September 2020 Archives

Along with his earlier survey of court music for James II he is now a third of the way through the composer’s twenty-four Odes and Welcome Songs, works written for special occasions prompted by royal birthdays, the various returns of the monarch to London and celebrations of St Cecilia’s Day. Typically, these works demonstrate Purcell’s theatrical instincts and a natural gift for word painting, not least his ability to elevate prosaic and often obsequious texts with imaginatively conceived music of great distinction.

As with volumes 1 and 2 of this series, the disc combines sacred and secular music that, with few exceptions, brings to the fore several neglected corners of Purcell’s art - in part owing to undistinguished texts and the music’s occasional nature such as songs for the theatre. Two stage-based pieces, ‘Blow, Boreas, blow’ and ‘Retired from any mortal’s sight’ both display a sensibility to contrasting texts. The first is a vivid sea-faring saga to words by Purcell’s near contemporary Thomas Durfey in which the composer brilliantly captures a storm-tossed sea, its imagery given dramatic impetus by Mark Dobell and Stuart Young whose zesty performance fully evokes a sailor’s fears and valour. The second, in the form of a lament, allows Jeremy Budd’s gleaming tenor to express the impending death of the monarch in Nahum Tate’s adaption of Shakespeare’sRichard II. A third theatre song ‘Thy genius, lo!’ finds a lugubrious Ben Davies refers to the miseries of the French Huguenots portrayed in Nathaniel Lee’s play The Massacre of Paris.

A fine duet, ‘Close thine eyes and sleep secure’, forms a harmonically rich setting of words by Francis Quarles (originally attributed to Charles I), outlining the benefits of a clear conscious for a good night’s sleep. Tenderly sung by Katy Hill and Ben Davies their perfectly matched voices wafting over delicate continuo support. Two festive Psalm settings for four and two voices honouring by implication God and Charles II make attractive if unremarkable contributions to this compilation. More distinctive church music is represented by the well-known ‘symphony’ anthem ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’, renowned for its descending scale patterns and a text that venerates both Deity and King. There’s much to enjoy in the buoyant and crisply delivered string playing and a well-blended solo group with discreet decorative flourishes. My only reservation is the buttoned-up quality, its tutti passages fresh in an ‘apple-cheeked’ sort of way, but not quite hearty enough to arrest the ear. An instance surely where polish is almost a curse not a virtue.

Where the latter makes regular appearances within cathedral music lists, the Welcome Songs, especially for Charles II, largely remain unperformed. Fawning texts do not help ‘What shall be done in behalf of the man?’ and ‘From those serene and rapturous joys’ which will continue to be seldom-performed curiosities. Fascinating as they may be in sharpening our understanding of royal approval and political undercurrents in the 17 th century, Purcell’s skill in trumping weak verse is neatly summarised by the satirist Thomas Brown (1662-1704) who wrote, ‘For where the Author’s scanty words have failed/Your happier Graces, Purcell, have prevailed’.

As ever with The Sixteen playing and singing are exemplary; a swinging opening chorus of ‘What shall be done in behalf of the man?’ pays tribute to the Duke of York, while Jeremy Budd capers like a dashing courtier through “All the grandeur he possesses”. Purcell artfully plays with rhythmic stresses in “Let us sing the praises” making the most of its anonymous text. Expressive harmonies in “Mighty Charles” do not conceal unctuous sentiments, but the winsome soprano duet “May all factious troubles cease” (Kirsty Hopkins and Katy Hill) makes a charming closing movement.

‘From those serene and rapturous joys’ (to a text by Thomas Flatman), was written to celebrate the King’s return to Whitehall in September 1684. Songs eloquent, dainty and rumbustious all create variety of weight and colour. Of particular note are the depths to which Stuart Young descends in Welcome as soft refreshing show’rs” and, in the closing solo and chorus, Harry Christophers coaxes a splendid string sound with its evocation of trumpets and drums.

Altogether, Christophers coaxes neat and tidy performances from an octet of singers and an expanded string ensemble (including a pair of recorders and three continuo players) who produce an impressive clarity of diction and tone. The acoustic at St Augustine’s, Kilburn is also finely caught.

David Truslove

The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers

Purcell - ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’; Chaconne, ‘Two in one upon a ground’; ‘Close thine eyes and sleep secure’; ‘Blow, Boreas, blow’; ‘O all ye people, clap your hands’; Catch: ‘Come, my hearts, play your parts’; ‘What shall be done in behalf of the man?’; Overture in D minor; ‘Thy genius, lo!’; ‘O praise the Lord, all ye heathen’; ‘Retir’d from any mortal’s sight’; ‘From those serene and rapturous joys’

Two newly programmed, progressive opera productions will welcome audiences on Saturday 17 and 24 October. Curated by Oliver Mears, the stagings will feature celebrated directors from the world of opera and theatre, paired with composers, conductors, singers and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in inspiring works that would never normally be seen on the main stage of the Royal Opera House.

The first of these, 4/4, will be performed live on Saturday 17 October. Directed by Olivier Award nominee Adele Thomas, renowned baroque specialist Christian Curnyn will conduct Alexandra Lowe and Jonathan McGovern in Handel’s Apollo and Daphne. Gruber’s wild and irreverent Frankenstein!! will see one of the most exciting and sought-after singers of his generation, Allan Clayton, take to the stage, directed by multi-Olivier Award-winning director Richard Jones, conducted by former Jette Parker Young Artist (JPYA) Ed Whitehead. Current JPYA soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha will sing Barber’s Knoxville Summer 1915, directed by Antony McDonald and conducted by Patrick Milne. And finally, leading British mezzo-soprano Christine Rice will perform Britten’s final masterpiece Phaedra - directed by theatre and opera specialist Deborah Warner.

Curnyn Christian 2017.jpgChristian Curnyn.

New Dark Age will follow on Saturday 24 October. The evening will open with The Knife of Dawn, a one-person chamber opera by one of Britain’s most exciting young composers, Hannah Kendall. The new production will be directed by critically acclaimed director Ola Ince, conducted by Natalie Murray Beale and will feature baritone Peter Brathwaite. Katie Mitchell will present a brand-new music drama piece showcasing works by female composers: Missy Mazzoli, Anna Meredith and Anna Thorvaldsdottir. The Royal Opera House’s commitment to promoting the newest talent continues, as emerging stage directors who have taken part in the ROH opera training programme, led by Katie Mitchell, assist on both programmes. Tickets for the online livestreams of 4/4 and New Dark Age are available online, and ticketing for live audiences will open soon.

Hannah Kendall (c) Chris Alexander.jpg Hannah Kendall © Chris Alexander.

Director of Opera, Oliver Mears said:

“The Royal Opera returns, determined to embrace the constraints of our new world while seeing this as a moment of artistic opportunity, offering a breadth of work from the beginning of our story - concerts of Ariodante, one of the great Handel operas first staged at Covent Garden - through to Verdi, conducted by Antonio Pappano, and finally to bold new stagings of contemporary work and pieces that have never been staged at Covent Garden. Working alongside a world-class assembly of singers, directors and conductors, we can’t wait to be back, presenting these exhilarating projects to both live and digital global audiences.”

In a unique collaboration with Figment Productions and Royal Holloway University, we are also proud to announce the world’s first original opera in hyper reality: Current, Rising, an artistic experiment bringing together historic stagecraft and cutting-edge technology, developed by a female-led creative team.

Current Rising - Anna Dennis Rehearsal - Isha Shah.jpg Anna Dennis, in rehearsal for Current Rising © Isha Shah.

The opera, directed by Netia Jones, designed by Joanna Scotcher, and composed by Samantha Fernando, is inspired by the liberation of Ariel at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It places audiences at the centre of an immersive, dream-like virtual world, taking them on a journey through imaginary landscapes of the night, from twilight to dawn. Current, Rising is a multi-sensory, fully immersive 360 experience exploring ideas of isolation, connection, and how we can collectively reimagine our futures.

Current, Rising has been produced as part of the Royal Opera House’s innovation programme, Audience Labs, and is ideal for those who are new to opera. It will take place in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre from 28 November 2020 and will strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines. More details will be announced when booking opens.

Current Rising - Set design by Joanna Scotcher.jpgCurrent Rising - set design by Joanna Scotcher.

The Royal Opera House continues to provide the best opportunities for talented young singers, conductors, repetiteurs and directors from across the globe through the Jette Parker Young Artist programme. To welcome the new recruits, Meet the Young Artists Week returns from 26-31 October with a packed virtual and live schedule. Power is placed in the hands of the digital audience as the week kicks off with Juke Box, a streamed event where each artist sings an aria or song in a bid to make it to the final live concert on Friday 30 October.

Complementing the main stage short operas, across the week three Female Monodramas will be broadcast featuring Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, Stephanie Wake-Edwards and Alexandra Lowe, paired with directors from the Royal Opera House’s LockDown/SkillUp training programme under the tutelage of Katie Mitchell. The three short films have been shot on location in the Royal Opera House giving glimpses of much-missed corridors and backstage areas. Rounding off the week, live audiences will be treated to recitals in the Linbury Theatre on Thursday 29 October featuring Blaise Malaba, Andrés Presno and April Koyejo-Audiger, and the full collective will join to sing in an Ensemble concert on Wednesday 28 October.

Ariodante was the first opera written by Handel for the first theatre on the current Royal Opera House site in 1735 and has not been performed at Covent Garden since. This Autumn, the production makes a welcome return. Performed in concert on Friday 20 and Sunday 22 November - the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House will play alongside Paula Murrihy, Chen Reiss, Gerald Finley and Sophie Bevan, conducted by Christian Curnyn. A concert performance of Verdi’s Falstaff will follow on Friday 27 and Sunday 29 November, with celebrated bass-baritone Bryn Terfel resuming the titular role alongside Simon Keenlyside, conducted by Antonio Pappano.

Terfel Catherine Ashmore.jpgSir Bryn Terfel as Falstaff © Catherine Ashmore.

In December, The Royal Opera will perform several Christmas Concerts with the combined forces of the Royal Opera Chorus, Jette Parker Young Artists and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

In November, The Royal Ballet: Live will offer a unique opportunity to see, in person, The Royal Ballet back on its home stage in a snapshot of its rich repertory past and present. Dancers drawn from across the Company will perform a selection of excerpts from traditional and contemporary classics, and each evening will close with a celebrated one-act ballet. Programme A features Kenneth MacMillan’s showstopping Elite Syncopations and Programme B includes Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet of shimmering beauty, Within the Golden Hour.

A reworked, Covid-safe version of The Nutcracker will also open in time for a festive treat for the whole family, a classic with a special place in the hearts of ballet fans around the world. Peter Wright's production of The Nutcracker has been enchanting children and adults alike since its first performance by The Royal Ballet in 1984. Combined with Tchaikovsky's sumptuous, iconic score and charming designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman, this is a magical production. More details of this exciting adaptation are to be announced.

On Friday 9 October, The Royal Ballet returns for a special livestreamed performance, The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage. After an absence of seven months the whole Company will be reunited on their home stage with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a spectacular collection of highlights from their wide-ranging repertory. A specially invited small audience, including students and health workers, will join us for our first live performance with an audience since the beginning of lockdown.

The Insights series also continues via the ROH YouTube Channel, allowing global digital audiences the chance to discover more about the work being created by the Companies and creators working on stage and behind the scenes. The first will provide behind-the-scenes footage of Hannah Kendall’s The Knife of Dawn, offering fascinating rehearsal footage and interviews with the cast and creative team.

Royal Ballet dancers will host a dedicated Insight to celebrate Black History Month, this event will take a personal approach, discussing dancers’ experiences and influences, exploring heritage and culture and how these shared and individual experiences have shaped their lives and their careers in the UK and beyond.

Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, Alex Beard, said:

"We are delighted to present this bold, wide-ranging autumn programme highlighting the creativity and innovation that can come from adversity. It is vital for theatres across the UK and for our community of diverse artists, that we begin to bring our art forms safely back to our stages. This programme of new work, shorts, a world first hyperreality opera and live broadcasts are all underpinned by our efforts to reach new and existing audiences online, showcasing the very best of our art forms in new and unexpected ways."

Please note that full casting and on sale information will follow in the coming weeks.

That’s not inappropriate, though, given that several of the compositions presented were almost certainly written for performance in domestic rather than ecclesiastical contexts, their Latin texts, and in some cases their controversial sub-texts, rendering them unacceptable for performance within Anglican services.

The programme (which was not in fact streamed ‘live’ this week) began, however, with the flamboyant twelve-part counterpoint of one of the last of the Jacobean polyphonists - ‘O Praise the Lord’ by Thomas Tomkins, a pupil of William Byrd, organist of Worcester cathedral (1596-1646), and of the Chapel Royal from 1621. Festive, almost overwhelmingly rich and vigorous, Tomkins’ anthem swelled joyfully into Sir Christopher Wren’s square-vaulted church of St Anne and St Agnes, now home to the VOCES8 Foundation. Stile Antico displayed Tomkins’ invention at its most glorious, calming the contrapuntal ostentation with the psalm’s consolation, “for his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us”, then regaining momentum with the overlapping assurances, “the truth of the Lord endureth for ever and ever”, and finally expanding majestically through the final celebratory repetitions, “O praise ye the Lord our God”.

John Sheppard’s five-voice setting of the Lord's Prayer established a more subdued mood. Tenor Andrew Griffiths explained that Sheppard is usually associated with large-scale Catholic music in Latin - and the ensemble offered one such composition, ‘Gaude, gaude, gaude Maria’, at the end of their recital - and suggested that in this prayer we hear Sheppard adapting to the strictures of Edward VI’s Protestant regime. Yet, this is misleading. While Sheppard’s setting may not introduce ‘elaborate’ melismas, the music is neither entire syllabic nor homophonic, as one might expect of music written for the English liturgy. Moreover, his ‘Lord’s Prayer’ closes with text which, it is thought, was not sung in a liturgical context: ‘For thine is the kingdom and the power; to thee be all honour and glory for evermore. Always so be it.’

As Alan Thurlow remarked in an article in Musical Times in 1951, the British Library source which is the only extant record of the complete music is an instrumental arrangement with no text other than the title, ‘Our Father’, while the earliest known source, the Petre manuscript in the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford is also textless, excepting the title, ‘Pater noster’. Thurlow speculates that Sheppard’s ‘Lord’s Prayer’ may be an example of the practice of transcribing a Latin-texted setting for use with the new English liturgy - just as Tallis’s ‘O sacrum convivium’ was reworked as the English anthem, ‘I call and crie’ - and he supports this claim by observing that there was no established pre-Reformation tradition of composing polyphonic settings of the Pater Noster for the Latin rites; that the Petre manuscript in Chelmsford is a collection containing almost exclusively Latin-texted compositions; and, that ‘after the Reformation many of the Latin-texted works of the Sarum days were preserved by their adoption into the instrumental repertoire’.

I digress, but given the liturgical contexts and controversies highlighted by Stile Antico throughout the concert, these matters are not irrelevant. Indeed, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ - which is thought to be one of the last works which Sheppard composed, at the start of Elizabeth I’s reign and shortly before his death - has a spaciousness and imitative fluidity which seems more characteristic of Latin settings, and which Stile Antico duly emphasised. The false relations were sensitively shaped, and the poised rendition bloomed warmly in the generous acoustic of St Anne and St Agnes. The final “Always so be it”, though, despite Griffiths’ suggestion that the unfamiliar phrase is evidence that the ‘ink was still wet’ on the pages of the new English liturgy, was surely originally an “Amen”?

Having initially positioned themselves in a circular formation, Stile Antico - reducing their number from twelve to eight - rearranged themselves into an antiphonal configuration for Orlando Gibbons’ ebullient double-choir anthem, ‘O clap you hands’. The singers began in lively fashion but didn’t sustain the rhythmic animation. In a sense, singers need to think like instrumentalists in this anthem. The vigorous phrases are tossed back and forth, reiterated energetically, like trumpet fanfares; a light articulation, especially of the quavers, is required if they are to fly with festive excitement. While the vocal sound was bright and the interplay precise, this performance felt a little too deliberate, in the latter part of the anthem especially. The repeated cry, “O sing praises, sing praises”, should dance with glee but here it was quite restrained, while “God is gone up with a merry noise” was serious in tone rather than elated.

There followed music by two émigré Catholics, Peter Philips and Richard Dering, which Stile Antico included on their 2019 Harmonia Mundi disc, In a Strange Land: Elizabeth composers in exile. The ensemble’s vocal discipline is well-suited to the smoothness and formality of Philips’ ‘Gaude Maria Virgo’ which they sang with growing intensity and lustrous colour. They conjured the drama of Dering’s ‘Factum Est Silentium’, which depicts the battle of the Archangel St Michael with the satanic dragon, singing with madrigalian vividness and a rhythmic flexibility and litheness that was missing in Gibbons’ anthem.

Stile Antico had resumed their full complement for these two Latin works, but just five singers presented Thomas Tallis’ penitential motet, ‘In Ieunio et fletu’, alto Emma Ashby being joined by tenors Andrew Griffiths and Jonathan Hanley, and basses Nathan Harrison and Will Dawes. The one-to-a-part texture helped to make the imagery of weeping priests praying for the people’s salvation direct and intense, and the five singers exploited the power of Tallis’ harmonic rhetoric. The full ensemble conveyed the urgency and drama of Byrd’s ‘Vigilate’, the rising lines and cross-rhythms growing in exuberance and energy, driving with portentous purposefulness towards the final admonition: “Quod autem dico vobis, omnibus dico: vigilate.” (And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.) Will Dawes began the solo respond of Sheppard’s ‘Gaude, Gaude, Gaude Maria’ with dignified warmth, and was joined in the plainsong verse, ‘Gabrielem’, by his fellow basses; the changing groupings and textures of this expansive setting were expertly and confidently structured into an unified whole.

Sheppard’s glorious vocal rejoicing - one of the masterpieces of the final years of the Sarum rite in England - was a fittingly generous conclusion to Stile Antico’s Live from London programme. They moved from liturgical to secular contexts for their encore, offering a different kind of prayer in the form of Thomas Campion’s ‘Never Weather Beat’n Sail’, and emphasising the mellifluous earnestness of the wearied sailor’s plea for God’s protective embrace.

Chanticleer perform the final concert in this Live From London series, on Saturday 3rd October.

Claire Seymour

Treasures of the English Renaissance : Stile Antico - Helen Ashby/Kate Ashby/Rebecca Hickey (soprano), Emma Ashby/Cara Curran/Eleanor Harries (alto), Andrew Griffiths/Jonathan Hanley/Benedict Hymas (tenor), James Arthur/Will Dawes/Nathan Harrison (bass)

Thomas Tomkins - ‘O Praise the Lord’, John Sheppard - ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, Orlando Gibbons - ‘O Clap Your Hands’, Peter Philips - ‘Gaude Maria Virgo’, Richard Dering - ‘Factum Est Silentium’, Thomas Tallis - ‘In ieiunio et fletu’, William Byrd - ‘Vigilate’, John Sheppard - ‘Gaude, Gaude, Gaude Maria’, Thomas Campion - ‘Never Weather Beat’n Sail’

VOCES8 Centre, City of London; Saturday 26th September 2020.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

During that Evening with Rosina Storchio, Jaho and pianist Steven Maughan presented music which had been created for and championed by Storchio. Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Massenet remain at the heart of Jaho’s debut recital disc, Anima Rara (for which she is joined by the young Italian conductor Andrea Battsitoni and the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana), but the songs and salon pieces - by Donizetti, Bellini, Bizet, Tosti, Toscanini and Gonoud - that we heard at Wigmore Hall have been replaced by operatic numbers by Catalani, Boito, Verdi and Puccini. Neither the diversity of mood nor the sense of discovery that that Wigmore Hall programme offered have been lost, though: alongside Butterfly’s ‘Un bel dì’, Violetta’s ‘Teneste la promessa … Addio del passato’ and Manon’s ‘Allons! Il le faut … Adieu, notre petite table’, there are rarer offerings - from Giordano’s Siberia, Leoncavallo’sLa bohème, Mascagni’s Iris, Massenet’s Sapho and Boito’s Mefistofele.

