Sunday, September 25, 2016
Before tonight’s opener of the London concert season, I asked various friends and acquaintances around the hall when they had last seen a live Verdi Requiem. Answers ranged from three years to twenty. The Requiem is not something one attends often. It is a rare treat for the soul, to be chosen with care with a cast of singers and a chorus and orchestra that must match the best. Tonight’s performance met those criteria. Gianandrea Noseda conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus in a reading of rare intensity and integration, the tension broken only once by a tubercular section of the audience. The soloists – Erika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona, Francesco Meli and Michele Pertusi – were exquisitely contrasted and almost faultless in pitch. Grimaldi, heavily pregnant, crested the choral waves without apparent effort. Noseda, batonless, shaped the unwieldy mass into a precision force. The closing Libera me was almost unbearably cathartic. Grimaldi was epic, indelible. Why am I sharing this? (We are not a review site.) Because tonight’s concert has launched the LSO’s Youtube channel tonight, will be shown on Medici.tv and will be repeated next month on tour in New York. It is one you may not wish to miss.
Barbican, London A formidable, electric interpretation of Verdi’s Requiem with distinct liturgical and operatic elements by the LSO’s new chief guest conductor augurs well Gianandrea Noseda’s often remarkable performance of Verdi’s Requiem marked both the opening of the London Symphony Orchestra’s new season and the start of his own tenure as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor. The Italian maestro has Verdi in his system, and this was a formidable interpretation, electric from start to finish, the liturgical and operatic elements finely balanced, the central conflict between terror and consolation fiercely laid bare.The opening introit, sliding out of silence into sound, was rapt in its fervour. But the first intimation of dread came early, in the urgent Kyrie, before Noseda unleashed the Dies Irae with almost shocking violence. Later, his rigorous attention to detail, both orchestral and choral, spoke volumes. Brass and pizzicato double basses lent real mystery to the Lux Aeterna. The complex polyphonies of the Sanctus and Libera Me, so often blurred, were exhilaratingly clear. Continue reading...
Sonya Yoncheva as Norma in Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Casta diva’ is an aria from Vincenzo Bellini ’s 1831 opera Norma . It takes place in Act I, shortly after the title character’s first entrance. Bellini originally wrote the role for his friend Giuditta Pasta and the part is considered one of the most challenging roles in the repertory – for a variety of reasons, although particularly the music. It requires a flexible voice that also has tremendous power over a wide range. ‘Casta diva’ is a prime example not only of bel canto (the generic term for a style of music popular in early 19th-century Italy, where high importance is placed on vocal beauty), but also of Bellini’s own distinctive style. Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Casta diva’ takes place in Act I scene 3. Before the aria, we have encountered Norma’s father Oroveso and his followers. They’re eager for war, but they have to wait for approval from Norma, who as priestess has the final say. We then meet Norma’s secret lover Pollione, an enemy of her people. We learn that he’s fallen out of love with Norma and wishes to abandon her and their two children. Then comes ‘Casta diva’. In the preceding recitative Norma argues with Oroveso about the need for war; in the aria itself she leads her people in a serene prayer for peace. This calm doesn’t last long, though – soon Pollione’s outrageous behaviour will lead Norma to give the signal for war. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettist Felice Romani ’s original Italian text, created in 2016 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: Recitative: ‘Sediziose voci, voci di guerra’ Norma Sediziose voci, voci di guerra Avvi chi alzarsi attenta Presso all’ara del Dio? V’ha chi presume Dettar responsi alla veggente Norma, E di Roma affrettar il fato arcano? Ei non dipende, no, non dipende Da potere umano.Oroveso E fino a quando oppressi Ne vorrai tu? Contaminate assai Non fur le patrie selve E i templi aviti Dall’aquile latine? Omai di Brenno oziosa Non può starsi la spada.Chorus Si brandisca una volta! Norma E infranta cada. Infranta, sì, se alcun di voi snudarla Anzi tempo pretende. Ancor non sono della nostra vendetta i dì maturi. Delle sicambre scuri Sono i pili romani ancor più forti. Oroveso and Chorus E che t’annunzia il Dio? Parla! Quai sorti? Norma Io ne’ volumi arcani leggo del cielo, In pagine di morte Della superba Roma è scritto il nome. Ella un giorno morrà, Ma non per voi. Morrà