ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

Lyric Solitude, ETO’s artist-led season, focuses on the voice of the individual in isolation, on the power of song, and of poetry - with responses to that power in dance, image and drama. By foregrounding solo performers, ETO hope to empower the artist at a time when freelance musicians are facing huge uncertainty.

ETO will pick up where it left off at Snape Maltings, the final venue the company was able to visit on its cancelled Spring 2020 tour. ETO will then visit The Assembly Halls, Tunbridge Wells; Hackney Empire, London; and Lancaster Priory, plus more venues to be announced in the upcoming weeks.

ETO are taking every measure to keep audiences, artists and staff safe whilst on tour, and working with our venue partners to do so. Audience members are encouraged to get in touch with questions about visiting a show.


The below repertoire, divided into three separate programs, is confirmed with additional repertoire to be announced in the upcoming weeks.


A Waterbird Talk (Argento)
Singer: Julien Van Mellaerts
Pianist: Ella O'Neill
Director: Susan Bickley

In the course of an illustrated lecture on the mating habits of waterfowl, an ornithologist (baritone Julien Van Mellaerts) describes his oppressive marriage. Each song-like section of the drama describes a different species, and onto each he projects his own feelings – to the evident concern of his wife in the audience, whose bird-like coughs interrupt his lyric digressions. Light-hearted and melancholy in equal measure.

Susan Bickley, widely regarded as one of the most accomplished mezzo-sopranos of her generation, makes her directorial debut, and the pianist is Ella O’Neill. Sung in English. Adapted by Dominick Argento from the On the Harmfulness of Tobacco by Anton Chekov and The Birds of America by J. J. Audobon. A contemporary opera, premiered in 1977.

More repertoire for programme 1 to be announced shortly.


Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (Britten)
Singer: Julien Van Mellaerts
Pianist: Ella O'Neill
Director: John Savournin

The visionary poet and painter William Blake inspired many composers, none more effectively than Benjamin Britten. This cycle, drawing a blazing picture of the innocence and injustice Blake saw around him, is staged by John Savournin, with Cardiff Singer of the World 2019 finalist, Julien Van Mellaerts, accompanied by Ella O’Neill.

Romances on British Poetry (Shostakovich)
Singer: Edward Hawkins
Pianist: Sergey Rybin
Director: James Conway

Dimitri Shostakovich’s brooding, passionate settings of Robert Burns, Shakespeare and Raleigh conceal the composer’s deep feelings about life, caught as he was on the anvil of 1942, hammered by clashing totalitarian armies. Edward Hawkins (bass) is the voice of the man who awaits the reasonless midnight call of his killer, in a world in which beauty is crushed as soon as it is found. Accompanied by Sergey Rybin.

The Poet’s Echo (Britten)
Singer: Jenny Stafford
Pianist: Sergey Rybin
Director: James Conway

Written in Armenia for the Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, Britten’s careful, astonishing setting of the Russian poet Pushkin are rarely performed. ‘Who hears the poet? Who is listening to my song?’ as poet and composer. Directed by James Conway, Jenny Stafford is the soloist in this haunting work, sung in the original Russian, accompanied by Sergey Rybin.

Boyhood's End (Tippett)
Singer: Thomas Elwin
Pianist: Ian Tindale
Dancer: Paul Chantry
Choreography: Rae Piper

Thomas Elwin (tenor) is the soloist in the ecstatic Boyhood’s End (1943), to which Paul Chantry and Rae Piper make response in dance.

The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (Britten)
Singer: Richard Dowling
Pianist: Ian Tindale
Movement: Bernadette Iglich 

Iglich also sets Britten’s eloquent, searing response to what he saw at the concentration camp at Belsen at the end of the war in The Holy Sonnets of John Donne. Donne’s sonnets ravish and twist, and call out for love and understanding. They are sung by tenor Richard Dowling.

A Charm of Lullabies (Britten)
Singer: Katie Stevenson
Pianist: Ian Tindale
Director: James Conway

Stevenson is also the soloist in Britten’s bizarre Charm of Lullabies, composed on poems by William Blake, Robert Burns, Robert Greene, Thomas Randolph and John Phillip - maybe not the kind of thing to sing you to sleep.

The Heart's Assurance (Tippett)
Singers: Thomas Elwin
Pianist: Ian Tindale
Movement: Bernadette Iglich

Elwin is also the soloist in The Heart’s Assurance - the most remarkable and fearless setting of poetry by young men who fought and died in WW2. These poems, thrusting sensual desire into a landscape of death, finds response in movement by Bernadette Iglich.

Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (Shostakovich)
Singer: Katie Stevenson
Pianist: Ian Tindale
Movement: Rahel Vonmoos

Mezzo soprano Katie Stevenson is the soloist in Shostakovich’s tribute to Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, an utterly unique voice in the maelstrom of the inter war and war years. Choreographer Rahel Vonmoos has devised a response in movement.

Eight texts on isolation were chosen by the composers, each drawing on what they had experienced during the last five months. The opera, shot on iPhone, directed by Billy Boyd Cape, weaves these eight songs into a unified viewing experience, that takes the audience on a visual journey through evolving representations of isolation. The full work is available in audio and video on Apple Music.

Zeffman conducts the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and a cast of leading opera singers including Sarah ConnollyIestyn DaviesSophie Bevan and two recent winners of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Zeffman was determined to engage composers and singers from around the world to highlight the connection between people, in spite of the shared experience of physical isolation during the global pandemic. Fifty people worked on creating Eight Songs from Isolation with those participating coming from across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia including Berlin, Budapest, Kherson, London, Meknes, Mexico City, Munich, New York, St. Petersburg, San Diego and Shanghai.

Oliver Zeffman commented:

“Crises have often been the catalyst for artists to develop not only new work, but also new ways of working. The current pandemic gripping the world has made impossible the two fundamental requirements of most art forms - the interaction of artists with each other, and between artists and audiences. Rather than trying to repurpose something written in another context, I felt it artistically imperative to commission something that is very much of and for our current situation that speaks to the shared experience we are all going through. Music is the great unifier and I wish to thank everyone who came together with such enthusiasm and commitment to create a new opera that we hope will resonate with audiences and bring people together around the world.”

Eight Songs From Isolation consists of:

  • Thomas Adès: Gyökér by Miklós Radnóti, sung in Hungarian by Katalin Károlyi with Ricardo Gallardo (marimba)
  • Nico Muhly: New-Made Tongue by Thomas Traherne, sung in English by Iestyn Davies
  • Helen Grime: Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy, sung in English by Sarah Connolly
  • Huw Watkins: How by Philip Larkin, sung in English by Toby Spence
  • Du Yun: Every Grass A Spring, with her own text co-authored Yang Nan, sung in Mandarin by Shenyang with Wu Man (Pipa) and Wu Wei (Sheng)
  • Freya Waley-Cohen: Spell for Reality by Rebecca Tamás, sung in English by Julia Bullock
  • Ilya Demutsky: I Guess the Universe is to Blame, words of Alexey Barishnikov as he held up a Russian bank at the height of lockdown, sung in Russian by Andrei Kymach
  • Julian Anderson: Le 3 mai, a letter he received during lockdown from composer Ahmed Essyad, sung in French by Sophie Bevan

Zeffman conducted the orchestra in a studio, with the composers and singers virtually ‘in the room’ to ensure that the orchestral accompaniment was a collaborative process. The singers were then filmed in or near their own homes, recording to these backing tracks using iPhone 11 Pro. Eight Songs From Isolation is the first opera recorded using iPhone.

Let Music Live

400 freelance professional musicians from all parts of the industry will be joined in support by leading musical figures including David HillRaphael WallfischEmma Johnson and Tasmin Little, to perform in Parliament Square and Centenary Square, Birmingham, shining a light on the need for targeted support for freelance musicians and all those who work in the arts and entertainment sector. They are also joined in solidarity by the Musicians' UnionThe Musicians' Answering ServiceEmily Eavis and more.

Tuesday 6 October, 12:00
Parliament Square, London
Centenary Square, Birmingham

Conducted by renowned director David Hill in Parliament Square, the freelance musicians will perform a short section of 'Mars' from Holst's The Planets before standing in silence for two minutes. The 20% of the piece that they will perform represents the maximum 20% support that freelancers receive from the government through the SEISS grant. The two-minute silence represents the 45% of musicians currently not covered by the SEISS grant (MU). The event will be Covid-safe, adhering strictly to social distancing regulations, facilitated by support from #WeMakeEvents.

Covid restrictions have disproportionately impacted the music and events industries, resulting in an almost total loss of opportunity to work. Investment is essential so that freelance musicians can continue to support the intricate network of businesses that rely on arts and events for their footfall.