Puccini frames the sequence. ‘Un bel dì’ makes for an impassioned opening: it also has a recitative-like freedom which suggests that Jaho and conductor Andrea Battistoni had long conversations and lengthy rehearsals. Jaho’s vibrato is quite broad: but it is employed to create a febrile intensity - there’s no doubting this Cio-Cio-san’s self-belief and emotional fervour, though there is a lovely withdrawal which captures Butterfly’s inner faith and certainty: “Io non gli scendo incontro. Io no.” (I do not go to meet him, not I.) Madama Butterfly’s final moments close the disc. When she reads the inscription of her father’s knife, ‘Con onor muore’, Butterfly understands her fate: “Who cannot live with honour must die with honour.” The brusque and brutal utterances of the cellos and double basses of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana anticipate the stabbing blade; the subsequent orchestral explosion embodies both the psychological fracture and the physical horror. Jaho sounds unhinged; every ounce of Butterfly’s desperation resonates with terrible directness.

Rosina Storchio  Cio-Cio-San.jpg Rosina Storchio as Cio-Cio-San at the premiere of Madama Butterfly at La Scala Theatre in Milan, 17th February 1904.

From La traviata we have ‘Teneste la promessa... Addio del passato’: despite père Germont’s belated understanding, Violetta knows it is too late, and she bids farewell to love and life. The engineers ensure that Violetta’s spoken words are clear - and, gosh, they erupt with emotive fire into soul-gripping recitative. But, the forces of Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana are fairly conservative and given the expansiveness of Jaho’s expressive mode, a fuller tutti string texture might have been welcome (there’s some terrific oboe playing though!). The way Jaho combines vocal control and impassioned expression is stunning: “A lei, deh, perdona; tu accoglila, o Dio, Or tutto finì.” (And may God pardon and make her his own! Ah, all is finished.) is a heart-breaking integration of resignation and resistance. If I had one ‘criticism’ it would be that I’d like more ‘text’, and more consonants, but the vocal febricity is sufficient recompense - even when she withholds Jaho’s soprano pierces to the heart.

There are two numbers from Leoncavallo’s La bohème. In ‘Musette svaria sullaj bocca viva’, Mimì describes Musette’s beauty and addiction to love to the revellers at Café Momus. Jaho doesn’t do playfulness with quite the same panache that she does poignancy or passion; there’s not quiet enough ‘sway’ in the voice, and as she trips through the jaunty phrases there’s an occasional ‘edge’ to the tone, though when she opens up at the top her soprano is glossy and full. Musette returns the favour, extolling her friend’s charm and cheerfulness in ‘Mimì Pinson, la biondinetta’ (in the opera she is joined at the close of the short aria by the full-throated bohemians). Jaho doesn’t quite match the instrumentalists’ debonair lightness and easefulness, but she copes well with plunges down to the lowest end of the soprano’s range and dances back up to top with elegance.

Massenet’s Sapho also presents a ‘fallen woman’ - Fanny Legrand, an infamous artist’s model. When her younger lover, Jean, rejects her because of her disreputable past, she pursues him from Paris to Avignon and in ‘Pendant un an je fus ta femme’ she pleads with him to return to her. Fanny’s soaring sweet arcs are tailor-made for Jaho, who floats them with exquisite delicacy, tapering the phrase-ends so that the beauty seems to linger in the silence. Battistoni listens and responds to every hint of inner passion: the tender accompaniment pulsates gently but blooms instantly when Fanny’s implorings burn with longing. “Viens! Car tu m’aimes encore!” presses Jaho, with urgency and power, before a sudden retreat exposes her vulnerability, “Vois ma douleur”, only for the whispered thread to swell richly once more, in desperate need, “seul, tu peux l’apaiser.” (See my pain, you alone can ease it.) Jaho controls the emotional and dynamic fluctuations superbly; three repetitions of “Viens!” span an emotional gamut and bare a whole soul. Her pianissimo is heart-melting - “ta bouche ne saurait oublier mon baiser” hovers hypnotically on a top Bb, somehow both angelic and tempting.

In the opera’s final act, alone and abandoned Fanny reflects on the misery love has wrought. The orchestral Prelude, ‘Solitude’ is beautifully played. Battistoni finds tension and drama in the smallest motifs; the colours are rich, the flexible phrasing is refined, the strings’ tone is intense. Jaho does not just communicate Fanny’s suffering, she lives it, her voice seeming to throb with the rawness of her broken heart. And, at the close there’s a wonderful softening and relaxation which embodies Fanny’s hope, as she thinks of the future, of how she will return to her illegitimate child and raise him to be good and honest, and thereby find happiness.

Andrea Battistoni.jpg Andrea Battistoni.

Mascagni is similarly represented by a pair of arias. In ‘Un dì (ero piccina)’ from the second act of Iris, the eponymous heroine - kidnapped by the lecherous Kyoto - remembers a painted screen that she saw when she was a child with its image of a young woman being tormented by a huge octopus, a symbol of sexual violence. The pressing pace and rolling woodwind lines, propelled by the solos strings’ subtle accents, create a tense urgency and Jaho’s whispered recollections, climbing ever higher through chromatic twists, vividly capture Iris’s growing terror as she understands her fate. As the dreadful image re-forms itself in her mind, Iris’s agitation and anxiety explode in startling vocal outbursts. A smile that was a spasm, the tentacles that squeezed and bound her face: the thrilling vividness of Jaho’s soprano reveals such images to be scorched into Iris’s memory, and the latter’s horror seems a palpable and petrifying force that lifts Jaho’s soprano with uncanny ease to shining heights, “Quella piovra è la Morte!” (This monster is death!) After such overwhelming, hypnotic hysteria, the earnestness and gentler passions of Suzel’s first aria, ‘Son pochi fiori’ (L’amico Fritz), in which she gives the wealthy Fritz a birthday bouquet, confirm Jaho’s expressive range, and the warmth of her lower register. We are denied Fritz’s response to her gift, but the violins’ and flute’s reprise of Suzel’s melody forms a tender postlude.

Jaho Fadil Berisha.jpgErmonela Jaho © Fadil Berisha.

Most of the numbers are just a few minutes long, so it’s good to have the opportunity to hear ‘Ah! Il suo nome! ... Flammen perdonami ...’ from Mascagni’s Lodoletta - a twelve-minute death-scene which was a highlight of Jaho’s Wigmore Hall recital. The recording does not disappoint. And now we have the orchestral canvas too, which Battistoni paints with sensitivity and eloquence. The woodwind playing is particularly fine and there are some touching string solos. Jaho segues from blissful anticipation, when Lodoletta arrives at Flammen’s house, through peace and certainty, to pained misunderstanding and despair, and finally to ecstatic delusion and death. There’s not a phrase that does not pulsate with emotion; not a phrase that does not develop, dramatise and deepen our understanding and sympathy.

Anima Rara is a must-buy for this track alone, but there are other revelations, too, from similarly long-neglected repertoire. ‘L’altra notte in fondo al mare’ from the third act of Boito’s Mefistofele, which Margherita sings from her prison cell, begins with a dark string prelude that slithers its way down in the depths of the dungeon, where this Margherita raves with quasi-delirious fervour. Jaho’s arppegiac, decorative meanderings are pristinely executed and crystalline. In contrast, Stephana’s prayer, ‘Nel suo amore rianimata’, from Giordano’s Siberia is the epitome of poised contentment, the final “Amor …” sustained with infinite calm. A similar controlled composure characterises ‘Ebben? Ne andro lontana’ from Catalani’s La Wally. Jaho’s firm line, centred focus, and vocal vehemence capture Wally’s inner strength and resilience, as she vows to defy her father’s threats to marry her to the man of his choice, Gellner.

Opera Rara presents Jaho’s performances immaculately. Musicologist Ditlev Rindom supplements his article about Rosina Storchio with additional information about the arias, placing each in the context of their first performance, and of Storchio’s career, and providing helpful musical observations to guide the listener’s ear. The booklet is illustrated with photographs, of Jaho, Battistoni and the musicians, in rehearsal and in the recording studio, and of Storchio herself.

Translated literally as ‘rare soul’, Anima Rara is aptly titled indeed.

Claire Seymour

Ermonela Jaho (soprano), Andrea Battistoni (conductor), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana

Puccini - ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ (Madama Butterfly), Leoncavallo - ‘Musette svaria sulla bocca viva’ (La bohème), Mascagni - ‘Un di, ero piccina’ (Iris), Massenet - ‘Pendant un an je fus ta femme’ (Sapho), Boito - ‘L altra notte in fondo al mare’ ( Mefistofele), Mascagni - ‘Ah! Il suo nome! ... Flammen perdonami ... (Lodoletta), Massenet - ‘Allons! Il le faut ... Adieu, notre petite table’ (Manon), Giordano - ‘Nel suo amore rianimata’ (Siberia), Verdi - ‘Teneste la promessa ... Addio del passato’ ( La Traviata), Mascagni - ‘Son pochi fiori’ (L’amico Fritz ), Catalani - ‘Ebben? Ne andro lontana’ (La Wally), Leoncavallo - ‘Mimi Pinson, la biondinetta’ (La bohème), Massenet - Prelude Act V and ‘Demain je partirai’ (Sapho), Puccini - ‘Con onor muore ... Tu? Tu? Piccolo Iddio’ (Madama Butterfly)

This was a long-overdue Wigmore Hall debut for Llewellyn (and a welcome return for me, after six months' absence). Ten years ago, she charmed audiences and critics at English National Opera, as Mimì in a revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of La bohème , and her subsequent performances as the Countess in Figaro and as Micaëla in Carmen were highly acclaimed. She took her Countess to Opera Holland Park in 2011 and the following year returned to West Kensington to sing Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte. Then, she seemed to slip from English opera houses’ radars, and in the years that followed it was in Germany, Denmark, Bergen, and also the US - in Seattle and at the Met, where she made her debut in Porgy and Bess in 2019 - that Llewellyn found employment and success. OHP welcomed her back in 2017 to sing the role of Magda in Puccini’s La rondine and she returned in 2019 for Manon Lescaut. It took until this year, for ENO to re-open their doors to Llewellyn: she performed the title role of Verdi’s Luisa Miller in February, the run ending just before the pandemic forced the theatre to close its doors.

On most of the occasions when I’ve enjoyed Llewellyn’s performances, she’s been singing 19th-century Italian repertoire; there’s been Mozart and Bizet, too, but nothing German. So, I was intrigued to hear how she would fare in Richard Strauss and Mahler. She began with five of the former’s songs and was understandably a little nervous in the opening ‘Einerlei’: the vibrato was somewhat taut, the tone a little edgy. But, despite this Llewellyn was still able to garner a sense of wonder - “Her mouth is always the same,/ Its kiss ever new,” sings the protagonist - and to float an exquisite gentle final line, “O du liebes Einerlei” (O you dear sameness), which rose airily. Notable, too, was the sparkling freedom of Lepper’s accompaniment and the dreamy joy of the piano’s postlude. Lepper was an equal partner in this recital from first to last, interpretatively in tune with Llewellyn’s readings but also assuredly focused, and innately sensitive, in communicating the piano’s part in the conversation.

‘Allerseelen’ (All Souls’ Day) was shadowy and subdued, though Lepper intimated the emotional expanse and the poignant burden. Llewellyn also seemed to get more of the measure of Wigmore Hall’s acoustic - the image of the beloved’s sweet glance (“deiner süßen Blicke”) was pure, crystalline and tender - although, throughout the recital, she did occasionally push a little too hard in a venue which is kind to singers and instrumentalists alike. The clean, clear enunciation of the German texts was unwavering, and in ‘Nachtgang’ (A walk at night) - which demonstrated the evenness of the soprano’s range, with a lovely rich lower register complementing the sheen at the top - Llewellyn began to relax and to respond to the text with ever-increasing acuity: emotive colour imagery (“wie auf Goldgrund/rauht dein schönes Haupt”) and palpable physicality (“und küsste - küsste dich ganz/ leise”) were reverently and touching rendered, respectively. The vocal reading conveyed a real sense of the communicative potency of the poetic form, while Lepper’s trembling closing commentary captured the weeping of the soul, “meine Seele weinte”. The fear that assails the protagonist of ‘Die Nacht’ - that the night will steal the beloved one away - was wonderfully conveyed by Llewellyn’s diminishing final phrase, “O die Nacht, mir bangt, sie stehle/Dich mich auch”, and Lepper’s discomforting rocking at the close. The duo saved the best of their Strauss sequence till last: ‘Ständchen’ (Serenade) shimmered with joyful anticipation and Octavian-esque elation. The piano literally fizzed with over-excitement and youthful passion.

Llewellyn image.jpgSimon Lepper (piano), Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano)

Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, at the end of the recital, were even more impressive. Llewellyn was as alert to the poetic imagery as she was to the musical profundity; small details were highlighted with care and insight. ‘Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft’ (If you love for beauty’s sake) established a lucidness and length of line that was sustained throughout the five songs. There was a stirring tussle in ‘Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!’ (Don’t try to find me out through my songs!) between the piano’s spiralling unrest and the confidently shaped vocal utterances. ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ (If you love for beauty’s sake) drew the listener’s heart close with its controlled intensity, luxurious vocal colours, and the loving articulation of the musical and poetic imagery by both Llewellyn and Lepper. ‘Um Mitternacht’ (At Midnight) was sombre, portentous but also majestic. A long silence followed the piano postlude to ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’: it truly did feel as if we were ‘lost to the world’.

For all the musical and emotional strength of the Mahler songs, the peak of this recital, for me, came in the songs which were framed by Strauss and Mahler: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 6 Sorrow Songs (1904), settings of Christina Rossetti. The term ‘sorrow song’ came to prominence when W.E.B. Du Bois used it to describe the negro spirituals which, he argued, were an essential part of American cultural expression. Each section of Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903) opens with a short verse and a musical phrase. In the final essay, ‘Sorrow Songs’, Du Bois writes: ‘they that walked in darkness sang songs in the olden days - Sorrow Songs - for they were weary at heart. And so before each thought that I have written in this book I have set a phrase, a haunting echo of these weird old songs in which the soul of the black slave spoke to men.’

The mixed-race Black-British composer Coleridge-Taylor met Du Bois in July 1900 at the Pan-African Conference in London which brought together men and women of African, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American descent to debate and campaign for Black rights. Twenty years later, Du Bois wrote of the Conference, ‘above all, I remember Coleridge-Taylor’; during the Conference, he had attended a performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, conducted by Coleridge-Taylor at Crystal Palace Arts Centre: ‘It was a moment such as one does not often live. It seems, and was prophetic.’

Coleridge-Taylor may have been similarly inspired by his meeting with Du Bois, in naming his ‘Sorrow Songs’, which he dedicated to his wife, Jessie. These songs, which tremble with emotion, suffering and resilience, need an interpreter to whom both the words and music speak with directness and honesty. Llewellyn, British-born and of Jamaican descent, is one such interpreter. There’s a pre-Raphaelite preciousness about Rossetti’s melancholy poems, but Llewellyn and Lepper largely overcame this with the candour of their musical communication. The second song, ‘When I am dead, my dearest’, flowed with quiet resignation, tinged with sad nuance; Llewellyn’s firm middle and lower range served the song beautifully. The languid and free triplets of piano in ‘Oh roses for the flush of youth’ was matched by the fluidness of the vocal phrasing. ‘She sat and sang always’ might have had a swifter lilt - if only to create more variety between the songs - but Lepper’s right-hand elaborations, over the ostinato rhythm in the bass, were expressive and spacious, and there was a lovely exotic tint. Perhaps Llewellyn might occasionally have lessened the operatic fervour of the crescendos and peaks; they were powerful but less might have been more, as was confirmed by the plunging and vanishing of the final vocal phrase, “Her songs died on the air.” ‘Unmindful of the roses’ had a lovely expansiveness and compelling momentum. The rhetorical pointedness of ‘Too late for love’ found its way straight to the listener’s heart.

Llewellyn returned to Coleridge-Taylor for her encore: ‘Big Lady Moon’ from Five Fairy Ballads. It was an enchanting conclusion to an uplifting lunchtime recital.

This concert was streamed live on the Wigmore Hall website and is freely available for 30 days following the performance.

Claire Seymour

This October audiences across Ireland and around the world will have a chance to experience a taste of the magic of Wexford Festival Opera at home. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s reimagined Festival Waiting for Shakespeare …The Festival in the air will be an online celebration, starting on 11 October and running over eight consecutive days. This reimagined Festival aims to bring together audiences and the wider worldwide Wexford community through the power of music. Wexford Festival Opera, RTÉ and ARTE have joined forces once again to ensure that every magical moment will be available for audiences to enjoy for free from the comfort and safety of their own homes with unforgettable events and performances to be streamed/ broadcast.

One of the much-anticipated highlights will be the Gala Concert - Remote Voices, supported by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical, which will feature performances from some of the most famous and outstanding stars from the opera world, all of whom have appeared in Wexford in the past. This unique and unforgettable concert will be streamed free on 16th October at 8pm.

The Gala Concert - Remote Voices will be hosted by Artistic Director Rosetta Cucchi and RTÉ Lyric FM presenter Marty Whelan and will see these leading names in opera join remotely from their own homes. Wexford Festival Opera has historically served as a springboard for many young singers at the beginning of their careers onto the international stage and while they have gone on to lofty careers, Wexford Festival Opera has always remained in their hearts. It is with great honour that we welcome them back to perform for you once again - from their homes to yours.

The star studded line up will include mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina, bass baritone Simone Alberghini, baritone Nicola Alaimo, mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona, baritone Paolo Bordogna, tenor Joseph Calleja, baritone Roberto de Candia, soprano Helena Dix, soprano Anne Sophie Duprels, tenor Juan Diego Flórez, baritone Igor Golovatenko, tenor Dmitry Golovnin, soprano Sophie Gordeladze, soprano Ermonela Jaho, mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly, baritone Leon Kim, baritone Alessandro Luongo, mezzo-soprano Raffaella Lupinacci, soprano Angela Meade, tenor Sergey Romanovsky, baritone Luca Salsi, tenor Levy Sekgapane, Soprano Mariangela Sicilia, mezzo-soprano Nora Sourouzian and tenor Noah Stewart.

Stream live at, catch up on RTÉ Player and on RTÉ Player’s exclusive Wexford Festival Opera pop-up channel.

David McLoughlin, CEO Wexford Festival Opera said today, “For many years, the support of Ecclesiastical has enabled the Festival to bring to Wexford leading Irish and international opera talent. This year, although such performers are unable to grace the Wexford Opera stage in person, thanks to Ecclesiastical’s visionary support, the reimagined Festival will bring to its audiences at home and abroad an unparalleled line-up of world-renowned operatic talent in a live web-streamed interactive concert. Ecclesiastical’s steadfast support of Wexford during these challenging times for live performances is more appreciated than ever. “

David Lane, Managing Director - Ireland, Ecclesiastical, said: “At a time when we are physically distanced and face being enclosed in our homes, the role of the arts in bringing us together and in creating moments of social cohesion and joy is of vital importance to wellbeing.”

For full details of Waiting for Shakespeare ...The Festival in the airand to download the brochure go to .

The one thing I cannot find Collapsologie specifically mentions is pandemic, unlike civilizational collapse which does (the Black Death, for example). What Julien Chirol’s and Pierre-Eric Sutter’s Requiem pour les temps futur is, however, is a reinvention of the requiem after this apocalypse.

Although Chirol and Sutter use a conventional requiem, the inspiration behind the libretto is an influential book by Pablo Servigne published in 2015, Comment tout peut s’effondrer along with his more recent work, N’ayez pas peur du collapse allied with the traditional Latin mass. It could almost be a manifesto for Extinction Rebellion and today’s ecological or climate emergency but Chirol and Sutter have already advanced beyond the theory into what they now imagine the future reality is at least from a compositional viewpoint. There is no attempt here to hide the textualizing of a liturgical work by using a philosophical concept as Henze might have done; nevertheless, the contrast between its two entities - music and text - remain striking.

The premise behind Requiem pour les temps futur, as described by the composers, is that in a world where humanity has been decimated who will sing and from where will the beauty of the human voice come? Their answer is Artificial Intelligence. That isn’t exactly what we get here because it seems to be a hybrid form of fresh and raw human voices and synthetic generated ones, though often they are fused together into a blended form but as art it is close enough.

Clearly Requiem pour les temps futur upends what we think a requiem is though we have been here before: Bussotti’s Rara Requiem (itself part of a larger work, Lorenzaccio) with its phonemes and frenzy of sound, Zimmermann’sRequiem für einen jungen Dichter, or Nono’s Y entonces comprendio, for example. But though Chirol and Sutter are subversive, the slogan “No Future” which blazes across the booklet doesn’t perhaps in the end warrant the anarchic or punk credentials of a work that doesn’t radicalise what it is proposing.