pei vizi suoi, Qual consunta morrà. L’ora aspettate, l’ora fatal Che compia il gran decreto. Pace v’intimo E il sacro vischio io mieto. Norma Are there those who would call for rebellion and war at the altar of god? Would some put words into the mouth of the prophetess Norma and hasten Rome’s unknown fate? It does not depend on human might.Oroveso How long would you have us oppressed? Have our woods and the temples of our ancestors not been tainted enough by Roman symbols? The sword of Brennus cannot now lie idle.Chorus Raise it up! Norma And it will shatter and fall. Yes, shatter if any one of you tries to unsheathe it before time. The time of our revenge has yet to come. Roman spears are still more mighty than the axes of the Sicambri Oroveso and Chorus What has god told you? What is our fate? Norma I read the secrets in the stars. Proud Rome’s name is written on the page of death. One day she will die, but not through your doing. She will die eaten away by her own vices. Wait for the fateful hour when this will come to pass I counsel peace, and gather sacred mistletoe. Aria: ‘Casta diva’ Casta diva, che inargenti Queste sacre antiche piante, Al noi volgi il bel sembiante, Senza nube e senza vel!Tempra, o Diva, Tempra tu de’ cori ardenti, Tempra ancora lo zelo audace. Spargi in terra quella pace Che regnar tu fai nel ciel. Chaste goddess, you cast a silver light upon these age-old, sacred trees. Turn your lovely face to us unclouded and unveiled.O goddess, calm the fire that burns in these hearts Calm their fearless zeal. Spread across the earth that same peace that rules the heavens by your power. What makes the music so memorable? Verdi once praised Bellini’s ‘long, long, long melodies; melodies such as no one had written before him’. ‘Casta diva’, along with several other passages from Norma, exemplify this trait. In the aria Norma sings in incredibly long, smooth lines, embellished with the intricate ornamentation that is a distinctive feature of bel canto. The accompanying orchestration is initially quite light, with lilting strings and a flute obbligato in counterpoint to Norma’s voice. Bellini gradually thickens the orchestral sound and adds in a sotto voce chorus, to build the aria in a long crescendo that is a superb intensification of this ardent prayer for peace. Take a look at the full score of ‘Casta diva’ (from p.115 for the recitative, from p.123 for the aria), from IMSLP . Norma’s other musical highlights Norma is one of Bellini’s greatest works and the piece as a whole makes for thrilling drama. The love triangle of Norma, Pollione and Norma’s rival Adalgisa requires three exceptional singers, and Bellini draws on their skills to the full in the intense trio ‘Oh! di qual sei tu vittima’ that ends Act I (an innovation of Bellini’s, replacing the more usual chorus number). Norma and Adalgisa share two wonderful duets ‘Sola, furtiva, al tempio’ and ‘Si, fino all’ore estreme’, their voices entwining in rapturous beauty, while the fiery Norma/Pollione duet ‘In mia man alfin tu sei’ is irresistible in quite a different way. The war-hungry chorus sing a violent hymn in ‘Guerra, guerra! Le galliche selve’, while the long Act II finale ‘Qual cor tradisti’ brings the opera to its overwhelming climax. Classic recordings Maria Callas is Norma’s most famous exponent and made it a signature role. She made numerous recordings but musicologist Roger Parker for Radio 3 selected her recording with Tullio Serafin for La Scala, Milan , as his favourite. Montserrat Caballé is probably the only other 20th-century singer really to challenge Callas’s dominance, but recordings by Joan Sutherland , Shirley Verrett , Beverly Sills , Renata Scotto and Anita Cerquetti also have their merits (and I've probably missed out somebody’s favourite). More recently, Cecilia Bartoli has made the role her own, particularly in an acclaimed recording with Giovanni Antonini and the period-instrument band Orchestra La Scintilla. More to discover If you’ve gobbled up ‘Casta diva’ then other Bellini works will be worth a look, particularly I puritani and I Capuleti e i Montecchi . Other bel canto works that probably influenced Bellini include Spontini ’s La vestale and Donizetti ’s Anna Bolena . The influence of Norma itself stretched far and can be seen in many of Verdi’s operas – difficult to pick just one but you could choose Ernani , Luisa Miller , Stiffelio and the trio of Rigoletto , La traviata and Il trovatore . Even the notoriously picky Wagner was a Norma fan, and that influence can be seen particularly in the early Das Liebesverbot . Into the 20th century ‘Casta diva’ is strikingly quoted in Hans Krása ’s Verlobung im Traum – a superb but sadly overlooked work now available in recording . Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available, and every Friday until Friday 7 October further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.
Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, The Royal Opera © ROH/Mike Hoban, 2013 Is there any limit to what a great soprano can do? There’s a host of roles that astonish and delight us: true showcases of extraordinary musical and dramatic talent from across the history of opera. We’ve gathered together some of our favourites, starting with… The Queen of the Night – Mozart ’s Die Zauberflöte Mozart wrote the role of the Queen in The Magic Flute for his sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, who was famous for her outstanding vocal technique and high notes. The Queen of the Night’s two dramatic arias are accordingly packed with fiendish coloratura, taking the soprano voice to amazing heights, particularly in the Act II aria ‘Die Hölle Rache’. Elena – Rossini ’s La donna del lago Elena is one of several roles that Rossini wrote for his first wife Isabella Colbran. Colbran had an exceptionally wide vocal range and the writing for Elena spans the gamut. The opera culminates in one of Rossini’s greatest showpieces for the female voice: Elena’s virtuoso Act II aria ‘Tanti affetti’. Norma – Bellini ’s Norma Norma requires immense stamina, vocal agility and (particularly for the aria ‘Casta diva’) lyricism and beauty of tone. But the challenges don’t stop there: the singer also has to convey the varied and intense emotions of a heroine torn between religious devotion and jealousy, romantic passion and maternal love. Lucia – Donizetti ’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is another role that makes huge demands on a soprano’s stamina: she has to retain enough energy through the demands of Acts I and II in order to carry off Act III’s famous mad scene – a breathtaking display containing a stratospheric virtuoso cadenza accompanied by glass harmonica . Abigaille – Verdi ’s Nabucco Abigaille is a notoriously difficult part: it calls for a singer with a powerful, very agile voice who can move from the bottom to the very top of her range at great speed. Even the most lyrical of Abigaille’s arias, ‘Anch’io dischiuso un giorno’, includes a thrilling two-octave leap. Brünnhilde – Wagner ’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Brünnhilde is often seen as a dramatic soprano’s ultimate challenge. She must sound equally comfortable in the high notes of her opening war cry in Die Walküre and in the low-lying passages that punctuate Götterdämmerung . She must be heroic and tender, vengeful and noble. And above all, she must have the stamina to sing in three operas, each more than five hours long! Olympia – Offenbach ’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann Olympia the doll is only on stage for about half an hour, and for much of that time simply says ‘oui’. But her one aria ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’ is a virtuoso tour de force, each verse adorned with ever more elaborate coloratura. The part also calls for comic acting: Olympia’s mechanics periodically run down and stop her mid-flow. Elektra – Richard Strauss ’s Elektra At 90 minutes, Elektra is relatively short role – but it’s fiercely difficult. The singer has to project over a vast, intricately-scored orchestra and sing some of the most dramatic, declamatory music ever written for soprano, while also conveying lyrical tenderness in her reunion scene with Orest. She also needs to retain enough physical energy for the dance which brings the opera to its devastating close. Turandot – Puccini ’s Turandot Like Elektra, Turandot requires a powerful high voice and a singer able to execute very declamatory vocal writing with ease. The role also poses dramatic challenges: how can a soprano make this murderous princess sympathetic enough to convince us she deserves a happy ending? Lulu – Berg’s Lulu This near-impossible part requires a singer with a three-octave range who can shift from intense lyricism to flamboyant high coloratura to speech – sometimes within the space of one aria. The character is also dramatically deeply enigmatic, and is onstage for every scene of this four-hour opera. Ariel – Adès ’s The Tempest Possibly the highest role ever written for soprano, Adès’s ‘airy spirit’ enters The Tempest singing 17 full-voiced Es two and a bit octaves above middle C – and continues in a similar range for most of the opera. The high notes aren’t limited to coloratura either: many of them are in slow and sustained passages, which is fiendishly challenging. Which fiendishly difficult roles would you include? Let us know in the comments below. Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs 7 November–3 December 2016. Tickets are still available . Turandot runs 5–16 July 2017. Tickets go on General Sale on 28 March 2017.
The country’s oldest choir, the Glasgow Choral Union, has changed its name to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Chorus. But it still can’t attract enough singers. Here’s the latest shout out: The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Chorus is inviting applicants to join the nation’s historic vocal ensemble. The RSNO Chorus performs in around six different programmes in up to twenty concerts across Scotland with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra each year. In addition to its commitment to the Orchestra, the RSNO Chorus performs independently and has been invited to perform with orchestras in many different parts of the world, establishing an international status for the choir. The RSNO Chorus has toured in Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Israel, Germany, Belfast, Australia, Trondheim and most recently, Amsterdam. RSNO Chorus Director Gregory Batsleer: “There is no feeling quite like singing in a chorus and at this standard the effort and commitment is substantial but the rewards are without measure. The RSNO Chorus is a historic organisation with a proud legacy, and it is my distinct pleasure to be in a position to guide the ensemble to greater artistic heights. There has never been a better time to join, so we’re keen to hear from those of you who have the temperament, expertise and willingness to be a part of Scotland’s musical history.” Currently, the RSNO Chorus has around 120 members. As an amateur chorus, the members receive no payment for their services, but the level of performance and the speed at which they are required to learn repertoire means that the ability of singers is high. Forthcoming performances for the RSNO Chorus include Verdi’s Requiem in December, Handel’s Messiah in January, a new work by Irish composer Gerald Barry in May, and performing live accompaniment to the screening of the Oscar-winning 1984 film Amadeus, also in May 2017. For more information on the RSNO Chorus and details on how to apply to become a member, contact RSNO Chorus Manager Christine.Walker@rsno.org.uk or visit www.rsno.org.uk/chorus .
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff The WNO’s musical virtues allied with heart-rending scenes rescue a crass, gruesome Northern Ireland Opera production of the Scottish playWelsh National Opera’s autumn season marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a trio of Bard-inspired operas. They sing in Italian, but WNO don’t use Verdi’s title Macbetto, as though thespian superstition demanding reference to “the Scottish play” did not extend to the operatic version. The bad luck is that the company has taken on the ill-conceived production originally staged in 2014 by Northern Ireland Opera; the good fortune is that the crass and sometimes gruesome updating is counterbalanced by considerable musical virtues, with the characters of Macbeth and his Lady, together with the chorus of witches whom Verdi regarded as the third protagonist, all strongly portrayed. Continue reading...
Giuseppe Verdi (10 October 1813 - 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. Although his work was sometimes criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and having a tendency toward melodrama, Verdis masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.
Great composers of classical music