texts. Another deliberate intention by Danielpour was to bring the role of these two women forward, Miryram Magdala (Mary Magdalene) and Mary the mother of Jesus (Miryam) as they are present in the Gospels but never to the forefront. Women seem to have played a significant role in Jesus’ mission, but the creating of the synoptic Gospels during the Roman Empire effectively removed the women from the narrative.

Danielpour has been thinking about writing this work for 25 years. In his essay in the CD booklet he describes himself as an American born of Middle Eastern, Iranian parentage with an extended family which embraced both Jewish and Christian traditions. The piece was commissioned by the Oregon Bach Festival, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the SDG Foundation, was premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival with JoAnn Faletta conducting. The work was then performed in December at Royce Hall in Los Angeles with the UCLA Philharmonia and Chorus led by music director Neal Stulberg

The work lasts around 100 minutes and is in two parts, each in seven scenes. There are seven characters (two, Kefa – the Peter figure – and Pilate are doubled here), seven choruses and four chorales, and four ‘grand’ choruses. And the number seven (associated with ‘completion’ or the idea of completion in Jewish mystical thinking) features quite heavily in the construction. The work tells a familiar story, but from a slightly unusual angle in the way Danielpour mixes texts from the two traditions. Whilst he tells the Christian story of Jesus’ Passion, he does so with a great deal of Jewish detail; in his essay Danielpour talks about one of his aims in writing the work being to ‘imagine the story of the last day of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I thought if I could somehow take myself back in time and recreate what those last hours were like without all those later accretions’.

Danielpour studied at Oberlin College, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. His early works from the 1980s employ a serial style, but then his palate broadened, moving towards a use of tonal harmonies as well as non-classical influences.

For the music of The Passion of Yeshua, Danielpour eschews both serial modernism and post-modern minimalism, instead opting for a richly complex, tonal, chromatic harmony which is redolent of mid-Century music and on first listen we can hear influences from William Walton (Belshazzar’s Feast), RVW (Dona Nobis Pacem) and Leonard Bernstein (Chichester Psalms and the symphonies). There is no recitative as such, with Danielpour writing rich in a rich arioso, moving to more rhapsodic writing for the arias, and throughout the orchestra plays a big role in the richly coloured music.

JoAnn Falletta gets strong performances from all her soloists. The bulk of the narrative falls on the men, with the two women contributing a series of arias and duets which provide a rhapsodic Hebrew commentary on the narrative. Matthew Worth as the narrator and Kenneth Overton as Yeshua both provide strong performances, but I would like both to have made more of the words. Oratorio is a very didactic, text-based form whilst both Worth and Overton’s experience seems to be operatic, and I did wonder whether using a pair of singers used performing Bach’s Passions might have brought out the important text more. One problem I felt throughout the performance was that I had to concentrate to tell whether the singers were performing in English or Hebrew, which rather negates the idea behind the piece.

Hila Pitmann and J’Nai Bridges both bring strongly operatic voices to the mix, contributing intensely vibrant performances. Both do well with Danielpour’s sometimes angular and effortful vocal writing.

This is a large-scale work with plenty of feeling of contrast in the textures, and Danielpour’s intensely serious approach to his subject makes for an impressive piece. At times the piece feels closer to sacred opera than to oratorio, and you wonder whether the composer’s embracing of the Passion Oratorio form was more to do with worry about offending religious sensibilities with a staging.

Throughout, the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play with superb commitment and realise Danielpour’s complex harmonic language and richly romantic style with great sympathy and skill. Danielpour also gives the chorus a number of striking moments, including a couple of large-scale choruses and the combined chorus of the UCLA Chamber Singers and Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus do not disappoint, though my comments about diction apply here also.

Ultimately, I found this piece dignified and impressive rather than intensely moving. The cross-cultural elements mean that I found the Hebrew sections somewhat distancing, in a way that someone unfamiliar with the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgy might find the use of Latin. The music builds to a powerful and intensely wrought climax, which testifies to the composer’s thoughtful identification with his subject.

Robert Hugill

[This review first appeared at Planet Hugill.  It is reprinted with the permission of the author.]

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):