Relying on Manuel Poletti’s IRCAM for help in synthesizing the voices of the splendidly named l’Armée des Douze Sages - a slightly shadowy, predominantly male chorus whose only information is given in their Christian names - it is undeniably difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. There may be advantages to having a libretto in Latin - even if that language itself is rooted in a collapsed past rather than a new future. The astonishing clarity and precision of the phrasing seems to have been heightened by synthesis, certainly more so than one would experience in either a live performance or a normal studio recording, but I think this is what you would expect of electronic interventionism. What is also particularly noticeable are the spatial dimensions but are these any different from music composed in this form in the late 1950s by Stockhausen, or by Musique concrète which can trace its origins even further back to the 1920s and 1930s and to Pierre Schaeffer in the 1940s? It’s entirely probable that what AI in music is isn’t a paradigm shift but an inevitable modification of the past.

The music of this requiem - and it is played by a classical orchestra, even if it is acoustically processed - is both occidental and oriental. Although there is some spectral, even ethereal writing, I’m not sure AI always does this well; or, perhaps Requiem pour les temps futur is simply meant to sound as tense and dramatic through its seventy minutes as it does. That collapsed past, of music which sounds so archaeologically distant, seems almost cinematic at the opening of the ‘Introitus’ - the Latin ‘requiem’ an eerie mirror to the Arabic intonations of the collapsed past you hear in the excavation scene from The Exorcist. Western harps and strings and traditional Hindustani and eastern instruments unite two cultures throughout the work, geometrically laid out on a musical axis that embraces the classical and the artificial.

Is it spiritual? Essentially not, but there are many requiems which are not. AI by definition is synthetic, and we have robotic choristers, three soloists (a soprano, tenor and baritone) but that doesn’t mean this performance is tone deaf or drained of colour. Much is implied in the orchestration and there is a rotating balance in the choral writing either in l’Armèe des douze sages between genders, despite the mystery of the chorus, or elsewhere. There are parts of this work that have huge power - the close of the ‘Dies Irae’ with its shattering climax, the close of the ‘Libera me’ or the organ opening of the ‘Confutatis’. But a work that looks forward cannot ignore the history of the past so echoes of Verdi and Berlioz vibrate like seismic waves through this requiem just as you’ll hear idiomatic pressure points of French music that has been a cornerstone of IRCAM’s past.

Requiem pour les temps futur looks forward, if it also looks backwards, to one musical art form. Both Sutter and Chirol and l’Armèes des douze sages from their writings on the work possibly over-romanticise and overstate the musical shift in the work. Indeed, what may even have been the original concept behind its creation - a requiem that talks about the finitude of existence and collapsology in a thermo-industrial society while answering questions about death - may now be more relevant to a society on the brink of collapse through a pandemic. The irony of the pandemic is that it might escalate AI which is probably not quite what Requiem pour les temps futur envisioned.

This is unquestionably a genre-bending work, an experiment in re-invented classical sonority, that is perhaps uncomfortably closer to the present than the future it looks towards.

Marc Bridle

Following its successful launch in 2019, OperaStreaming streams nine operas on YouTube from the historic opera houses of Emilia-Romagna during the 2020-21 season, with fully-staged productions of Verdi's La traviata in October from Modena and Verdi'sOtello from Bologna in November following a concert performance of Ernani from Parma on 25 September.

OperaStreaming brings together eight magnificent opera houses for the joint venture to promote the region's unique operatic heritage, home to legendary singers Luciano Pavarotti, Leo Nucci and Mirella Freni, and the great opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, born in Busseto near Parma. Verdi's Aroldo premiered at the opening of the opera house in Rimini in 1857 and the rebuilt opera house on the site will present a fully staged production of this little-known work on 16 April 2021.

As audiences return to theatres in Italy, OperaStreaming enables opera lovers across the world to view outstanding performances for free from the homeland of bel canto singing. Performances are streamed live and made available indefinitely with full subtitles in Italian and English. During intervals, the camera goes behind-the-scenes of the production for exclusive interview with the cast and team.

Verdi's La traviata is presented from Modena, Pavarotti's birthplace, on 16 October 2020, with Matteo Lippi in the role of Alfredo Germont alongside Maria Mudryak as Violetta Valery and Ernesto Petti as Giorgio Germont, in a unique new production by Stefano Monti, with the orchestra seated in the stalls and the audience in the boxes.

Italian tenor Matteo Lippi studied in Modena under the guidance of Mirella Freni and has recently appeared on the Glyndebourne Festival Tour and sung Alfredo at the Royal Danish Opera and at La Fenice. Khazak soprano Mudryak was one of the winners of the Placido Domingo Operalia competition in 2017 and has performed Violetta across Italy at San Carlo and Maggio Musicale. Previously in Modena, Monti has presented productions of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Britten's The Little Sweep and Menotti's Il Dittico.

In Bologna, Gregory Kunde takes the title role in Verdi's Otello on 18 November alongside a cast that includes Franco Vassallo as Iago and Mariangela Sicilia as Desdemona, conducted by Asher Fisch in a new production by Gabriele Lavia.

The Teatro "Dante Alighieri" di Ravenna has taken the opportunity in the pandemic to explore repertoire they do not usually cover, presenting a new production of Monteverdi's Orfeo on 28 February 2021 with the Accademia Bizantina conducted by Ottavio Dantone, himself born in Ravenna. Dante Alighieri, who mentioned Orpheus in his Inferno, was buried in Ravenna.

The region of Emilia Romagna is committed to the preservation of its operatic heritage. OperaStreaming has 500,000 viewers and 12,000 subscribers with a large audience in the US. OperaStreaming is a continuation of TeatroNet, the initiative launched by the local department of culture in 2012. The productions are made in collaboration with students from the EDUNOVA E-Learning Center (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia).

Aldo Sisillo, Director of the Fondazione Teatro Comunale di Modena, said: "The Teatro Comunale di Modena began this initiative to offer extraordinary opportunities to the young students of EDUNOVA to collaborate on such a high-profile international series of digital events."

Paolo Cantù, Director of the Fondazione I Teatri di Reggio Emilia, said: "This is a rare example of a collaboration between eight opera houses. It is a social pact rather than an institutional one."

Tommaso Minerva, Director of EDUNOVA (Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia), said: "It is touching to see audience members as far away as Australia in the middle of the night watching and engaging in sharing ideas during performances."

Watch OperaStreaming on YouTube here

Upcoming Livestreams

Friday 25 September, 20:00 CET, Teatro Regio, Parma

Verdi: Ernani (concert performance)

Piero Pretti - Ernani
Vladimir Stoyanov - Don Carlo
Roberto Tagliavini - Don Ruy De Silva
Eleonora Buratto - Elvira
Carlotta Vichi - Giovanna
Paolo Antognetti - Don Riccardo
Federico Benetti - Jago
Michele Mariotti, conductor
Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini
Coro Del Teatro Regio Di Parma
Martino Faggiani, chorus master

Friday 16 October, 20:00, CET Teatro Comunale "Luciano Pavarotti", Modena

Verdi: La traviata (new production)

Maria Mudryak - Violetta Valery
Matteo Lippi - Alfredo Germont
Ernesto Petti - Giorgio Germont
Ana Victória Pitts - Flora Bervoix
Lucia Paffi - Annina
Antonio Mandrillo - Gastone
Daniel Kim - Barone Douphol
Alex Martini - Marchese d'Obigny
Francesco Leone - Dottore di Grenvil
Alessandro Vannucci - Giuseppe
Alessandro D'Agostini, conductor
Stefano Monti, director
Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana
Coro Lirico di Modena
Stefano Colò, chorus master

Wednesday 18 November, 20:00 CET, Teatro Comunale, Bologna

Verdi: Otello (new production)

Gregory Kunde - Otello
Franco Vassallo - Iago
Marco Miglietta - Cassio
Pietro Picone - Roderigo
Luciano Leoni - Lodovico
Luca Gallo - Montano
Mariangela Sicilia - Desdemona
Asher Fisch, conductor
Gabriele Lavia, director
Alberto Malazzi, chorus master
Alessandro Camera, set designer
Andrea Viotti, costume designer
Gianni Marras, assistant director

27 November 2020: Massenet - Werther (Teatro Comunale, Modena)

29 December 2020: Puccini - Madama Butterfly (Teatro Comunale, Ferrara)

28 February 2021: Monteverdi - Orfeo (Teatro "Dante Alighieri", Ravenna)

28 March 2021: Rossini - Il barbiere di Siviglia (Teatro Municipale, Reggio Emilia)

16 April 2021: Verdi - Aroldo (Teatro ‘Amintore Galli’, Rimini)

18 April 2021: Donizetti - La Favourite | Teatro Municipale, Piacenza)


The melodramma tradition in the Emilia-Romagna region, with its stars and the popular passion that has been handed down over the centuries, constitutes a heritage of global interest. Emilia-Romagna is the region of Giuseppe Verdi and of performers who have changed the history of this musical genre such as Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti, Leo Nucci and Mirella Freni. It the enjoys today one of the most prolific musical life in the operatic world thanks to the highest concentration of historical theaters of the nation. Every year, the theaters of Emilia-Romagna produce lyrical performances of the highest standard, thanks not only to the quality of the artists but also to the preservation of a unique mastery and craftmanship in the construction of the operatic productions.

OperaStreaming offers a seasonal program of video broadcasts, freely available on YouTube, from the Opera Theatres of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Ferrara Ravenna and Rimini) in collaboration with EDUNOVA-University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. The project, that will run from 2019 through 2021, let enjoy Emilia-Romagna's lyric tradition and opera productions from the rest of the world. OperaStreaming was born thanks to TeatroNet, a pioneering streaming program launched by the Culture Department of the Emilia-Romagna Region in 2012 who provided the technology that enabled all theatres to transmit their shows live.

OperaStreaming is a continuation of TeatroNet, the initiative launched by the Department of Culture of the Emilia-Romagna region in 2012 and aimed at streaming musical performances from the theaters and institutions of the territory, and also thanks to the equipment of the fiber optic network put in place by Lepida S.p.A.

Following the experience of TeatroNet, numerous theatres continued and developed in the following years the digital broadcasting channel following, thanks to a state-of-the-art technological endowment, a trend that is emerging as a fundamental component of the international opera scene.

Among these, the Teatro Comunale di Modena has found in the communication by video an indispensable opportunity for the development of the live show and has activated, starting in 2013, a collaboration with the EDUNOVA E-Learning Center, a leading reality in the video production industry. The shows, filmed live in HD, were broadcast regularly and seen in free-to-air on the YouTube platform by tens of thousands of viewers from all over the world.

Recent OLF’s have focused on a single composer, such as The Schumann Project in 2016, or a specific context, such as fin-de-siècle Vienna during 2017’s spotlight on ‘last of the Romantics’, Gustav Mahler, and 2018’s The Grand Tour: A European Journey in Song. In 2019, a theme united the diverse concerts and events: Tales of Beyond - Magic, Myths and Mortals. In conversation, Artistic Director Sholto Kynoch explained that there were several factors behind the drive to expand the aesthetic sweep of this year’s Festival, Connections Across Time.

“It was a combination of two things. First, a desire to look forwards, as part of our Song Futures initiative through which we commission new works and programme existing works by living composers. We aim to present at least three world premieres every year, and this year audiences will be able to hear the music of 27 living composers. Then, I was keen to include more early music, to go back to the Baroque and earlier, and to explore links between different parts of the song repertoire that have developed over time. In song, there’s naturally a relationship between music and literature, but we wanted to expand such connections to embrace the visual arts, philosophy, any subject really.”

Soraya Mafi.jpgSoraya Mafi

Inevitably, some of Sholto’s initial plans for such interdisciplinary conversations and interactions have been compromised by the global pandemic, but in other ways the necessity of delivering a Festival online has opened up new opportunities, and the range and scope of this year’s events and performances is astonishing. One strand that caught my eye is the focus on Hafez, the 14th-century Persian poet, and his reception and influence on both western literature and art-song across the centuries. Following a study event, Hafez and Persian Poetry in Song - in which Dominic Brookshaw, Fellow in Persian at Wadham College, will introduce Hafez and the intricate ghazal form in which he wrote; Francesca Leoni, Assistant Keeper and Curator of Islamic Art at the Ashmolean Museum will reveal some of the treasures of the Museum’s collection; British-Iranian composer Soosan Lolavar, Professor of Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, will discuss Iranian musical traditions; and British-Iranian soprano Soraya Mafi will performs songs by Schubert, Schumann and Wolf, and a setting of Rumi, ‘Heart Snatcher’, by the young Iranian composer Mahdis Kashani - bass-baritone Michael Mofidian and pianist Jâms Coleman will perform a programme which includes settings by Schumann of Rückert and texts from Goethe’s West-East Divan, both heavily influenced by Hafez, as well as songs by Brahms setting Georg Daumer’s translations of Hafez and four Russian translations set by Nikolai Tcherepnin.

Michael Mofidian.jpgMichael Mofidian

After a second study event, exploring translations such as Goethe’s West-Eastern Divan, which have been set by many composers, and a discussion about the way in which Hafez has continued to inspire composers - such as Karol Szymanowski and Sally Beamish - during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Hafez day will culminate with a recital by Ian Bostridge, this year’s artist-in-residence, and Julius Drake in the Holywell Music Room, including settings of Rückert by Schubert and Mahler, some of Wolf’s Goethe settings, and selections from Hans Werner Henze’s Songs from the Arabian, which was written for Bostridge in 1996.

Bostridge, Ian C Sim Canetty-Clarke.jpgIan Bostridge © Sim Canetty-Clarke.

Why Hafez? Sholto’s interest in Muslim-Western cultural encounters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was initially sparked when he attended a lecture at Oxford’s Persian Institute. He points out that the ghazal form was written to be sung, and a little research reveals that nineteenth-century Orientalists such as Sir William Jones - the ‘father’ of Persian studies in the West, who translated Persian, Arabic and Turkish poetry into English, French and Latin - responded to both the Romantic sensibility of his poetry, its beauty, wildness and sublimity, and to its musicality: ‘The wildness and simplicity of Persian Song pleased me, so much that I have attempted to translate it in verse […] I have, as nearly as possible, imitated the cadence and accent of the Persian measure, from which every reader, who understands music, will perceive that the Asiatic numbers are as capable of a regular measure as any air in Metastasio.’ Sholto’s reference to Hafez as “a sort of Shakespeare-figure in Iran” makes me wonder whether Jones’ translations had a similar impact on the development of ideas and literature as translations of Shakespeare did on French and German Romantics. The events will, he says, explore “eight centuries of the reception of Hafez”.

Soosan Lolavar pic.jpgSoosan Lolavar.

The Great Debate, led by Paul Smith, Director of Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, promises similarly broad and diverse cultural discussion and engagement. In the context of considering the significance, past and present, of the ‘religion versus science’ debate initiated by Darwin’s concept of evolution by natural selection - and in the very room, the Huxley Room, which on 30th June 1860 hosted the ‘Huxley-Wilberforce Debate’ - the ways in which these ideas influenced both the general outlook and choice of song texts of Elgar and Chausson will be explored. “The influence of nature on composers is well-known,” says Sholto, “but the context of the exploration of new land, advanced travel, and growing understanding of the natural world were strong influences at that time. If anything, the arguments between Darwinists and tradition theologians made the natural world even more miraculous as there was increasing awareness of the complexity of nature.”

Holywell.jpgThe Holywell Music Room.

These are ‘big ideas’, and Sholto is aware that hour-long study events can only scratch the surface. “But, we wanted to draw on being in Oxford, particularly this year when the digital festival has the potential to reach a much larger audience. We can champion art-song. It’s been 20 years of hard slog, getting people through the doors to hear a song recital. Chamber music festivals have an existing audience that can be relied upon, but with song it’s a struggle.” When asked why this is so, Sholto suggests it’s because audiences find art-song recitals and their ‘etiquette’ slightly intimidating. Recent research into ‘audience experience’ yielded some interesting findings. “Six ‘culturally aware non-attendees’ - who regularly attended theatre, exhibitions and other musical events, but who had consciously decided that song was not for them - were ‘bribed’ to agree to attend at least five OLF concerts and then asked to write up their experience. All said they would come back in the future. One said that it was only at their fourth concert that that realised it was acceptable to look at the singer.” It’s disconcerting, Sholto says, to be so close to a performer, who “looks you in the eye and pours their heart out”, and “it can be unnerving to see someone emote and communicate, and feel with you.”

Sholto-Kynoch-Piano.jpgSholto Kynoch

Not only will larger audiences be reached, but this year’s OLF events will take place in a wider range of venues in and around Oxford - Broughton Castle, the Ashmolean Museum, the Bodleian Library, Trinity College, the Upper Library in Queen’s College, Merton College Chapel, Oxford’s Botanical Gardens. Sholto had hoped to livestream all the performances and events, but the challenges in making the study events fully live proved unassailable. That said, 30 out of 40 events are fully live, and the ten study events all have an element of live interaction; these are pre-recorded but will be framed by live discussions with the speakers before and after the event. As Sholto says, “With a digital Festival, it’s not possible to meet in person, but audiences can still ‘meet’ performers, and perhaps in ways not possible in formal concert situations.”

Indeed, the digital world has opened up new possibilities and will undoubtedly lead to richer experiences in the future, when ‘normal’ concert-going life hopefully resumes. The April 2020 Spring Festival had to be cancelled, but OLF were able to present online recorded interviews with singers: in these early days of lockdown, Sholto laughs, “there were no production values at all … but people loved it. It was fantastic being able to ‘meet’ with a favourite singer in their living room for a chat.”

Rowan Pierce.jpgRowan Pierce

Another initiative this year is that each evening recital will begin with a short group of Schubert songs performed by singers - including Fleur Barron, Rowan Pierce, Nardus Williams, William Morgan, among others - who have begun forging successful careers in the last few years, “carving their way up the ladder”, but who have been very hard hit by the current crisis in the performing arts. In total, 110 artists have been engaged for the Festival, even though it is “half the size of normal”: “We’re proud and pleased to be providing work for people in this desperate time.”

OLF’s outreach and educational work has also been affected by the pandemic. A project involving primary schools, which saw small numbers of students working to create their own song cycle, was on the cusp of expansion: “we wanted to keep the integrity of the close contact with groups of five or six students, but also enlarge the reach, and planned to work with an entire school, making six or seven visits over two terms, working towards a whole-school concert presenting words and music that the students had produced themselves.” Online activities are still ongoing, and visits should resume in January 2021, though the project has been necessarily scaled back.

Julius Drake006 Marco Borggreve.jpgJulius Drake © Marco Borggreve.

And, looking ahead, what of next spring, and of OLF’s 20th anniversary events next year? Covid-19 has inevitably impacted present and future plans. This year’s Festival features no large ensembles - though The Hermes Experiment and the Orlando Consort perform late night concerts - or two-singer recitals. A winter residential course has been cancelled. Sholto confesses that he is six months behind in terms of planning: there was so much extra work for this year’s Festival, “the whole programme had to be rethought, everything had to be learned from scratch and involved complicating factors - filming, streaming.”

But, a glance at the singers and musicians whom we will be able to hear between 10th-17th October - Ian Bostridge, Roderick Williams, Carolyn Sampson, Lucy Crowe, James Gilchrist, Sarah Connolly, Alessandro Fisher, Benjamin Appl, Robin Tritschler, Ashley Riches, Julius Drake, Joseph Middleton, Christopher Glynn, Anna Tilbrook, Graham Johnson, Saskia Giorgini, Simon Lepper, Sean Shibe, Hélène Clément, Elizabeth Kenny, Imogen Cooper, and Sholto himself - will surely restore any song- and music-lover’s spirits.

Claire Seymour

The 2020 Oxford Lieder Festival runs from 10th-17 th October. Festival and Day Passes, and Single Event Tickets can be purchased here .

This was The Sixteen’s first performance before a live audience since lockdown shut down musical life back in March, and the music of some of the composers dating from the late-15the century to the early-17th century included in their Kings Place programme had originally been prepared for the group’s twentieth annual Choral Pilgrimage tour, which was curtailed earlier this year. The programme for the 2020 Pilgrimage was to focus on Rome and to include music by Josquin des Prez, Felice Anerio and Tomás Luis de Victoria, among others, some of the selected compositions having previously been recorded by the ensemble on The Call of Rome .

Thus, litanies by Anerio and Victoria framed the musical offerings at Kings Place. Felice Anerio was born in Rome, studied under Palestrina as a chorister in the Vatican’s Cappella, and succeeded him as composer to the papal choir. Safety restrictions may have turned the usual (and paradoxically) eighteen-strong The Sixteen into a ten-voice ensemble but, curving in two half-rings across the Kings Place platform, they had no difficult in establishing the expansive glories of Anerio’s double-choir setting of the Litaniae Beatissimae Virginis Mariae. The textures are varied and Christophers used dynamic contrasts to enhance them further. The momentary intimacy of two sopranos pleading with the “Regina angelorum” to pray for mankind flowed naturally into the vibrant invocatory litanies of the full-throated choir. Rhythms were agile and, though the text is characteristically repetitive, there was never any sense of the formulaic.

Tomás Luis de Victoria was maestro di cappella at the Jesuit seminary in Rome. His setting of the Litaniae Beatae Mariae is grand, built upon the sorts of contrasts that Christophers relishes - not just of musical elements such as dynamics and texture, but also of states of mind, ecstasy being juxtaposed with calm reflection. Despite the density of the double-choir material, The Sixteen sounded lucid, airy and flowing.

Josquin des Prez’s six-part motet, O virgo prudentissima, which sets words by the classical scholar and poet Poliziano, was tremendously spacious, the bass probing downwards with a lovely dark grain, the sopranos stretching upwards with shining vigour. The reduced number of voices seemed to create more brightness and majesty, not less. The central canon for alto and tenor created a momentary pause for the counterpoint to rest, only for the music to regather with refreshed energy, pushing towards the final Alleluia. In his will, Josquin asked for his two motets, Pater noster and Ave Maria, to be performed in the market square, in front of his Condé home, whenever church services included an outdoor procession. The Sixteen paid homage with warmth, gentleness and affectionate sincerity.

As seems almost obligatory now in programmes of Renaissance vocal music - though this makes it no less welcome - the music of Arvo Pärt was interspersed between the earlier compositions. VOCES8 themselves performed Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry in the first concert of the Live from London series, back at the start of August, a programme based on their latest disc, After Silence. The fifth-century text presents the prayer spoken by Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick, as he led his fellow monks to safety, following an ambush. The choral tone at the start was hushed but heavily fraught with tension; the fragmentary repetitions - “Christ with me”, “Christ in me” - pulsed like heart-beats, held together across the palpable silences by St Patrick’s faith. Christophers pushed the silences as far as they would go, until they were filled by the higher soprano voices, the latter building and then exploding in fervour before all subsided into the quiet certainty of belief.

Pärt’s Da pacem Domine was commissioned by the Catalan conductor Jordi Savall for a concert dedicated to peace and written two days after the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 as a tribute to those who died. Here its colour-tones spread like glowing carillons around Kings Place’s Hall One, the ringing voices bouncing off one another in gleaming patterns. Christophers’ judicious pacing created a fluid, purposeful momentum for the shifting and evolving colours. I was put in mind of a paint-laden artist’s brush dropping its load into clear water, and the paints blending while retaining their own vibrant identity. We heard the composer’s Morning Song when The Gesualdo Six sang ‘live from London’ a few weeks ago. The use of higher female voices - as scored by Pärt - gave The Sixteen’s rendition a sense of greater hopefulness and buoyancy, though the slower tempo adopted by Christophers seemed to make the rhythm animation more restrained.

There was an English voice to counter the continental masterpieces. The first of the two Libera nos settings composed by John Sheppard reminded us that England had its golden age of polyphony too. To return to the painterly imagery, here a wide, laden brush, slowly smeared its indigo and verdigris, its gold and lapis lazuli, as a light streamed in through a high church window onto the canvas.

To complement the choral songs, choral poetry was placed within the folds of the vocal programme. As Christophers explained, in a recorded interview with VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith, 2020 is the 850th anniversary of the death of Thomas Beckett, in Canterbury Cathedral where Christophers was himself a chorister. Three of the plays Choruses for the women of Canterbury were recited by Christophers’ daughter, Antonia. It was a pity that during the opening lines of the recitations, “Here let us stand by the cathedral, here let us wait” and “Does the bird sing in the South?”, the camera was focused on Christophers, with the be-masked audience in the auditorium behind, because when the lens was turned to Antonia Christophers herself it was clear that her presentational impact was as compelling as her vivid vocal presence. (It was a pity, too, that the microphone picked up some muttering from the auditorium.) Holding the text but speaking predominantly from memory, she made us feel the import of the people’s ‘waiting’ - for Advent, for the renewal of spring, for the destiny that “waits in the hands of God.”

The reception offered by the audience at Kings Place evinced huge warmth and gratitude. They were thanked in turn with an encore sung by four members of The Sixteen, the Agnus Dei from Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. After the accumulating intensity of the vocal conversations, the movement subsided into wonderfully delicate reflective introspection.

As Eliot wonders, what is there for the people to do? “Only to wait and to witness,” proclaim the women of Canterbury. Apt words, it feels, at this present time.

Stilo Antico perform the next concert in this Live From London series, on Saturday 26th September.

Claire Seymour

The Sixteen: Harry Christophers (conductor); Antonia Christophers (narrator); Julie Cooper, Katy Hill, Alexandra Kidgell & Charlotte Mobbs (soprano); Daniel Collins, Edward McMullan & Kim Porter (alto); Jeremy Budd & Mark Dobell (tenor); Ben Davies & Rob Macdonald (bass)

F. Anerio - Litaniae Beatissimae Virginis Mariae; Arvo Pärt -The Deer’s Cry, T.S. Eliot - ‘Here let us stand’ fromMurder in the Cathedral, Josquin des Prez - O Virgo prudentissima, Arvo Pärt - Da pacem Domine, T.S. Eliot - ‘Does the bird sing in the South?’ (Murder in the Cathedral), John Sheppard -Libera nos I, Josquin des Prez - Pater noster / Ave Maria, Arvo Pärt - Morning Star, T.S. Eliot - ‘We praise Thee, O God’ (Murder in the Cathedral), Tomás Luis de Victoria - Litaniae Beatae Mariae

Live From London , Live from Kings Place, London; Saturday 19th September 2020.

Bampton Classical Opera returns to the Baroque splendour of London’s St John’s Smith Square on November 6 with a concert performance of Gluck’s one-act opera The Crown, the first in the UK since 1987. The performance will also be filmed and available to watch on demand on the Bampton website from 9 November.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: The Crown (La corona, 1765)
Azione teatrale , in one act, sung in Italian with linking English narration

Meleagro - Harriet Eyley
Atalanta - Samantha Louis-Jean
Climene - Lisa Howarth
Asteria - Lucy Anderson

Narrator - Rosa French
Orchestra - CHROMA
Conductor - Robert Howarth

Concert Performance:
St John’s Smith Square, London: 7.30pm Friday 6 November, 2020

Composed in 1765 The Crown (La corona) glories in the sensuous beauty and virtuosity of the soprano voice. It was written for four Viennese Archduchesses, daughters of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and the formidable Empress Maria Theresa, young singers for whom Gluck had already composed his delectable Il parnaso confuso, performed by Bampton in 2014. Both works set words by Pietro Metastasio and were destined for imperial family celebrations at the Hapsburg court theatre, although La corona was abandoned due to the Emperor’s death. In Bampton’s performance the florid arias - as thrilling as anything by Handel - will be sung in Italian, linked by a narration in English. Early music specialist Robert Howarth conducts, making his Bampton debut, and an outstanding cast includes Lucy Anderson, first prize-winner of the 2019 Bampton Young Singers’ Competition. The performance adds to Bampton’s noteworthy exploration of rarely-performed operas by Gluck, one of the most significant and melodious of eighteenth-century masters.

In his almost countless libretti, which made him the most popular of operatic poets in the first half of the 18th century, Metastasio plundered the classical myths for stories of valour and love.The Crown, like many others, derives from a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Meleagro, Prince of Calydonia, gathers a troupe of brave heroes to hunt and slaughter the ferocious wild boar which has been sent by the goddess Diana to devastate his realm. The opera however is concerned not with masculine prowess and bravery but with the role and ambitions of women. Atalanta, Climene and Asteria debate whether to join the chase, angry that only men can have the honour of gaining the crown of victory. When they consult Meleagro, he says the task is men’s work and warns that they will endanger themselves. Nevertheless, the girls cannot hold back: Atalanta wounds the boar and Meleagro is able to kill it. Each is reticent to accept the crown: in the end they offer it to the Emperor Francis, in whose honour the opera was commissioned.

The opera’s première at Schönbrunn Palace was planned for 4 October 1765 to celebrate the name-day of the Emperor Francis; it was intended as a surprise spectacle, commissioned by his wife. Unfortunately all the efforts of composition and preparation were to no avail, as the Emperor died unexpectedly on 18 August, and the project was entirely dropped. Fortunately manuscripts survive and it had a few performances in the later twentieth century. Bampton’s performance now is the first in this country since 1987.

The Crown opens with a three-movement Overture, followed by six arias of varied colour and character, a duet and a concluding ‘chorus’.

Although Gluck often reused music from his earlier works, all of the music for La corona was composed afresh. The dynamic Allegro which concludes the overture reappeared in a new guise five years later in the overture for Paris and Helen and as part of the final radiant duet for those love-struck and ill-fated characters. The concert on 6 November 2020 was originally planned to be a performance of Paris and Helen, marking the 300th anniversary of the Vienna premiere of that larger-scale opera on 3 November 1770, a project sadly prevented - or, at least, postponed - by the strict distancing requirements necessitated by the coronavirus epidemic. Bampton will perform Paris and Helen in full in 2021.

Bampton Classical Opera enjoys a national reputation for its passionate and enlightened discoveries of rare late 18th-century operas, sung in lively new translations. Amongst these have been UK premières of BertoniOrfeo, Isouard Cendrillon, Marcos PortugalThe Marriage of Figaro, Paer Leonora, BendaRomeo and Juliet, Gluck Il Parnaso confuso, Bauci e Philemon and Salieri Falstaff. The company works with some of the finest emerging young professional singers and stages productions in rural venues in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire as well as regularly in London at St John’s Smith Square. Other significant venues and festivals have included Wigmore Hall and Purcell Room, Buxton Festival, Cheltenham Festival and Theatre Royal Bath. Bampton Classical Opera encourages a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, and with ticket prices being excellent value, their performances provide an ideal introduction to anyone unaccustomed to opera.

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2019 production of Stephen Storace Bride and Gloom (Gli sposi malcontenti) has been shortlisted for an International Opera Award/Rediscovered Work Category.

Booking information (booking opens Wednesday 23 September)
7.30pm, 6 November, St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
The performance is approximately 50 mins - 1 hour, no interval

There are 140 socially-distanced tickets available - full price £28, under-18’s £8.
(The performance is subject to developing government constraints)

Performance filmed ‘as live’ and available on demand from November 9 via Price: £8.

So John Dowland ended his dedication to Robert Cecil - the first Earl of Salisbury and Chief Minister to both Elizabeth I and her successor, James I - which prefaced the composer’s Andreas Ornithoparcus his Micrologus (a translation of Andreas (Ornithoparcus) Vogelsang’s Musicae active micrologus (1515)).

He continued, ‘My daily prayers (which are a poore mans best wealth) shall humbly sollicite the Author of all Harmonie for a continuall encrease of your Honors present happi∣nesse with long life, and a successiue blessing to your generous posteritie.’ And, well might he so pray. Dowland was one of the many musicians and composers who benefited from the largess of the ‘Right Honojrable Robert Earle of Salisbury, Viscount Cranborne, Baron of Essingdon, Lord High Treasurer of England, Principall Secretarie to the Kings most excellent Maiestie, Maister of the Courts of Wards and Liueries, Chancellor of the most famous Vniuersitie of Cambridge, Knight of the most Noble Order of the Garter, and one of his Maiesties most honourable Priuic Counsell’.

For, as well as being the most powerful man in England, Cecil was also a generous patron of the arts, particularly architecture and music. In 1611 he built Hatfield House, a Jacobean country house set in a large Great Park in Hertfordshire, and the house archives attest to the many Tudor and Elizabethan musicians who profited from his munificence. At a time when it was not common for aristocratic households to employ a full-time group of professional musicians, records show that at least one musician was employed at Hatfield from 1591, and from 1607 until his death in 1612 Cecil appears to have maintained a permanent group of two boys and three to five adults. Nicolas Lanier, the first Master of the King’s Music, is known to have been in Cecil’s employ, while Thomas Morley, William Byrd and John Dowland were among those who dedicated pieces to him.

Cecil’s former home now plays host to the annual Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival , now in its ninth year and necessarily transformed in 2020 into digital format. Four concerts, curated by the Festival’s Artistic Director, cellist Guy Johnston, were filmed in the house’s historic rooms in July, before a small private audience, and are now being made available as free live streams on successive Friday evenings between 11th September and 2nd October on the Festival’s YouTube channel , with forewords by Lord Salisbury. Johnston was joined by pianist Melvyn Tan and clarinettist Julian Bliss in Hatfield’s impressive Marble Hall for the opening concert of early Romantic works by Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. For the second recital, we moved to the Long Gallery for a performance by countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny of songs and galliards - works which it is tempting to speculate that Dowland might himself have presented before his noble patron, in that very space, four hundred years ago. The lutenist’s melancholic ayres were followed by music connected to Hatfield’s archives, performed by Richard Gowers on the organ in the Armoury.

It’s easy to associate Dowland with perennial dolefulness, despondency and darkness - Semper Dowland, semper dolens was, after all, the self-mocking title of one of his compositions. But, there is lightness, wit and mischief too - no more so that in ‘Say, Love, if every though didst find’ from the Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires of 1603. “Say, Love, if ever thou didst find/A woman with a constant mind?”, began Iestyn Davies with the slightest raising of his eyebrow. As he later commented, this was a time of both “dangerous intrigue and sycophantic patronage”: what did Elizabeth I think when she was so asked by her court musician, one wonders. It was difficult to know which to admire more: Dowland’s brazenness in admiring that sole virtuous lady - “None but one/ And what should that rare mirror be/ Some goddess or some queen is she” - or the crystalline candour of Davies’ countertenor? The composer’s flexible rhythmic text-setting, that makes lines such as “She and only she/ She only queen of love and beauty” tug and sway with elasticity and animation, or the naturalness of Davies’ delivery, complemented by Elizabeth Kenny’s animated lute commentary? The open vowel sounds and wry rhymes - “She is not subject to Love’s bow/ Her eye commands, her heart saith ‘No No and only no’,/ One no another still doth follow” - resounded beautifully in the gilt-ceilinged Long Gallery.

A finely articulated rendition of The King of Denmark’s Galliard - vigorous and wiry, the tone vibrant and occasionally brittle at the top, resonant below, with almost angry elaborations - led segue into ‘Can she excuse my wrongs’. Davies reminded the audience that on 10th November 1595 Dowland, having failed to win a position at the English court and having entered the employ of Christian IV of Denmark, wrote to Cecil recounting his past meetings with English Catholic exiles living in Paris - he first went to France in 1580, aged seventeen, and stayed there for about four years - and Florence, a letter which is held in Hatfield’s archives. And, a letter in which Dowland renounced his adherence to the Catholic faith, ‘which tendeth to nothing but destruction’. In ‘Can she excuse’, however, the bitterness lingers, and Davies’ questions were full of resentful assertion and direct challenge: “Was I so base, that I might not aspire/ Unto those high joys which she holds from me?” The lovely easefulness of the syncopations only partially distracted from the composer’s boldness and sullen sourness.

Lady Rich’s Galliard flowed with greater ease and relaxation, but in the ensuing ‘Flow my tears’ Kenny sensitively withdrew, letting Davies make much of the poetic imagery, singing with heart-piercing directness and purity of tone:

“Flow, my tears, fall from your springs
Exil'd forever let me mourn
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.”

Again, the strife and unpredictability of the period seem echoed here - historic echoes made more pressing by the setting. On 18th October 1600, as Dowland’s biographer Diana Poulton points out, the Earl of Essex - once favoured, his influence now waning as the Irish campaign foundered - wrote to Elizabeth, ‘till I may appear in your presence, and kiss your fair correcting hand, time itself is a perpetual night, and the whole world but a sepulchre’.

Light and shadow were juxtaposed in the final two songs. First, ‘Come again, sweet love’. Such lightness, teasing and playful - “To see, to hear/ To touch, to kiss” - the syllables almost whispered, the actions covert, and then a soul-squeezing swell, “To die with thee again/ In sweetest sympathy”, was simply, to coin a cliché, to die for. “Come again,” Davies reiterated, his countertenor rich, inviting, warm, full of colour. With Kenny strumming and interacting with such delicious gentles, who could resist? But, with stanza four there was a cooling and withdrawing, greater reflection. The tempo slowed and the slightest pauses restrained the phrases: “All the night/ My sleeps are full of dreams,/ My eyes are full of streams./ My heart takes no delight.” Self-belief returned with forthrightness: “My faith is ever true,/ Yet will she never rue/ Nor yield me any grace.” Kenny’s arpeggiated preface to the final stanza was a coy expansion: “Gentle love,” coaxed Davies, but the repetition and exuberant elaboration of the final phrase, “By sighs and tears more hot than are thy shafts/ Did tempt while she for triumph laughs”, burned with a passion that was anything but gentle. Poetic, musical and vocal rhetoric competed for the golden laurels.

Then, “In darkness let me dwell,” the countertenor pleaded, lured into the shadows by Kenny’s exquisite improvisatory tracery. Pensive, pouring forth pliantly and plaintively, Davies’ countertenor was hypnotic, achieving almost hallucinatory intensity as it roved through Dowland’s quasi- expressionistic outbursts. The final repetition of the titular phrase sank into murky, even sinister, introspection, the last word snatched cruelly away.

Richard Gowers brought us back into the light with some dance-influenced music by Dowland’s contemporaries Byrd, Tomkins and Tallis; and a bright, joyful voluntary and lithe fugue by Handel, played on the 1609 organ in Hatfield’s Armoury. Gowers was an engaging ‘host’, explaining the links between the works and the house itself, and also illustrating particular features which give the works their character: the unruly ‘English cadences’ which threaten to overwhelm Tomkins’ Voluntary in D were likened to “making a meal completely out of salt rather than just adding a bit of it”.

Every time I hear Davies sing Dowland he seems to embed himself more deeply and discerningly into this repertoire. The enunciation of the text, the reflexiveness of the vocal-poetic imagery, the balance of delicacy and directness, the suppleness of his countertenor, particularly at the top, the unfussy precision with which he pinpoints both the explicit and the implicit: this is not just mesmerising musicianship but ‘magic’ too.

Claire Seymour

Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Elizabeth Kenny (lute)

Dowland: ‘Say Love if Ever Thou Didst Find’, King of Denmark’s Galliard, ‘Can She Excuse my Wrongs’, The Lady Rich’s Galliard, ‘Flow My Tears’, ‘Come Again’, ‘In Darkness Let Me Dwell’

Richard Gowers (organ)

Handel: ‘A Flight of Angels’ voluntary and Fugue II in G (Six Fugues); Tomkins: Voluntary in D; Byrd: ‘A Galliards Gygge’ from My Lady Nevells Booke of Virginal Music, Tallis: ‘La doune cella’.

Long Gallery & Armoury, Hatfield House; Friday 18th September 2020

When Wexford Festival Opera realised that the pandemic meant that they would be re-imagining this year’s Festival, Artistic Director Rosetta Cucchi reached out to Andrew. She asked him if he would create a new opera to premiere as part of Waiting for Shakespeare …The Festival in the air, which audiences could enjoy online this October.

Written intensely over three months, What Happened to Lucrece was created with an online audience in mind and has three different endings. This new opera by composer and artist-in-residence at Wexford Festival Opera, Andrew Synnott, is based on Shakespeare’s narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, about the legendary Roman noblewoman Lucretia.

What Happened to Lucrece will be sung in English by four singers and piano, and will be performed on three separate evenings. Each performance will have a different ending; one tragic, one farcical and one romantic. Viewers are invited to vote on their preferred ending.

The creative credits include: Libretto by: Alessandra Binucci and Rosetta Cucchi. Conductor: Andrew Synnott, Pianist Giorgio D’Alonzo, Director/Designer: Rosetta Cucchi, Lighting Designer: Eoin McNinch.

The opera will be performed by four members of the Wexford Factory, a professional development academy for young Irish/Irish-based singers where participants are being tutored by some of the most celebrated professionals in opera today. The four singers in the cast will be Sarah Richmond (playing Lucrece), Rory Musgrave (in the role of Sextus), Sarah Shine (playing Fran) , Kathleen Norchi (as Collatline).

Thanks to a partnership with RTÉ audiences can experience all three endings of What Happened to Lucrece from 13th - 15th Oct, streamed at 8pm daily on Miss an episode? Catch up on RTE Player and on RTÉ Player’s exclusive Wexford Festival Opera pop-up channel.

This October audiences across Ireland and around the world will have a chance to experience a taste of the magic of Wexford Festival Opera at home. Wexford Festival Opera, RTÉ and ARTE have joined forces once again to ensure that every magical moment will be available for audiences to enjoy for free from the comfort and safety of their own home. To see the full programme and how you can experience it at home go to

Wexford Festival Opera would also like to thank the Arts Council, Wexford County Council, Fáilte Ireland/Ireland’s Ancient East and the Festival’s Friends, sponsors and donors.

It is only through their invaluable support that Wexford Festival Opera can, in turn continue to reach out on a global scale to enrich, entertain and enlighten audiences during these uncertain times.

With live theatre performances severely restricted by Covid-19, Grange Park Opera, Surrey is filming Owen Wingrave, an opera created by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) specifically for TV in 1971.

Based on a Henry James’ ghost story, Owen Wingrave tells the story of an army family - the Wingraves - who have locked away a hideous secret in their grand house, Paramore. Owen is the heir. But all hell breaks loose when he announces that the army isn’t for him…

Grange Park Opera CEO Wasfi Kani says: “The opera requires a dozen interiors, which are well-nigh impossible to achieve on a theatre stage. However, filmed on location, we can have the Wingraves living in a real house, playing out their poisonous squabbles. In addition to its being an expression of Britten's own pacifism, he was also reported as saying Owen Wingrave was partly a response to the Vietnam War. We are setting our production in 2001 on the brink of the war with Afghanistan which disgusts Owen, but inflames his spinster aunt - played by Wagnerian soprano Susan Bullock.”

Interestingly Benjamin Britten did not actually own a TV - though for his 60th birthday in 1973, Decca presented the composer with a set.

The Interim Season

Owen Wingrave is part of the brand-new Interim Season which celebrates the Autumn, Winter and Spring between two Summers of the opera season. 19 fresh performances featuring more than 60 artists will be released online - totally free to watch - over the twelve weeks from 19 September- 13 December 2020

Wasfi Kani says: “Covid-19 has actually given us a unique opportunity to share the magic of great musical experiences - which are original, stimulating and food for the soul - with as many people as possible around the world. We want to continue with our trailblazing approach by offering new events and employing dozens of artists. Between March and December, Grange Park Opera will have created 42 new performances.

Events include:

· Accordion virtuoso Bartosz Glowacki playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

· Baritone Simon Keenlyside taking you on an autumn walk in Wales

· Supremely gifted violinist and winner of the string section ofBBC Young Musician of the Year - Coco Tomito - playing Beethoven’s Spring Sonata

· A concert with soprano Ailish Tynan and pianist Iain Burnside presenting music by Faure, Schubert, Puccini and Muriel Herbert

· Through his songs, the enigma of Rachmaninov travels from Imperial Russia to Beverley Hills, sweeps through old and new worlds, penniless exile, comfortless fame

· Piano virtuoso Kausikan Rajeshkumar playing Scriabin, Scarlatti and the magic fire music from Die Walkure

· On a comic note, Harry the Piano performs Piano in the Time of Plague - a memoir of what happened to him

· Tenor Nicky Spence takes you into the woods with some teddy bears

· Writer A N Wilson will be cutting the ribbon to the new Interim Season, with a recital of Keats’ To Autumn

Interim Season events, including Owen Wingrave, will be released from 19 September onwards at .

Twitter @grangeparkopera / Facebook /grangeparkoperafestival / Instagram grangeparkopera

The MahlerFest Kassel was intended to be a permanent festival for playing Mahler’s works every two years; in fact, it only ran for three full editions, the last being in 1995, and the Ninth Symphony was never played at all. Conceptually far more modest than the 1995 Amsterdam MahlerFest in its ambitions - although that would achieve in a few weeks what Kassel would fail to do in six years - its Festspielorchester perhaps owes more to another festival, Lucerne.

Under the direction of the Hungarian conductor Ádám Fischer, less well known as a Mahlerian in 1991 than he is today, this orchestra is a kaleidoscope of colour and tone. Perhaps it is because Kassel is one of the centres of gravity in Mahler’s career - a city where he created Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and wrote the early sketches of his First Symphony. Kassel was the first of those German cities - Hamburg and Leipzig would follow - where Mahler’s symphonies would blossom but it would also in its own way be an entirely different kind of city to others in which he lived and worked and the impulses he got from them would be different too. The Festspielorchester is very much a reflection of a Mahlerian sound but not one specific to any one Mahler symphony; it is, however, characteristic of instrumental tone and colour and to different styles of playing. The oboes and clarinets are from the Vienna Philharmonic, the strings from the Dresden Staatskapelle, Czech Philharmonic and Orchestra of the Hungarian State Opera and brass from German orchestras and the Concertgebouw. This is a chameleon orchestra, but how beautiful it sounds. There is a better blend than one might expect - one of the drawbacks of scratch orchestras - and in this case the quality of the playing is remarkably accomplished, something which was not always the case in their performance of Mahler’s First (also just released) from the 1989 festival.

If Kassel was as a ‘City of Mahler’ then there sounded something authentic and raw about this Mahler Second. Almost thirty years later, at the beginning of a new Mahler cycle with the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, Fischer would bring a different kind of idiomatic flavour to Mahler - not based on the distinctive sound of the orchestra so much but rather on new directions in tempo, fluency and attention to mood and rhythm. Thirty years possibly seems like a journey of Homeric proportions in Mahler’s music and I think there is something tangible about how Fischer had reflected on these symphonies. Fischer has yet to record the Second in Dusseldorf but you can hear in the Third and in Das Lied von der Erde a subtlety, lightness of rubato and sensitivity of execution - especially in the vocal forces - which is sometimes missing in this 1991 ‘Resurrection’.

What you immediately notice at the very opening of this performance is the wonderful quality of the recording, especially on the SACD layer. But what you hear with such clarity also exposes with the spotlight. The strings at the opening of the Allegro maestoso have a massive and weighty depth. There is nothing Viennese - in other words overtly elegant - about the string playing, but you do hear that chocolate-brown depth of tone, the brawny power which is distinctly Hungarian-Czech and East German. The cellos and basses are ravishing if you like to be seduced by that kind of rich embrace; others might find it too overwhelming (I don’t). But what is crystal clear in the orchestra, such as those string lines and the Viennese woodwind, is not always so clear in the chorus. This is one of those performances evidently never planned for a commercial release.

Fischer takes a middle of the road approach to this symphony (if anything, I think his more recent recordings have become slightly faster than the norm when the tendency is to go the other way - something he also shares with his brother, Ivan). A Talich, a Kubelik or an Ancerl would have generated a performance that perhaps had more fire and passion that rippled through its veins - and no matter how beautifully articulated the first movement is, it sometimes lacks drive. Fischer isn’t averse to a touch of rubato here and there; some phrases suddenly pull back, almost as if Fischer is a little uncertain of when the music changes. There is less flow and ebb here; more pedal and break.

The two shorter orchestral movements are of excellent quality though it’s arguable in the Andante that the occasional weight in the strings doesn’t always achieve all the delicacy needed, though this is offset by the gorgeous tone of the instruments. On the other hand, the attention to dynamics is as complex as interwoven lace (2’56 - 3’10) and as you’d expect the Viennese woodwind provide authentic support. The Scherzo, which towards its end echoes the terrifying opening of the apocalyptic final movement, didn’t always recall the sheer horror of the Allegro maestoso that had come before it - and the timpani if they did grip you by the throat let go rather too soon for my taste. Those thundering downbeats should be like markers in the score - points where a sepulchral bassoon should rise from, or a trio of flutes should ascend above gutsy strings.

Fischer might consider himself very fortunate indeed to have had Marilyn Horne as his alto in this performance, especially in Urlicht which is magnificent. Despite being less than a decade away from retirement, the American mezzo is in formidable form. Performed a couple of years after her recording with Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, there is still a freshness to the voice - if you can call a voice which is so big and earthy fresh. Despite the solemnity and reach of this music Horne doesn’t particularly have to strain to size her voice down - diction is exemplary (a hallmark of all Horne performances), and the power comes entirely from Horne’s ability to think around the text. Pathos, intensity and tension surround every phrase here. Even at this late stage of her career, Horne’s voice still had a sumptuous tone and an upper range which barely sounded under pressure. Fischer almost seems inspired by his mezzo - those magnificent strings follow the voice like a penumbra. In many ways it’s profound and a distinct reason to hear this performance.

At 35 minutes (there is no applause in this performance) the final movement is on the slower side. If sometimes a concert of this work flags at the horrific power of those opening few bars, here Fischer unleashes a force from his orchestra which is tremendously exciting. I’m not sure he quite follows it up, however. The inexorable steamroller suddenly comes to a juddering halt when Fischer imposes after the pause off-stage horns and woodwind that are substantially slower than they ought to be and this goes on for almost six long minutes. Only when the great brass fanfare at 7’51, that screech of terror that almost consumes the entire orchestra, does Fischer resume the ferocity that promised so much from the opening bars. The two timpani crescendos, beginning at 9’42, might be amongst the most chilling on any recording of a Mahler Second - captured in such wonderful three-dimensional sound to make it all the more thrilling - and that Fischer then follows it up with playing of such drive from the orchestra only adds to a sense of frustration that the performance seems rather uneven at times.

The first entrance of the chorus - at 20’01 - does suggest a beautiful balance in the upper and lower register voices, even if there is some back echo which is apparent in the digital recording, not to mention some unavoidable static. The soprano Ibolya Verebics, rises like a flame through the mist of the chorus on her first entrance. Certainly not the largest of voices, Verebics has a slight wobble at the top. Horne’s entrance at “O glaube, mein Herze’ is one of those magical moments - but it’s something Horne does so well. Not one of the most balanced of duets, this was as much to do with two voices which didn’t particularly contrast well, and an alto and a soprano who placed quite different interpretations on what they were singing - that is, one who largely did, one who largely didn’t.

The Rundfunkchor Berlin are splendid, singing with unusual precision and clarity of diction. If microphones don’t particularly allow for the chorus and two soloists to merge well it is, I think, because what was probably rather more balanced in Kassel’s main concert hall was never quite designed for a CD. It is not entirely problematic, just a little unforgiving. Elsewhere, the quality of the SACD sound is outstanding.

There are many performances of this symphony, including ones I have owned for decades, which I do not wish to hear again. I think this new recording with Ádám Fischer from Kassel is one I might return to - at least to hear Marilyn Horne and an orchestra, which if not always playing at the finest level, is certainly conceived in an imaginative way and often sounds glorious. There are moments of brilliance here - there are moments which are from that. But I don’t know of any Mahler ‘Resurrection’ which is close to being ideal.

Marc Bridle

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

Into the blackness of the unlit Cockpit Theatre resounded a spoken voice, solemnly pronouncing Book 12 of Revelations. Piano chords stamped angrily, followed by lighter, exploratory gestures which ventured through that darkness. Then, we heard a sung voice which flung a question into the void:

“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,
… That we must change for Heaven, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light?”

The first few minutes of Geoff Page’s Paradise Lost - a one-man show written for countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, which was performed live on 12th September, presented as an interactive broadcast three days later, and is available on demand for one month - set out the work’s musical stall. Lyrical ‘arias’, punctuated by melismatic swoops, swells and slides; alternations between Zazzo’s countertenor and baritone ranges; minimalist repetitions, pulsing moderato chords and sparse, high tinklings from Page at the piano. More cantata than opera - though perhaps not presented in its ‘final’ form (in a post-show discussion Zazzo indicated that the hour of music that we experienced had been whittled out of a much longer work) - Page’s score was decoratively pictorial rather than dramatic, though others may well have found its cinematic, emotion-inciting patterns more satisfying.

What made this Tête-à-Tête Opera production so stimulating was Zazzo’s performance as Lucifer, the fallen angel, tempter of Eve, destroyer of man’s innocence. Weaving through gentle lyricism (there are a few Finzi-esque pastoralisms, shot through with the odd touch of modernism), strident anger, and spoken declamation, this was a performance which embraced an astonishing emotional gamut and did so with courage, commitment and impressive technical underpinning. Purity, power, presence: Zazzo evinced all three. What a show with which to return to the performing platform after months of lockdown and the silencing of one’s singing voice.

Anyone attempting to turn Milton’s ten books and ten thousand lines-plus of blank verse into a one-hour musico-dramatic work faces an impossible task. Page wisely focuses on just a few passages of text: those which, in the main, depict the thoughts and words of Lucifer himself. We have the fall from heaven in Book 1, the temptation of Eve in Book 9, and the exultant reflections (from Book 10) of the deluded ‘victor’, whose power Milton’s language undermines even as his words describe. There are a few lines from the start and end of Books 2 and 3; and imagery and phrases from Book 4, when Satan first espies Eve, are inserted into the temptation scene. Some excisions of imagery make a nonsense of the grammar. As Page pointed out, the story is well known so there’s no need to explain and fill in gaps, but this didn’t dissuade him from using a spoken voice-over narration; and we hear Eve’s voice too. Neither of these spoken voices were identified or credited.

But, the focus on Lucifer himself is effective: and one can imagine this score working very well as a monologue, perhaps retitled Lucifer, in the manner of Britten’s Phaedra. The deeply felt despair of the loss of celestial light; the vengeful conversion of defeat into victory; the heroism which is heading unstoppably towards horrific self-destruction: we feel all of Lucifer’s delusions and ambitions. A chair and music-stand were strewn with ivy, an apple was ‘plucked’ from a ‘tree’, and the tempting of Eve was vocally irresistible. We heard the crunch of the bite that gave man ‘knowledge’ and left him in eternal suffering.

Satan’s final triumphant ecstasies omitted a crucial phrase from Milton’s text: ‘His seed, when is not set, shall bruise my head:/ A world who would not purchase with a bruise,/ Or much more grievous pain?/ Ye have the account/ Of my performance: What remains, ye gods,/ But up, and enter now into full bliss?’

For, this was a stunning performance: authoritative and brave - and, much like Milton’s own rebellion against absolute rule, blindness and loss, a reminder of human courage, ‘never to submit or yield/ and what is else not to be overcome?’

Claire Seymour

Paradise Lost : Geoff Page (composer/piano), Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor)

Tête-à-Tête 2020; performed live at the Cockpit Theatre, London, 12 th September 2020; broadcast on 15th September 2020.

The big draw here is Max Lorenz. He was a tenor with as much an interesting, if somewhat controversial, back-story as he had a divisive reputation. As a singer, he would draw opinions that were equal to those that would be laid upon Treptow or Suthaus after him. Lorenz was perhaps the first great tenor to follow in the Wagnerian footsteps of Melchior but for those who found him mercurial, particularly live, were just as many who found him to have a technique that was less than flawless and this only got worse, especially during the late 1940s and into the early 1950s. But Lorenz’s career was relatively long for a Wagnerian tenor and before this Hamburg Tristan were superb electrical recordings which show a singer, if not always equal to Melchior, then close to him. But perhaps if these earliest recordings sometimes towered slightly above ones by Melchior it was because Lorenz didn’t pander to making this music about the singer as Melchior was sometimes prone to do; with Lorenz it was always about Wagner.

There are at least three other available complete (usually cut) recordings of Tristan with Lorenz apart from this Hamburg one. Only one is later. The earliest is with Erich Kleiber and is live from Buenos Ares in September 1938. The sound is poor, and Lorenz is frequently occluded under a mesh of distortion, but the stamina and power of his Tristan is quite something. He is equalled by Konetzni’s Isolde and Janssen’s Kurwenal and Kleiber despite often sounding spacious and monumental at times drives the score with electrifying energy. It’s typical Kleiber. What we do hear of Lorenz is entirely characteristic of this Heldentenor - that big voice, brawny even, the tight lines and clean top notes. There isn’t too much evidence of the lazy phrasing, and blurring of text, that would sometimes become a hallmark of a few of his performances later on.

The one similarity - the only one - that this 1949 Hamburg and the 1943 Berlin recording with Robert Heger share is that both are radio recordings made in quite exceptional sound for the period. There we really don’t hear much in common afterwards. In 1943 we have one of the very greatest recordings of Tristan on record; in 1949 we have something that doesn’t bear comparison. And here, I think, we come to unearthing why there are so many issues with this recording.

Partly the problem is simply this recording comes from the immediate period in post-war Germany. Compared with the pre-war years, or even the years during the war, the Hamburg recording reflects a paucity of Wagner in German music. If not exactly unfamiliar with the music, many Wagner singers faced exceptional demands in singing the roles in Germany, especially live. If Max Lorenz sounds more familiar with his Tristan here (which of course he should) it’s because he had sung the role so widely during the war and internationally in the post-war years; on the other hand, his Isolde, Paula Baumann, seems far less secure, and even inappropriately cast. More problematically, their conductor, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt wanders aimlessly through this Tristan and in doing so drags it out to quite inordinate lengths - a prologue to Knappertsbusch, or a throwback to Toscanini it’s almost impossible to tell, though one suspects he has the gift of neither. One almost loses interest during the Prelude, death in itself - and then we have Baumann’s Isolde who seems hardly credible; there is the limitation of her upper register which constantly sounds exhausted, its size is slight, which is magnified even more by the relatively high quality of the recording. Much of Baumann’s Isolde interferes with the Wagnerian structure of the opera - and Margarete Klose’s superb Brangäne exposes too many weaknesses. Klose often suggests this is an Isolde entirely unworthy of her faithfulness which is a killer.

Lorenz himself is certainly better preserved on recordings made either side of this one. On the Heger he is overwhelmingly self-confident in being able to project the heroic and his Act III is both visionary and dramatic. Lorenz can sometimes be a frustrating tenor, however - as he is in the wonderful extracts from the 1943 Furtwängler recordings of Tristan from Vienna. These Act II and Act III excerpts are in one sense exasperating, in another revelatory. His hysteria and madness are almost unrivalled on disc and at times his tone is just majestic; on the other hand, he can push the voice to such hardness and inflexibility he often sounds just hoarse. Come to 1951, when Lorenz was almost at the end of his career, and he sung Tristan in Milan under the mercurial baton of Victor De Sabata (a frequent collaborator with Lorenz) and we have a performance that is electrifying. There are unquestionable faults in Lorenz’s voice by 1951 but the performance is exceptional.

Which I suppose does bring us to the major problem of why this Hamburg Tristan is what it is: Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. His expansive and meandering conducting, which seems on a trajectory to nowhere, is a sharp contrast to what Lorenz experienced with Kleiber, Furtwängler, Heger and De Sabata. It is not as if Kleiber nor Heger were not without their expansive moments; they just knew what to do with them. It almost seems irrelevant that Lorenz’s Tristan of 1949 could have found the tenor in better health - he had just recovered from a heavy cold and returned from a demanding tour. Neither would have much improved Schmidt-Isserstedt’s conducting nor Baumann’s Isolde, however.

Are there any redeeming qualities to this Tristan then? In general, most Max Lorenz recordings are worth hearing - even a somewhat bizarre performance of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ from 1957, sung, in German, in the heaviest possible accent. Lorenz is in fragile form in this recording, though he has an endurance and resilience which saves this Tristan from complete disaster. But, he is unquestionably better heard as Tristan elsewhere. Listeners are better directed towards the magnificent Robert Heger recording (in excellent sound for 1943) or, if you can tolerate the abysmal sound, the Milan performance with De Sabata.

This Lorenz/Hamburg Tristan is available as a newly reissued download. The Kleiber (1938), Heger (1943) and De Sabata (1951) are also available as downloads.

Marc Bridle

Each project furthers the charity’s core objectives, and each has been developed and shaped in response to the changes the pandemic has forced on both the cultural sector and society in general.

MTFA is built on the ideas of fostering and renewing a sense of belonging and community through shared culture; of bringing together people of all backgrounds including the most disadvantaged with world-class professionals in the creation and experience of opera, music and theatre in as local a setting as possible; and challenging the perception that live music and theatre are not for everyone. Each project hinges on the idea that sharing the process of creating high quality music and theatre has a vital part to play in the revitalisation of our society and our economy, and each provides employment as well as engagement opportunities, championing excellence and accessibility.

About the Projects:

Urban Operas:

Urban Operas will bring participants together across individual UK boroughs and cities for one year, during which time they will create their own show from start to finish. Local communities, schoolchildren, youth groups, choirs, local bands, dance groups, families and dramatic societies will work with industry professionals to: develop a libretto based on local stories; design and create sets, costumes and lighting; compose the score; perform the chorus roles and music; and stage manage and advertise the entire performance. The result will be a spectacular site-specific opera, designed for a particular city, by the people of that city. The project draws on the Royal Opera House’s acclaimed ‘Write an Opera’ scheme (1985-2015), which itself formed the basis of the Thurrock Community Opera Ludd and Isis performed in 2010 (and directed by MTFA artistic director Thomas Guthrie) to launch the ROH Production Park. MTFA are planning to bring Urban Operas to a number of different cities over the next 20 years, starting in the London Borough of Culture Lewisham in 2022.

The Secret Library:

A brand new opera inspired by the true story of underground rebel fighters who created a secret library in Syria in 2014. This opera will be made in collaboration with Syrian refugees through Together Production’s Sing for Freedom Choir and Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, who will take part in the development process. An inspiring story of courage, determination, imagination, and the power of books and stories to educate, entertain and set free in the most inhumane of circumstances.

Schubert 200:

Schubert’s three great song cycles came about in a creative, spontaneous storytelling atmosphere where friends dressed up, recited poetry and brought along different instruments. Schubert 200 will celebrate this historical approach, by creating highly engaging, visually creative performances of each cycle, using puppetry and arrangements for unusual instrumentation to bring them to life and appeal to wider audiences. MTFA will tour performances of the three cycles to coincide with their respective 200th anniversaries (Die schöne Müllerin in 2023, Winterreise in 2027 and Schwanengesang in 2028), and will record the arrangements with international guitarist Craig Ogden and members of Barokksolistene (dir Bjarte Eike) for Rubicon Classics.

MTFA Founder and Artistic Director Thomas Guthrie comments:

“Music and storytelling have a unique ability to draw together a multitude of different elements and people in moments that can integrate, identify and inspire communities. These three ambitious projects, the first of many, will address the areas that most need change, care and investment: opera’s role as an elemental human method of storytelling; the opportunities it presents to tell emotionally powerful new stories, and the need for established classics to be reinvented and made available to all.”

About Music and Theatre For All

Founded in 2014 by Thomas Guthrie, Music and Theatre for All (MTFA) produces highly acclaimed, cutting edge, work that brings people of all ages and backgrounds together with world-class professionals in the creation and experience of opera, music and theatre. 

Past projects include Where Have All The Flowers Gone (2020) which was archived by the British Film Institute and featured on US, Finnish and BBC Breakfast TV; Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (2019), praised as “a subtle, stylish and multi-layered response to Monteverdi’s treatment of the Greek myth” (The Times); and Real Life Actually (2015-2016) and Death Actually (2014) which were called “winningly intense" (The Evening Standard) and “gloriously unexpected entertainment” (The Times).

Projects have been featured at the Spitalfields Music Summer and Winter Festivals, Brighton Festival, Barbican Centre, LSO St Lukes, York Early Music Festival, online, and in schools, churches and community settings.

MTFA believes that:

- opera and theatre should be accessible to all, rich and poor, young and old, and that as such it should focus on issues common to us all

- storytelling, singing and theatre are essential to community and vital for whatever it is that makes us human

- enabling audiences and participants to go on their own journey and to connect with their own imagination is preferable to telling them what to think

- singing is both an extreme physical art and a basic need, and every single one of us can do it. Combined with storytelling, it can make our most visceral and communicative art form 

For more information, visit

However far she might literally have been from her online audience, Joyce DiDonato made her presence felt with immediacy - vocally, viscerally and with virtuosic impact. There are divas, there are drama queens, and then there is DiDonato, who evinces drama and stature, confidence and directness, and employs such qualities in the service of music.

At the start of the broadcast, the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, explained that because Barcelona, where DiDonato resides and which was her first choice of location for her performance, had become a “Covid hotspot”, the recital had been relocated to Antwerp; but, that too became a ‘no-go location’, and so the performance was transferred to the Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum, in Germany's Ruhr area. Wikipedia tells me that the Jahrhunderthalle was ‘built in 1902 by the Bochumer Verein for the Düsseldorf industrial and commercial exhibition and was then reused as a blower machine hall for the Bochumer Verein's blast furnaces’. Well, we had a blast of musico-dramatic fire from DiDonato, who ventured into repertoire - Mahler, Mozart - with which we don’t usually associate her, and who sang surrounded by sculpture by Mexican contemporary artist Bosco Sodi which had been curated for the event by Belgian interior designer and art dealer Axel Vervoordt.

The first part of the recital was titled ‘Loss and Separation’. The tense and edgy opening of the farewell which the exiled empress, Ottavia, bids to Rome at the close of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, was our starting point. DiDonato immediately captured the febrile intensity of Ottavio’s mind at the start of her monologue of departure. This was a ‘lived’ performance: Ottavio’s pain and anger, loneliness and narcissism, were real and moving: “et io starò solinga, alternando le mosse al pianti, ai passi”, an image of lonely, endless weeping and pacing to and fro, sank low and tugged at one’s pity while also revealing the spurned empress’s self-delusion and denial. The members of Il Pomo d’Oro offered plaintive and honest reflections in accompanying the raw recitative.

DiDonato segued into Didon’s Final Scene in Les Troyens, drawn by pianist Carrie-Ann Matheson’s theatrical invitation. This was no-holds-barred commitment. High notes were launched fearlessly; a burning chest voice was delved into fervently. Bold and brave doesn’t begin to describe DiDonato’s courage and immersion. She sank to the floor, but Didon’s regality and passionate self-definition were never in doubt, though her farewell to her people rippled with genuine feeling and love, and a softer gentleness ultimately held sway. Matheson painted a sympathetic, shapely backdrop to the final departure.

DiDonato also sang Mahler’s Rückert setting, ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, literally on her knees, though if the expressive tenor was one of introspection, the voice was anything but: alert, crystalline at first, then more energised and vitalised. The embracing poignancy of those Mahlerian arches, which rise aspiringly, then fall, just so slightly, in sadness, nostalgia and resignation, took one’s breath away. Surely, once, or if, ‘normal’ musical life resumes, Mahler performances and recordings must beckon. Again, Matheson, playing in the shadows, made the piano an equally expressive voice.

Before Part 2 of the streamed recital, a recording of one of DiDonato’s Met performances was broadcast: ‘Deh! Tu di un’umile preghiera’ from Maria Stuarda surely made every opera-lover long to be back in the theatre again. When ‘The Restorative Power of Nature’ reconvened, it caught DiDonato and the engineers unawares, for we had some unscripted interjections before the mezzo-soprano before she sang a traditional American song, ‘Shenandoah’: this did at least confirm that these Met streamings are indeed live! ‘As with rosy steps from morn’, from Handel’s Theodora, sustained the directness of the traditional song - even cadential ornaments were minimal and restrained - and emphasised the relaxed expansiveness of DiDonato’s mezzo range. And, there was some terrific theorbo playing too! Indeed, the theorbo, joined by a light-footed cello, led without pause into Monteverdi’s ‘Illustratevi, o cieli’ ( Il Ritorno d’Ulisse), and the buoyancy and litheness, and accuracy, of DiDonato’s mezzo, as well as its expressive intensity were further confirmed in the subsequent, ‘Dopo notte’ from Handel’s Ariodante. Described by the Met’s host, Christine Goerke, as one of DiDonato’s ‘signature arias’, this number truly breathed, burned and blossomed. One could see the musicians of Il Pomo d’Oro absorb DiDonato’s vivacity, which invigorated their own playing.

A filmed discussion between DiDonato and Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, and whose experiences DiDonato has brought to operatic life in Jake Heggie’s opera, preceded the performance of ‘I dream a world’ by Kenyatta Hughes, which opened the final part of the programme, ‘Unity and Love’. A setting of Langston Hughes’ poem, ‘I dream a world’ is lyrical and expresses aspiring sentiments - the soaring obliggato cello part rises high and searches, reaches - and DiDonato was committed to its sentiments. As she has explained, ‘I’m calling this concert “I dream a world” based on the Langston Hughes poem, and I’ve asked Kenyatta Hughes to write a new piece setting this poignant text. I met Kenyatta while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Prison 4 years ago and his powerful songwriting skills were immediately apparent: he will bring a very personal, transformative element to this concert. The one thing I wish people to walk away from this experience with, is the demonstrative reminder of how necessary, how unifying, and how transformative music and the arts are, and why we must protect it, fight for it, and create it more radically than ever before.’

I’m not sure that Hughes’ composition fully embodies or realises such aspirations musically, but Cesti’s ‘Intorno all’idol mio’ (Hover around my beloved, Orontea) which followed was more diverse in vocal colourings; there were further farewells to life, sincere and whispered. Afterwards, DiDonato offered “mille grazia” to her friends from Il Pomo d’Oro who had accompanied her in works which would “never see the light of day on the Metropolitan Opera stage”. And, she remembered her 2005 debut at the Met, as Cherubino, and reflected on how it might be fun to re-imagine the amorous page, in a smoky French café, confronted with ‘an Edith Piaf type’. ‘Voi che sapete’ transformed DiDonato into a passion-fuelled adolescent - Matheson’s staccato accompaniment was a deliciously wry commentary on the page’s over-heated yearnings. There was crystalline vibrancy here to melt any heart. DiDonato’s performance of Piaf’s own ‘signature song’, ‘La vie en rose’, transported us over years and miles to a world of ‘Je ne regrette rien’. But, as DiDonato emphasised in her closing remarks, there are things to regret, lament and to fear. Yet, audiences must be patient, for performers would be intrepid, “instead of focusing in what we’re missing, let’s focus on what we have now”.

An articulate but obviously emotionally moved DiDonato spoke with directness and honesty about the challenges facing performers and the arts more generally, and asked listeners to make the case for the life-giving essentiality of music and creative arts. Ginastera’s ‘Canción al árbol del olvido’, with its sparse textures and obsessively repeating rhythms, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’, made a persuasive case for music’s ability to unite, sustain and inspire.

Claire Seymour

Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano), Carrie-Ann Matheson (piano), Il Pomo d’Oro

Monteverdi - ‘Addio Roma’ (L’Incoronazione di Poppea), Berlioz - Didon’s Final Scene (Les Troyens), Mahler - ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’, Traditional - ‘Oh Shenandoah’, Handel - ‘As with rosy steps the morn’ (Theodora), Monteverdi - ‘Illustratevi, o cieli’ (Il Ritorno d’Ulisse), Handel - ‘Dopo notte atra e funesta’ ( Ariodante), Kenyatta Hughes (arr. Craig Terry) - ‘I Dream a World’ (world premiere), Cesti - ‘Intorno all’idol mio’ (Orontea), Mozart - ‘Voi che sapete’ (Le nozze di Figaro), Louiguy (arr, Craig Terry) - ‘La vie en rose’, Ginastera - ‘Canción al árbol del olvido’ Op.3 No.2, Rodgers & Hammerstein (arr. Craig Terry) - You'll Never Walk Alone

Broadcast live from Jahrhunderthalle Bochum, Germany; Saturday 12 th September 2020.

Members of the award winning ENO Chorus and Orchestra will be conducted by ENO Music Director, Martyn Brabbins and will be joined by four soloists - Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano), Dame Sarah Connolly (Mezzo Soprano), Toby Spence (Tenor) and Brindley Sherratt (Bass).

Annilese Miskimmon, Artistic Director, ENO, said: 'It is important to acknowledge the full impact of Covid-19, and the loss we have suffered as a country. Mozart’s Requiem is the perfect music to provide a moment of reflection for our audiences, for a collective moment of remembrance. It will be a moment of great happiness for ENO to welcome people back to the London Coliseum again.'

Martyn Brabbins, Music Director, ENO, said: 'This period without the opportunity to make music come alive, both for the ENO orchestra and chorus, and for our loyal and supportive audience, has been unbearably difficult. These performances of Mozart’s moving Requiem, with four wonderful soloists, will bring us all joyously back together.'

There will be matinee and evening performances at the London Coliseum on 6 and 7 November. Ticket details will be announced in due course.

Please note that if government restrictions mean that a socially distanced audience are not able to watch the performance, ENO will livestream this concert.

Our progress through the centuries was more or less chronological and began at the Elizabethan court. The programme notes explained that the repertoire chosen reflected ‘love in its ‘many different manifestations’: ‘life and loss; beauty and mortality; brave romance and fragility in rejection; the steadfast devotion of a mother’s love (heightened by the awareness of inevitable separation); and in the Christian narrative the Virgin Mary and the eventual ultimate sacrifice.’

I’m not sure how the two motets from Byrd’s 1589 Cantiones Sacrae, with their non-liturgical texts alluding to the persecution and penitence of Byrd’s fellow Roman Catholics in Protestant England, fit into this narrative, but, singing from memory, Apollo5 summoned an appropriate urgency in the opening phrases of ‘Vigilate’ (“Watch ye”), making the counterpoint lithe and strong. These motets were just as likely to have been sung in domestic settings, with a single voice to a part, as by full choirs during religious services, so the characterful interplay of the individual voices that we heard here was apt. The contratenor part pushed tenor Oli Martin-Smith a little high at times, and the lower lying soprano motifs did not always cut through the dense texture, but bass Greg Link’s sure foundations bound the whole neatly together. The texts were clearly enunciated, too, with the sentiments of each phrase communicated through dynamics and colour. Perhaps the sudden forte for the cock-crow (“an gallicantu”) after the descending hush of “an media nocte” (in the middle of the night) was a trifle too emphatic, but the homophonic declaration, “omnibus dico” (I say to you all), and subsequent final warning, was commanding and persuasive.

‘Ne irascaris Domine’ was a soothing appeal, with emphasis on the lyrical expansiveness of Byrd’s linear lines (I found the tempo a touch too leisurely), but the singers did not neglect the harmonic nuances: the sudden interjection of the minor mode with the command, “Ecce” (Behold), was pointed with a surge of vigour and volume, and the false relation that highlights “iniquitas” was made more portentous by the reduced texture and softening of the tone. I’m not certain, but I think that the individual lines were occasionally reassigned, presumably to accommodate voice ranges and create particular effects; the overall result was harmonious and full of feeling.

There were continental motets from the period, too, in the form of Francisco Guerrero’s ‘Veni Domine’ and Josquin des Prez’s four-part ‘Gaude virgo’, the latter allowing tenor Josh Cooter to relax for a few minutes and enjoy the vigorous and buoyant performance of his fellow singers. The tempo adopted for ‘Gaude virgo’ was brisk, rhythms were animated and consonants crisp. The paired vocal ‘sparring’ was full of energy, though occasionally I found Martin-Smith’s tenor a little too emphatic, particular when rising to the top or when initiating the final “Alleluia”. The blend of voices wasn’t always as liquid and silken, nor the phrasing as refined, as some other a cappella ensembles who specialise in this repertoire, but Apollo5 used the character of their individual voices to bring about the expressive development such as the compositional methods are designed to achieve, and to nurture the devotional fervour of the music; the intonation was immaculate.

Thomas Tallis’s psalm-setting, ‘Why fum’th in fight’, is probably most familiar as the ‘theme’ which inspired Vaughan Williams’s ‘Tallis’ Fantasia for string orchestra. I wondered if the five voices would be able to create the sustained fluency of the congregation hymn; the answer was, yes. Apollo5 demonstrated a natural feeling for the fluid homophonic phrases, singing with lyrical expressiveness and a lovely fresh tone. We heard only one verse of the hymn, the last note of which was held and transformed into the opening of ‘Lost Innocence’ by Paul Smith, who is also the chief executive of VOCES8.

It’s a brave composer who would set text drawn from W.H. Auden’s ‘Hymn to St Cecilia’, inevitably inviting comparison with Britten, but Smith embraces the challenge by incorporating references to Britten, Vaughan Williams and Tallis within his own largely homophonous and ‘hymn-like’ score, in which lines and phrases of the text are repeated and stepwise movements of the synchronised vocal lines produce passing, gentle dissonances - in the manner of Eric Whitacre - which resolve into bare and open chords, creating a reverential mood. Smith sets only the last of Auden’s three stanzas together with the final three lines of the preceding stanza. This choice of starting point not only breaks a semantic unit but also removes the context for Auden’s words, which transform the emotions of the first stanza, urging man to quell the inner struggle between natural passion and the civilised reason which is a result of his ‘fallen’ state, and instead to embrace the loss of innocence. There can be no ‘art’ without the artist’s suffering: “O wear your tribulation like a rose.” In Smith’s setting the emphasis falls on the children who are urged to “weep away the stain” of their lost innocence. Apollo5 clearly found much to respond to in Smith’s composition. A well-focused bass solo brought about a central climax, with the truth that “what has been may never be again”, and subsequently each singer took their turn to delineate Auden’s elusive images, culminating in Clare Stewart’s tender shaping of Auden’s final line.

‘Lost Innocence’ took us into the 21st century, and thereafter we stayed in recent and present times. Eric Whitacre’s website describes ‘This Marriage’ (2004), which sets text by Rumi, as a ‘a small and simple gift to my former wife on the occasion of our seventh wedding anniversary’. It was Martin-Smith’s turn to take a short break now, as the other four voices euphoniously sang Whitacre’s characteristically gloopy harmonies. Taylor Scott Davis’s ‘Music, When Soft Voices Die’ is more texturally diverse and employs exploratory harmonies to convey the tactile richness of Shelley’s imagery - vibrating voices, pungent scents and fragile rose petals. It was beautifully sung, the combined voices both soothing and luxuriant. The rose imagery was sustained in Michael McGlynn’s ‘Where all Roses Go’, which featured a lovely, easeful solo from Josh Cooter above an expressive carpet of vocalised undulating harmonies.

Just when the mood seemed to be turning a little too sombre, Apollo5 lightened the ambience by switching track and venturing into various popular repertoires of the 20th century. (As so often in these terrific Live from London recitals, the 18th and 19 th centuries were disregarded.) ‘These Foolish Things’ had a richness which belied the number of voices and, like Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, offered individual singers the opportunity to shine while the ensemble demonstrated the breadth of their colour palette and their rhythmic animation. The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a little hesitant initially but soon got into its stride; Blake Morgan’s interesting arrangement certainly poses a few vocal challenges, which Apollo5 negotiated confidently and stylishly. Martin-Smith sang Yahoo’s ‘Only You’ with gentle expressiveness, accompanied by a light ‘instrumental’ accompaniment which was given some slight percussive assistance from Cooter. An encore, Jerome Kern’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, closed the performance in swinging style.

On 19th September, The Sixteen perform Music For Reflection, Live from London.

Claire Seymour

Apollo 5: Penelope Appleyard (soprano), Clare Stewart (soprano), Josh Cooter (tenor), Oli Martin-Smith (tenor), Greg Link (bass)

William Byrd - ‘Vigilate’, ‘Ne irascaris Domine’; Francisco Guerrero - ‘Veni Domine’; Josquin des Prez - ‘Gaude Virgo’; Thomas Tallis - Psalm 2, ’Third Tune’ from Archbishop Parker’s Psalter; Paul Smith (for Apollo5) - ‘Lost Innocence’; Eric Whitacre - ‘This Marriage’; Taylor Scott Davis (for Apollo5) - ‘When Soft Voices Die’; Michael McGlynn - ‘Where all Roses Go’; Jack Strachey & Harry Link (arr. Jim Clements) - ‘These Foolish Things’; Elton John (arr. Matt Greenwood for Apollo5) - ‘Your Song’; The Beatles (arr. Blake Morgan for Apollo5) - ‘Eleanor Rigby’; Vince Clark (arr. VOCES8) - ‘Only You’.

Streamed live from the VOCES8 Centre, St Anne and St Agnes, City of London; Saturday 12th September 2020.

Echoes of Forster seem apt at the present time, when we have experienced six months of disconnection and isolation, and the threat of dystopia, sometimes seemingly willed by our political ‘leaders’; and have envisaged the collapse of an arts industry that has communion between performer and listeners/observers at its beating heart. The epigraph - “Only connect!” - to Howard’s End, a novel which celebrates connection between human individuals and the value of personal relationships but also recognises the devaluing consequence of ubiquity (as Margaret Schlegel says, “The more people one knows the easier it becomes to replace them.”), seems to sum up both the enormous potential and the limitations of the digital world in which we’ve been living since lockdown.

The ASMF’s first concert, re:connect - A Requiem for our Time, was my first live performance in a ‘real’ venue since I saw ENO’s new production of Figaro on 14th March . The concert remembered those who have experienced suffering and loss caused by Covid-19, and more particularly honoured the memory of Martin Loveday, a former cellist with the Academy who died from coronavirus in April 2020.

I’d almost forgotten what it is like to watch musicians gathering in a performance space; to perch on the edge of one’s seat, eager for music to flow into the air one breathes; to watch the baton go down, or the leader’s nod trigger the opening of a performance. Streamed performances have indeed kept us ‘connected’ to some degree, with performers, ensembles, and - via social media - with each other, but there’s nothing that can replace the visceral buzz of music rippling through air, space and body.

Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten opened the concert. Immediately it was evident how challenging socially distanced performances are: the ASMF musicians were dispersed across the chancel - as a string player I felt for those viola players perched in the hinterland - and director/leader Tomo Keller worked incredibly hard to garner a striving pulse and forward momentum, though I felt that a rather too slow initial tempo, and tentative opening, hindered his energetic efforts. The single chime which opens the work was perhaps too ethereal and whispered, but the players worked hard to grade the incremental crescendo. Again, social distancing, and the consequent reduced number of musicians, inhibited the players’ striving for deepening, ever-enriching sound, but there was still a strong sense of a search for a moral and philosophical centre.

The long silence after the music had dissipated spoke even more powerfully. I’m not sure that the arrangement of Ivor Gurney’s song, ‘Sleep’, for baritone and strings was either necessary or effective, however beautifully, as always, Roderick Williams sang. The tempo was languorous which pushed Williams to sustain the earnestness and intensity through expansive lines - which, of course, he did, consummately - but the lower register of the transposition deprived us of that tenor ‘ache’, and the strings’ oscillating felt a little laboured at times. But, the spirit was sincere and perhaps the musicians needed to express themselves through these means. Certainly, their music-making prompted challenging reflections.

There followed a rather unusual performance of Fauré’s Requiem. It was delicate, sincere and at times gently exquisite. But, it’s very difficult to effect a balance between a ‘chorus’ of just eight singers, with a wonderful choral solo soprano (whose name I don’t know and so can’t share), and a weighty, dark-toned lower strings-plus-two horns ensemble, à la Rutter. In the event, the singers sounded like distant angels. At times, the ‘distance’ was deeply moving; in the Introït et Kyrie, the sound seemed to shimmer from the walls of St Martin on the Field, an ethereal angelic host. Elsewhere, the ‘chorus’ failed to match the driving intensity of the low strings and horns: in the Offertoire the vocal layerings, counterpoint and harmonic developments lacked the necessary weight to drive the music forwards. Williams’ solo was exemplary in terms of responsiveness to his fellow performers: repeated notes were nuanced with light and shade, and repetitions were given poetic shapeliness.

It feels ‘mean’ to offer ‘critical’ judgements, and I must reiterate that I was overwhelmingly pleased just to be listening to live music. But, one ‘problem’ was that conductor Andrew Earis seemed to settle into a tempo-rut: slightly too slow and sludgy. In the ‘Sanctus’, which brought Keller back for what is a challenging solo - and which was beautifully played but a little lost amid the various, dispersed contributing forces - the expansiveness which is required to propel the music forward never quite seemed to garner itself. The ‘Pie Jesu’ was similarly dilatory, though Carolyn Sampson’s controlled phrasing and the subtle vibrato introduced at the close were telling - and the gentle swells of the strings had touching expressive stature.

There was, however, sometimes a lack of energy and impetus. In the ‘Agnus Dei’ the violas seemed to want to break free, the double bass’s pizzicato injected a frisson which was never quite released, and the chorus struggled to match the intensity of the horns. Williams’ solo at the start of the ‘Libera me’ was sombre and firmly telling; but, again, the tempo felt a tad too lazy - a brisker step might have helped the female chorus to balance and match. The choral soprano solo in ‘In Paradisum’ bore us heavenwards, however: rock steady intonation, with expressive phrasing and harp colourings, brought us to a satisfying conclusion of emotional intensity.

It’s a challenge - I offer an admission and apology - for reviewers to balance gratitude for the fact there is live music for them to enjoy, and the personal fulfilment and enrichment that such performances bring, with the ‘need’ to offer critical judgements of performances presented in extraordinarily challenging circumstances. I hope the ASMF musicians will allow me to balance some critical evaluations with heartfelt thanks that I was able to hear them play at all. I left St Martin in the Fields with a light in my heart that hasn’t been shining for many months.

The concert will be streamed online from 7.30pm on Thursday 17 th September and will be available for 30 days from the initial broadcast. Information about future concerts can be found here .

Claire Seymour

Requiem For Our Time: Roderick Williams (baritone), Carolyn Sampson (soprano), The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, St Martin’s Voices, Andrew Earis (conductor)

Pärt - Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten; Gurney - ‘Sleep’; Fauré - Requiem (arr. Rutter)

St Martin in the Fields; Saturday 12th September 2020.

his month ROH Friday Premieres return with three new titles. Priced at £3.00, each will be available for 30 days streaming via Launching on Friday 18 September, The Royal Opera's production ofCarmen sees visionary director Barrie Kosky present a refreshing perspective on this well-known opera. Conducted by Jakub Hrůša , the magnificent cast includes Anna Goryachova , Francesco Meli and Kostas Smoriginas .

The Royal Ballet’s production of Dances at a Gathering will be screened on Friday 25 September. Jerome Robbins’ much-loved ballet made a welcome return to the Royal Opera House as part of the 2019/20 Season after an absence of 11 years. Choreographed by Robbins in 1969 for New York City Ballet and set to music by Frédéric Chopin, the ballet is an exercise in pure dance for five couples and is regarded as a masterpiece of subtlety and invention. This performance featuresMarianela Nuñez, Francesca Hayward, Yasmine Naghdi,Fumi Kaneko, Laura Morera, Alexander Campbell, William Bracewell, Federico Bonelli, Valentino Zucchetti and Luca Acri.

Pietro Mascagni ’s Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (The Players) are today Italian opera’s most famous double act. From Friday 2 October, audiences can enjoy Damiano Michieletto’s 2015 Olivier Award-winning production featuring Eva-Maria Westbroek , Aleksandrs Antonenko , Elena Zilio , Dimitri Platanias and Martina Belli and conducted by Antonio Pappano.

ROH productions continue to shine on Sky Arts. On Saturday 20 September, the free-to-air channel will broadcast The Royal Opera’s performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (2017) with Ermonela Jaho and Marcelo Puente. On Saturday 27 September they will broadcast The Royal Opera’s performance of Mozart’s Così fan tutte (2016) with Corinne Winters, Angela Brower and Daniel Behle.

Royal Opera House content continues to be available as part of our ongoing partnership with the BBC. BBC Four is currently screening Tobias Kratzer’s new staging of Beethoven ’s Fidelio, featuring David Butt Philip and Lise Davidsen.

The Royal Opera: Live in Concert remains available to watch on demand until Friday 2 October. Curated by The Royal Opera’s Director of Music Antonio Pappano, the concert seesAigul Akhmetshina, Charles Castronovo, Gerald Finley, Kristine Opolais, Lisette Oropesa and Vito Priante reunited for the first time with theOrchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus, performing much-loved classics of the opera repertory.

Autumn also sees the launch of the ROH global Cinema Season in collaboration with event cinema distributor, Trafalgar Releasing. The season opens on Tuesday 20 October with The Royal Ballet’s production of Giselle. In November, the Royal Opera’s productions - Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Verdi’s Macbeth make a return to the big screen. The Season ends in time for Christmas, where from Thursday 10 December audiences will be able to enjoy Peter Wright’s spectacular production of The Nutcracker which has been enchanting children and adults since its first performance by The Royal Ballet in 1984.

After six months of closure, the Royal Opera House is thrilled to be opening its doors to the public as part of Open House London weekend on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September, giving visitors a taste of one of the world’s most famous theatres for free. In a specially-curated, socially-distanced programme called Take a Bow, visitors will be granted access to the Royal Opera House’s two world-class stages, with a chance to glimpse the velvet, gilt and glamour of the Main Stage, as well as the state-of-the-art new Linbury Theatre.

Knussen, whose father was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra for nearly twenty years, was one of the towering figures of British post-war contemporary music, as a composer and conductor, teacher and artistic director. At the age of fifteen, he conducted the premiere of his own First Symphony with the LSO, when their principal conductor, István Kertész, was indisposed. His father played in the first performance of Benjamin Britten’s church parable Curlew River by the English Opera Group directed by Colin Graham, on 13 June 1964 at St Bartholomew's Church, Orford. The young Knussen attended all the rehearsals, receiving encouragement from Britten who commissioned a work from the young composer for the 1969 Aldeburgh festival. He later became the festival’s artistic director from 1983 to 1998. Turnage studied with Knussen when he joined the junior section of the Royal College of Music; he paid warm tribute to his teacher, mentor and friend in conversation with BBC Radio 3’s Sean Rafferty in July 2018.

This musical tribute began with Knussen’s own music: ‘Songs and a Sea Interlude’, which draws episodes from his fantasy opera, Where the Wild Things Are (1979-83), into a seventeen-minute account of the imaginary adventures of Maurice Sendak’s naughty young protagonist, Max. The LSO musicians - string and woodwind players spread across the floor of St Luke’s, horns aloft in the balcony - and Sir Simon Rattle were joined by soprano Lucy Crowe who brilliantly embodied the petulant five-year-old, first cheeky then sombre, cocksure then afraid, reviving memories of her strongly characterised Vixen in the LSO’s semi-staged performance of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall in June 2019 . Her soprano was unwaveringly clear and pure, and skilfully nuanced as she negotiated the exuberant swoops and cries, and tender pleas and wonderings, with pinpoint accuracy. In scene one, the young lad - who is dressed in a wolf suit and wielding a toy sword - pompously asserted, “I’m Max! M-A-X the wolf”. Bossily, he bullied and beat his toys. Later, hungry and alone, and frightened by his own dream of flying high, he yearned for his mother. “I’ll say, ‘Now stop’, and she’ll catch me,” sang Crowe, with heartfelt pathos and sincerity.

lucy-crowe © Marco Borggreve.jpgLucy Crowe. Photo credit: Marco Borggreve.

The LSO whistled, rustled, flickered, sparkled, gruntled and growled, like the monsters and beasts that young Max encounters on his fantasy escapades, as Rattle carefully and subtly sculpted every one of Knussen’s musical delicacies. In the sea interlude the harp and solo horn conjured the palpable ripples and intangible mysteries of the eerie ocean. Rattle crafted the constantly shifting colours and textures into a mesmerising mosaic: a genuine musical kaleidoscope.

Turnage’s Last Song for Olly is dedicated to the memory of his former teacher, who was affectionately known as ‘Olly’, or ‘Big Owl’, to his friends. It began with an animated dance that wriggled and jived excitedly, seeming to capture the energy, invention, warm generosity and playful humour of Knussen. The sequence of swirling dances, as rich and colourful as his mentor's music - alternated with more sombre chorale-like episodes, poignant, slow-moving chords played by horns and brass being flecked with dashes of colour and light from the woodwind, strings and percussion. The temperature seemed to cool, and the mood darken, when the material passed to muted trombones, whose chords were lightly nudged by grumbling double bass motifs, and high woodwind, floating on a shimmer of vibraphone. But, the dancing sprites gradually edged their way back into the texture, before brassy surges and forthright timpani assertions pushed towards a tutti restatement of the chorale theme. The full and glowing soundscape seemed to embody Knussen’s largesse and greatness, as a musician and man - the man who was lovingly remembered and honoured in Turnage’s concluding elegy, the ‘Song for Olly’, eloquently introduced by the four horns and then shared by all. The bright sheen of the full ensemble - Turnage apparently had to reduce his scoring for this performance, since the LSO were straining the seams of St Luke's - finally faded into quietude, guided on its journey by solo double bass reflections and finally borne aloft by high woodwind.

Explaining how and why the programme had been devised, Rattle commented that in a ‘normal’ concert, one wouldn’t think of ending a concert with an off-stage horn solo, “But, in these times, it seems to tell a different story.” The horn solo which opens Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings did indeed seem to commence a narrative, one played with firm definition and stature by Richard Watkins. ‘Pastoral’ had a tremulous, distant quality. Allan Clayton floated the stanza beginnings, and the tempo was restrained, but the tenor warmly projected Charles Cotton’s strange image, “Molehills seem mountains, and the ant/Appears a monstrous elephant”, triggering lively, light pizzicatos, before the low horn pedal pulled all back into the shadows once more. ‘Nocturne’ had a visceral inner energy which was at times quelled by Clayton’s beautifully hushed head voice, nuanced by a lovely vibrato, and then released in the bloom of the horn’s agile, leaping bugle and the tenor’s surging celebration of the echoes that “roll from soul to soul,/ And grow for ever and for ever.”

The horn’s semitone falls in the ‘Elegy’ sounded even more portentous than usual, and laden with both sadness and anger. In the current political landscape, Blake’s vision of a morally stricken Albion, “O Rose, thou art sick”, felt disconcertingly pertinent. Rattle and Watkins shaped the movement in a way which seemed to compel the listener to search ever deeper within themselves, the horn’s final squirms leaving an uncomfortable echo in the silence. But, Clayton did not let it linger for long, taking up the story in ‘Dirge’. His diction was exemplary, and while the delivery was supremely controlled there was a certain latent wildness, of a ‘Grimesian’ kind, in the upwards, swooping octave leaps and vocal intensity, and in the strings’ precise and pressing counterpoint. Watkins was a skipping, light-footed hunter in ‘Hymn’, enjoying flourishes of high spirits, and Clayton matched him for agility. Keats’ ode to sleep had a rhapsodic freedom and, again, a slightly ‘untamed’ spirit, the dynamics ranging widely and suddenly, the mood fitful and restless. The image of the “curious Conscience, that still lords/ Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole” really did seem to dig down into the bowels of the earth, before Clayton’s plea for the sealing of “the hushèd Casket of my Soul” floated reverentially into infinity, to be answered by the horn’s distant reply - plaintive yet purposeful.

There was a terrific directness about this performance. Some streamed concerts that I have enjoyed in recent months have seemed almost private, chamber performances, the musicians delighted to be able to make music together again but seemingly removed from the listeners at home, and the concert etiquette uncertain in the absence of the immediate embrace of warm applause. Such performances have been no less pleasurable for their slightly ‘enclosed’ camaraderie, but Rattle and the LSO, and both Crowe and Clayton, communicated drama and feeling with real focus, candour and commitment. As they turned to face the camera and bow to their online audience, I hope the LSO musicians were ‘hearing’ our appreciation.

This concert is available to watch live and on demand for 90 days on medici tv , and will also be recorded for future broadcast on Mezzo.

Claire Seymour

Lucy Crowe (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Richard Watkins (horn), Sir Simon Rattle (conductor), London Symphony Orchestra

Knussen - Songs and a Sea Interlude from Where the Wild Things Are (Overture, Scherzino and Humming Song, Battaglia, Arietta 1, Transformation, Arietta 2, Sea Interlude, Night Song); Mark-Anthony Turnage - Last Song for Olly (world premiere); Britten - Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

Streamed live from LSO St Luke’s, London; Wednesday 9th September 2020.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

Where to start but with the eponymous ‘Choral Dances’ from Benjamin Britten’s opera, Gloriana - composed in homage to the newly crowned Elizabeth II in 1953, via a glance back to her historic namesake and predecessor. The six Choral Dances are sung in the Act II masque scene by the people of Norwich, to honour their royal guest. Following the opera’s negative critical reception, Britten excised them from future performances though he did publish the dances in the a cappella form that we heard here, and in a version including tenor and harp.

They are no easy sing: though largely diatonic, the intervallic leaps are wide and often angular, rhythms are complex, and the counterpoint is complicated. Although they were starting ‘cold’ as it were, VOCES8 were characteristically accurate and the intonation was well-centred. ‘Time’ burst into celebratory life, jubilant and vibrant, but more might have been made of the text: yes, the interplay of voices is intricate but lines such as “Time is at his apogee!” seem to demand a deliberate, even hyperbolic, approach to declamation. (There were no texts printed in this week’s digital programme.) The image of a “bearded ancient with a scythe” brought a hush of reverence, and a perfectly tuned unison, from which harmonic tones ricocheted, spread and rang, putting me in mind of the composer’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia. ‘Concord’ was beautiful: the gently alternating chords blended exquisitely, the diatonic harmonies perfumed with a lovely, archaic modality. The homophony aided textual clarity, and the phrases breathed like a lullaby: the ensemble was good, but the start of each phrase requires precise negotiation after each slight silence, and though aware that VOCES8 aspire to well-rehearsed collective coordination, I wondered - given that at this early stage of the concert and the singers were likely to be still ‘settling in’ - whether director Barnaby Smith might usefully have offered some discrete guiding gestures.

‘Time and Concord’ pitted male voices against female, springing forth with elasticity and driving canonic energy, until the ensemble came together with the unison hail, “Gloriana!” and the affectionate assurance that the Queen “hath all our love!” Sopranos Andrea Haines and Eleonore Cockerham were the ‘Country Girls’: the bare intervals, rapid interplay and unsettled harmonies proved quite challenging, but if the tone was a little shrill then I think that this is largely because this particular ‘dance’ is not very conducive to a one-to-a-part texture. The TTBB grouping of ‘Rustics and Fishermen’ was warmer but no less lithe: the chaps sang with a muscular spring, and I loved the relaxed ‘sinking’ which followed the buoyant short phrases. The final ‘Dance of Homage’ was a soothing conclusion.

Thomas Weelkes’ madrigal ‘As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending’, which was published in the 1601 collection The Triumphs of Oriana, was a neat link back to the Elizabethan era proper. The rhythms danced blithely and the six singers (SSATTB) used the homophonic phrase-beginnings to effectively communicate the narrative which tells of the meeting on Latmos Hill between the descending goddess, Vesta, and her nymphs and the ascending Oriana and her shepherd: “Leaving their goddess all alone” the nymphs “hasted thither”, to mingle with the shepherds and sing “mirthful tunes”. The madrigal bloomed richly towards the close suggesting a joyful union - musical and more - of these pastoral dwellers. Orlando di Lasso’s ‘Dessus le Marché D’Arras’ (1584) also has a ‘cheeky’ text, describing the arrival of a Spaniard in the bustling market of Arras and his ensuing offer to pay any woman who accompanies him to his home. VOCES8 flew lightly through the rapid patter, making much of the propelling quaver-quaver-crotchet motif, and shifting meters fluently, though the balance between the voices was not always satisfying, with the female voices sounding a little too light.

Roxanna Panufnik is the ensemble’s current composer in residence and her setting of text from the 136th Psalm, Love Endureth, made for a reflective contrast - though one that seemed rather detached from the theme of ‘choral dances’. Telling of the persecution and deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians, and employing fragments of two ancient Sephardi chants, Love Endureth has a distinctly Jewish colour: VOCES8’s performance was wonderfully radiant, the swirling and oscillating harmonies, and piling close intervals, merging to form a vibrant tonal shimmer. The singers really relished the almost tactile grain of the harmonic hues.

Baritone Christopher Moore had introduced Panufnik’s work by inviting the audience at home to listen out for the repeated return to F# major - the “harmonic port in the storm” - which ultimately emerges triumphant, and symbolises God’s enduring love. It seemed a rather odd ‘pointer’, for anyone other than the musically educated and literate, and possessing perfect pitch, especially since VOCES8 aim to perform diverse repertoire ranging from esoteric classical compositions to the perennially popular. Such eclecticism was indeed upheld in this programme. ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ by Nat ‘King’ Cole rocked with an easy swing and gave tenor Blake Morgan an opportunity to show off his talents in the field of jazz; relaxed and debonair, he led the ensemble with silky voice and suave confidence, while bass Jonathan Pacey did a pretty good impression of a double bass riff. Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek to Cheek’, made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat, was a collective ballroom-sweep, Cockerham and Haines getting the toes tentatively tapping in leisurely fashion, enabling us to appreciate the rich harmonies, before the tempo snapped into shape and the vocal honours were shared around.

There were two arrangements by Alexander L’Estrange: of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ and of ‘Sway’ by Luis Demetrio and Pablo Beltrán Ruiz. In the latter Pacey was a one-man rhythm section, a superb foundation for the flexible vocal jiving above. As the singers mimed strumming strings and shaking percussion, one could be forgiven for imagining that such ‘instruments’ really could be heard, that the violins were indeed soaring exultantly. Two arrangements of modern folk-songs - ‘Underneath the Stars’ by Kate Rusby and Dougie MacLean’s ‘Caledonia’ (the latter was arranged by Blake Morgan) - offered a softer palette. Again the ‘dance’ theme seemed to slip away, but who would care when they could enjoy such lovely cushioning harmonies, precise ensemble with small inner motifs occasionally foregrounded, and, at the close of Rusby’s song, atmospheric stillness. Educational materials relating to learning and singing ‘Caledonia’ will be made available to schools and colleges via VOCES8’s recently launched Digital Academy: aspiring young singers had much to admire here, particularly the expansion from gentle vocalisation towards sonic, harmonic and registral breadth - as if the energy which had been ‘resting’ within the song had been gradually brought to live and set free.

‘Ain’t that a Kick in the Head’ by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn brought things to a lively close, the two tenors, Morgan and Euan Williamson, enjoying their affectionate rivalry and the rest of the ensemble happy to let their hair down.

The next Live from London concert will be presented by APOLLO5 on 12th September at 7pm.

Claire Seymour

VOCES8: Andrea Haines (soprano), Eleonore Cockerham (soprano), Katie Jeffries-Harris (alto), Barnaby Smith (artistic director & countertenor), Blake Morgan (tenor), Euan Williamson (tenor), Christopher Moore (baritone), Jonathan Pacey (bass)

Benjamin Britten - Choral Dances from Gloriana; Nat ‘King’ Cole (arr. Jim Clements) - ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’; Irving Berlin (arr. Jim Clements) ‘Cheek to Cheek’; Roxanna Panufnik - Love Endureth; Thomas Weelkes - ‘As Vesta Was from Latmos Hill Descending’; Orlando di Lasso - ‘Dessus le Marché D’Arras’; Kate Rusby arr. Jim Clements - ‘Underneath the Stars’; Dougie MacLean (arr. Blake Morgan) - ‘Caledonia’; Van Morrison (arr. Alexander L’Estrange) - ‘Moondance’; Luis Demetrio and Pablo Beltrán Ruiz (arr. Alexander L’Estrange) - ‘Sway’; Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn (arr. Jim Clements) - ‘Ain’t that a Kick in the Head’.

Live from London, broadcast from The VOCES8 Centre; Saturday 5th September 2020.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

The first of the ROH’s ‘Live in Concert’ performances was fittingly somewhat sober and refined. Now it was time for some razzle-dazzle. 67 members of the ROH Orchestra and Chorus were spread across the stalls and along the grand tier, respectively - the first time the Chorus, readied for performance by Chorus Master William Spaulding, had gathered to perform together in person since the ROH doors closed to the public on 16th March. Sir Antonio Pappano was stationed, as he put it, “a kilometre” from the stage, in danger of falling down the Stalls’ rear exit stairs should he take a step backwards. The posh frocks and evening attire had been aired. And, a programme of ‘favourites’, ‘big numbers’ and ‘climactic finales’ beckoned.

The Figaro overture was punchy and, occasionally, quirky - the fiddles’ accents had swagger, the sforzandi stamped their feet brusquely and the tempo was well-judged, a graceful sprint rather than a madcap race to the finish. It was Rossini’s, rather than Mozart’s, Figaro who got the show rolling, though. Vito Priante was a forthright and decibel-raising barber in ‘Largo al factotum’, but his bellows were a bit ‘rough-edged’ at the top and his baritone seemed a little tight; while he loosened up for the patter, which was neat and clean, he pushed Pappano’s baton and sacrificed tuning for volume at the close. Priante was in more relaxed voice later in the evening, as Dappertutto in ‘Scintille, diamant’ from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. This aria lies lower in the voice and Priante’s velvety duet with the low strings was graceful and expressive: think melted dark chocolate with a hint of bitterness.

Charles Castronovo was rather ‘full-on’ as Nemorino in ‘Caro elisir!’, both in terms of dynamics and characterisation. The difficulty of performing to an invisible audience was apparent: gestures and antics that might garner a chuckle in a full house seemed over-emphatic when directed at a vacuum. Lisette Oropesa seemed to have the opposite problem, finding it difficult to get into Adina’s skin. Both singers fared much better in their solo numbers subsequently.

I don’t think that Oropesa has performed the role of Amina in a staged production of Bellini’s La sonnambula, but her interpretation of the final scene here makes one hope that she chooses to (and viruses permit) sooner rather than later. Her vocal control was consummate; the phrasing was immaculate - complemented at the start by warm, sustained horns and woodwind; her vibrato was expressive, creating nuance and colour. She rose to the top exquisitely, lamenting, “but my tears cannot restore my love”. Filipe Manu, a Jette Parker Young Artist, was an earnest, soothing Elvino and, with the ROH Chorus making an energetic contribution, Pappano held the wide-spread performers together superbly, pumping up the visceral dynamism towards the final section of the scena in which Oropesa’s soprano shone with joy. She’s a keen runner and, despite the passion and intensity conjured, in conversation with the BBC’s Katie Derham immediately afterwards Oropesa didn’t seem to have been unduly taxed by her exploits and exertions!

Lisette Oropesa.pngLisette Oropesa

If anything, Oropesa was even finer as Massenet’s Manon, evincing tremendous allure, gloss and power: the stamping of the ROH Orchestra’s feet at the close warmly conveyed their appreciation. Castronovo returned as Riccardo in ‘Forse la soglia attinse’ from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera), singing with compelling expression, thoughtful phrasing and dynamics, varied colour, sustained strength and fine lyricism.

Former Jette Parker Young Artist, Aigul Akhmetshina, rose to the moment in ‘Non più mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola; her mezzo glowed with vibrancy and her cascades were full-voiced, warm and finely articulated. Again, Pappano’s ability to set the scene was notable: in the instrumental preface the harmonies yearned, enriched by woodwind interjections, the pedal points pumped like a burning, beating heart, and recitative chords were places with absolute precision, like rhythmic springboards. Akhmetshina returned in the penultimate item, the whole of Carmen’s final act, as a sultry and cruel Carmen, mocking Castronovo’s desperate Don José and luxuriating in the gleam of glamour that Priante exhibited as Escamillo. The ROH Chorus clearly relished finally being able to give their lungs a good workout! But, alongside the spectacle and showy excess there was tenderness and intimacy, the act opening with some lovely tender cello playing which emphasised the poignancy of the former lovers’ estrangement. Again, the dramatic cohesion that Pappano mustered was impressive.

Aigul Akhmetshina.png Aigul Akhmetshina

Replacing the advertised Sonya Yoncheva, Kristine Opolais sang Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ (Rusalka) with gleam and power, the focused intensity and easeful expansiveness of her soprano transporting us to another world. The tenderness, enhanced by harp and woodwind, and silvery shimmer suggested a timelessness which was a welcome refuge from ever-present cares. Opolais’ aria was also a cleansing reprieve after Iago’s poison-dripping ‘Credo in un Dio crudel’ in which Gerald Finley pushed sanity to its limits, relishing every word of the text, his baritone black and fierce but always lyrical. Pappano brilliantly balanced orchestral drama and details. In the final stages of Iago’s hellish declaration, with the lower strings descending into dark, tormented realms, Finley - one eye screwed up painfully, the other darting wildly - seemed truly deranged. Iago’s explosion, “Heaven is make believe!”, was terrifying.

Finley seemed destined to play the villain on this occasion, returning as Scarpia in the final item, the Act I duet and ‘Te Deum’ from Puccini’s Tosca, alongside Opolais as the eponymous diva, Manu as Spoletta, with Jeremy White making a fine Sacristan. Finley’s baritone was dangerously seductive. Opolais sang with plushness and passion, though her choice of dress did make it very difficult for her to undertake much ‘movement’ on stage - fine for the stillness of Dvořák’s moon-caresses but less effective in conveying Tosca’s agitation, and exacerbating the ‘social distancing on stage-problem’ which had prevented Don José from stabbing Carmen, the latter forced to exit the stage to signal her demise.

Vito Priante.jpgVito Priante

The ‘set’ for the evening was borrowed from Richard Eyre’s 1994 La traviata, specifically Bob Crowley’s curving crimson terrace and angled gilded ceiling for the Act 2 gambling scene. The ROH didn’t take much of a risk by laying their bets on the tried and trusted, but we’ve all had enough ‘risk’ for a while. And, when ‘safety’ comes in this star-studded, sumptuous and very satisfying form, it is just what we need at present.

Claire Seymour

Lisette Oropesa (soprano), Kristine Opolais (soprano), Aigul Akhmetshina (mezzo-soprano), Charles Castronovo (tenor), Filipe Manu (tenor), Vito Priante (baritone), Gerald Finley (bass-baritone), Jeremy White (bass), Antonio Pappano (conductor), Orchestra of The Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus Chorus (William Spaulding, Concert Master).

Mozart: Overture from Le nozze di Figaro’; Rossini: ‘Largo al factotum‘ (The Barber of Seville); Donizetti: ‘Caro elisir!’ recitative and duet (L’elisir d’amore); Rossini: ‘Non più mesta’ ( La Cenerentola); Bellini: La sonnambula, final scene; Verdi: ‘Forse la soglia attinse’ (Un ballo in maschera); Verdi: ‘Credo in un Dio crudel’ (Otello); Dvořák: ‘Song to the Moon’ (Rusalka); Offenbach: ‘Scintille, diamant’ (Les Contes d’Hoffmann); Massenet: Recitative and Gavotte ( Manon)l Bizet: Final act of Carmen; Puccini: Act I duet and ‘Te Deum’ from Tosca.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London (broadcast live); Friday 4 th September 2020.

In a specially-curated, socially-distanced programme called ‘Take a Bow’, visitors will be granted access to the Royal Opera House’s two world-class stages, with a chance to glimpse the velvet, gilt and glamour of the Main Stage, built in 1858, as well as the state-of-the-art new Linbury Theatre which opened in 2018.

Visitors will be given the opportunity to tread the boards of the Main Stage from the viewpoint of a performer and take a bow and a selfie on stage. The immersive experience will also include a film screening in the Linbury Theatre of ballet and opera highlights from past Royal Opera House productions. This short film will be a celebration of opera and ballet, showcasing some of the world-class stars who have graced the Royal Opera House stages.

The Café and Shop will be open, and there will be an opportunity to tap and donate to support the Royal Opera House during what continues to be the most challenging time in the UK theatre industry’s history.

Open House at the Royal Opera House will take place between 10am - 7pm across the weekend of 19 and 20 September, but visitors must pre-book in advance.

In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, access can only be permitted to those who have pre-booked and visitors will be required to register their details for track and trace procedures. Cleaning throughout the building will be heightened and no access will be permitted without a prior booking.

Until then, we look forward to welcoming visitors back to our Covent Garden home, whether you’re a first-time visitor, or a long-standing fan.

The series begins with a poignant programme entitled Requiem For Our Time, honouring those who have suffered and lost their lives to COVID-19. It is also given in memory of Martin Loveday, a former cellist with the Academy who died from Coronavirus in April 2020. Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten opens the concert, followed by Williams and Sampson performing Fauré’s (arr. Rutter) Requiem with St Martin’s Voices, conducted by Andrew Earis (12 September).

Each concert is named after a theme from the experience of the pandemic including Regeneration, Isolation & Friendship,Mourning & Hope and Awakening. Overcoming Distance includes music by Bach and Mozart as well as Messiaen’s Abîme des Oiseaux, James MacMillan’s Interlude from ‘Since it was the day of Preparation’ and Copland’s Quiet City (26 September). In Connection, the Academy performs Eleanor Alberga’s Nightscape, conducted by the composer, alongside Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 ‘Gran Partita’ (21 November). The final concert will be a festive celebration (Friday 18 December).

Each performance will be filmed and the streams will go live on the following Thursday at 7.30pm on a pay-to-view basis - they will be available online for 30 days. The full line up of soloists and repertoire will be announced in due course.

Alan Watt, Chief Executive, Academy of St Martin in the Fields says : ‘ I am absolutely delighted that the orchestra and audiences can look forward to regular live concerts in the autumn after such a long time apart. How special to be returning to our namesake church, St. Martin-in-the-Fields and for people to be able to hear live music again within its walls. A lot has happened since we were last able to do this and we want to both celebrate coming together again as well as honour what a difficult time it has been for many.’

Andrew Earis, Director of Music at St. Martin-in-the-Fields says : ‘ It is wonderful to be able to begin welcoming live audiences back to St. Martin-in-the-Fields as we embark on our new vision for music at the church. I’m so pleased that our friends at the Academy will play such a large role in our Autumn season. After many long months of silence, we’ve all felt the hole of not having live music making in our lives and now it is time to enjoy it once again.

Requiem For Our Time , Saturday 12 September
Pärt Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten
Fauré Requiem (arr. Rutter)
Roderick Williams
Carolyn Sampson

Overcoming Distance, Saturday 26 September
Bach Sarabande from Suite No. 5
Messiaen Abîme des Oiseaux
MacMillan Horn Interlude from ‘ Since it was the day of Preparation’
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
Copland Quiet City
Mozart Symphony No. 29

Regeneration, Saturday 10 October
Programme to be announced

Isolation & Friendship, Saturday 24 October
Programme to be announced

Mourning & Hope, Saturday 7 November
Programme to be announced

Connection, Saturday 21 November
Eleanor Alberga Nightscape
Mozart Serenade No. 10 ‘Gran Partita’

Awakening, Saturday 5 December
Programme to be announced
Ryan Wigglesworth

A Christmas Celebration, Friday 18 December
Programme to be announced

Tickets are available here .

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church are closely following government guidance and each concert will adhere accordingly to the latest advice.

At the heart of the festival will be a series of live-streamed concerts by international artists. Artist in Residence Ian Bostridge gives two concerts, a talk and a masterclass over the course of the Festival, and Carolyn Sampson returns to perform a new song cycle by Oxford Lieder’s Associate Composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad on Tuesday 13 October. Other international artists include Sarah Connolly (10 Oct), Lucy Crowe (12 Oct), James Gilchrist (13 Oct) premiering a work by Michael Zev Gordon, Professor of Composition at the University of Birmingham, Roderick Williams (16 Oct) and Christoph Prégardien (17 Oct). Chamber music includes the contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment (13 Oct) premiering a work by Philip Venables.

Each evening recital will begin with a short group of Schubert songs performed by singers who have arguably been hardest hit by the current crisis - artists who are already forging careers but not yet at a stage where they can view the current crisis as only a temporary setback.

The Connections Across Time theme will bring out links between Bach and Schubert, Dowland and Britten. As well as live study events and masterclasses, every concert will offer a host of additional innovative content and resources, including pre-recorded talks and interviews, curated playlists and listening notes, available to ticket holders two weeks before the Festival.

Events will take place in locations throughout Oxford including some of its great libraries, the Radcliffe Observatory, and the Huxley Room of the Museum of Natural History where the Huxley-Wilberforce Debate took place in the 19th century. In addition to the central Oxford locations, Broughton Castle and Rycote Chapel, both just outside Oxford, are also playing host to Oxford Lieder events for the first time.

Artistic Director Sholto Kynoch said: “There was never any doubt in my mind that we needed to proceed with a Festival this year, and I was eager to explore and exploit the opportunities to be found in an online format. So we have been working on a trailblazing project with many of our favourite internationally renowned artists performing in venues around Oxford and streamed in superb quality. Although we are eager to be back sharing music in person - we are laying plans for a tremendous celebration of our 20th anniversary next year - I hope you’ll share our excitement at the rich programme we have on offer.”

Book tickets online at or phone the Box Office on 01865 591276

A newly discovered work by Purcell for two tenors, bass and continuo, will be given its first modern-day performance by Anthony Gregory and Hugo Hymas. This programme will be presented in association with Purcell scholar Rebecca Herissone and the University of Manchester.

Other soloists include Sophie Bevan, Iestyn Davies, Lucy Crowe, Carolyn Sampson, Mark Padmore, Soraya Mafi, James Way, and Dame Sarah Connolly, and principal guest director Kristian Bezuidenhout and founder Trevor Pinnock.

“The musicians of The English Concert are delighted to resume live music-making after such a long time, and it’s a particular pleasure to do so with such an exceptional line-up of soloists - both long-term collaborators and wonderful new talent. We are looking forward to performing a rich selection of Baroque music, including masterpieces by both Handel and Purcell, and it’s deeply exciting to present a Purcell premiere.” Harry Bicket, artistic director of The English Concert

The series opens with a partial recreation of Handel’s first concert for the Foundling Hospital. Following a series of benefit performances from 1749 onward, Handel became connected with the Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury, a home for sick, orphaned and abandoned children. Including excerpts from the oratorio Solomon (1748), this programme features music drawn from Handel’s first concert for the Foundling Hospital. This concert will be free to watch, and the audience will be encouraged to donate.

Soprano Lucy Crowe performs a selection of Handel’s Italian works including the cantata Armida abbandonata in an intimate recital at Somerset House. The programme will also feature music by Johann Ernst Galliard, Chapel master at Somerset House and Handel’s principal oboist.

Iestyn Davies performs a concert of Purcell’s solo songs in the Great Hall at Eltham Palace including the extensive masterpiece ‘O Solitude’, set to three verses of a poem by Katherine Philips. Trevor Pinnock directs a performance of works by Purcell and Handel written for the domestic market.

The final programme examines Handel’s interest in Milton. Handel seems to have first become captivated by Milton’s poetry following an evening in November 1739 spent with Lord Shaftesbury, when the host’s brother-in-law read aloud the entirety of John Milton’s epic tragic drama Samson Agonistes. The interest this experience sparked in Handel for Milton’s poetry resulted in some of his most ambitious vocal music — first inL’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1740) and ultimately in Samson (1743), set to a libretto adapted by Newburgh Hamilton. With Carolyn Sampson and Mark Padmore, two of the most accomplished Handel singers active today, in this final programme from St Giles Cripplegate Church (which also hosts a statue of Milton) we trace how Milton’s poetry inspired Handel to use music as a means of advancing and extending poetic meaning. for details and tickets
The English Concert:
+44 (0)20 3962 2322

Handel the Philanthropist | Great Hall at Bart’s Hospital | 1 October 2020
Partial recreation of Handel’s first concert for the Foundling Hospital. This concert will be free to view. Viewers will be encouraged to donate. In association with Bart’s Heritage.
Soloists: Sophie Bevan, Soraya Mafi, James Way, Dame Sarah Connolly, Director: Harry Bicket Programme: GF Handel Selections from Solomon (1748)

Purcell - O Solitude | Great Hall at Eltham Palace | 4 October 2020
In association with English Heritage
Soloist: Iestyn Davies, Director: Harry Bicket
Henry Purcell: Golden Sonata, Chacony in G minor, ‘O solitude’, Violin Sonata in G minor, Sonata in 4 parts in E flat, ‘Evening Hymn’

Purcell - Odes for a Queen | St John’s Smith Square | 6 October 2020
Including a newly discovered devotional song by Purcell for two tenors, bass and continuo.
Also, the uncorrupted version of ‘Come Ye Sons of Art’.
In association with the University of Manchester
Soloists: Hugo Hymas, Anthony Gregory, Director: Kristian Bezuidenhout
Programme: Henry Purcell, Ode - ‘Love’s Goddess sure was Blind’, ‘Oh that my grief’ (newly discovered piece) ‘Since God so tender a regard’, Ode - ‘Come Ye Sons of Art’

Handel the Italian | Somerset House | 9 October 2020
In association with Somerset House Intimate recital featuring Italian works.
Soloist: Lucy Crowe, Director: Harry Bicket
Handel: Overture to Rodrigo, Alpestre Monte, Trio Sonata in D, Lascia la spina, Armida abbandonata J.E. Galliard: Bassoon Sonata No.2 in G

Purcell & Handel - Music, Home & Heritage | Weston Park (Shropshire) | 13 October 2020
By the end of the 17th century, numerous pieces of music were published for the domestic market. Director: Trevor Pinnock
Purcell, Suite of theatre music (Gordian knot untied, Old bachelor, Married beau…), Sonata in 4 parts in C; Croft, Ground for harpsichord in C minor (formerly attr. Purcell); Purcell, Sonata in 4 parts in C minor; Handel, Sonata in G minor or B flat from Op.2/14; Handel, Sonata in G opus 5/4 ( Athalia, Il parnasso in Festa etc.)

Handel & Milton | St Giles-without-Cripplegate | 15 October 2020
Taking place from St Giles Cripplegate which hosts a statue of Milton. Music from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Samson.
Soloists: Carolyn Sampson and Mark Padmore, Director: Harry Bicket
Handel: Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.5 in D Major (with winds), selection from Samson, selection from L’Allegro; Thomas Arne, 3 dances from the Masque of Comus

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