The arts and culture industry contributes £10.8 billion a year directly to the UK economy (ONS), with growth in creative industries previously running at five times that of the rest of the economy. With effective short-term support, freelance musicians will continue to make a positive impact.

For every £1 directly spent on music and events, an extra £2 is generated in the wider economy (ACE), powering a network of businesses across the country. Supporting freelance musicians means supporting the wider economy.

The music sector is a world-leading asset to the UK and its highly-skilled professionals are regarded as the world's finest, in particular in recording award-winning film scores. The UK's breadth and diversity of concerts, events, festivals and gigs is globally renowned, bringing life to towns and cities and attracting over 40% of inbound tourist spend (ACE), providing inspiration and joy to everyone through work in the community, from schools to care homes.

The largely freelance workforce that makes up the music industry has not received the targeted support it needs to go forwards. According to Musicians' Union research, 70% of musicians are unable to undertake more than a quarter of their usual work. Two-thirds of musicians face severe financial hardship.

Much of the £1.57 billion government fund for culture has not reached freelancers, as this money is largely earmarked for venues and organisations, many of which remain closed or at severely reduced capacity. Self-employed freelancers also account for more than 80% of all orchestral players.

Offering support at 20% of average monthly trading profits, capped at a maximum of £1,875 over the months of November, December and January, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant extension announced by the Government will put much of the skilled freelance workforce out of business. 45% of musicians are currently not covered by the SEISS grant (MU).

With other European nations investing more in their creative industries through this difficult time, the U.K. risks being left behind and losing its status as a leader in the field.

Let Music Live calls on the Government:

  • to recognise that freelance musicians are an economic asset. It is essential they invest in freelancers so that they can continue to support the intricate network of businesses that rely on arts and events for their footfall.
  • for sector-specific support to reopen, including a subsidised concert ticket scheme while social distancing restrictions remain, and Government-backed insurance for live events and theatre performances.
  • for targeted support for those skilled workforces forced to remain closed by Covid restrictions, so that freelance musicians are still there to bring music to everyone when this is over. 

Galvanised by the energy and the goodwill among the musical community to want to keep music alive and perform again, violinist Jessie Murphy conceived the idea of getting together in Parliament Square, to show that "we are here and ready to work". Like so many in her sectors, all of Murphy's work this year, including tours with Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and Sophie Ellis Bextor, had to be cancelled due to Covid. A post on Facebook asking "Anyone else in?" became a group of over 2000 within days.

On behalf of freelance musicians, violinist Jessie Murphy said:
"We want to show that our profession is viable, and valuable. Freelancing can be misunderstood, we play in the O2 one day, a small wedding the next, and a film recording session the day after. Each one of us is a small business that contributes both to the economy and the wellbeing of the country.

Horace Trubridge, Musicians' Union General Secretary, said:
"We know from the Union's recent research just how many musicians are struggling financially and at real risk of leaving music for good. In better times, our members drive a £5bn music industry with their talent. One artist's gig will create a domino effect of jobs, from lighting technicians to ticket sellers. If one musician is out of work, you can be sure many others will be affected too. We appreciate all the Government has done to support our members through the furlough and self-employment income support schemes so far, but they must not abandon musicians now. With social distancing measures still in place, venues can only sell at around 30% of usual capacity. We are calling on the Government to implement a seat-matching scheme, which would take venues' potential revenue to 60%, providing a lifeline to musicians and the wider industry. Getting musicians back to work is the priority. However, this is simply not realistic for so many of our members while social distancing remains in place. We strongly urge the Government to recognise the unique situation that our members are in, and to provide sector specific financial support for musicians."

#WeMakeEvents said:
"#WeMakeEvents is delighted that Let Music Live is lending its considerable support to the campaign. We have gained a lot of awareness through our recent activities, both with the public and the Government, particularly the Global Action Day on 30th September. We want that momentum to continue. Let Music Live is a wonderful way of garnering further support for our industry and those people and their families who are in need of help now."

Due to strict limits on numbers in Parliament Square, musicians who would like to join the event should contact

To create Notes From Isolation, Lewis and Laura interviewed performers about their experiences in lockdown, with the aim of bringing to life each person’s story in a bespoke song showcasing not only their artistry but also their unique humanity. The result is a series of beautiful and poignant new pieces, with each element of the creative process – text, music, piano track, vocal recording and visual material – created in isolation and brought together in a resulting video to be released online. Four of eight songs have been released thus far, and they are viewable online now via Murphy & Attridge's website and social media platforms (links below), with the next four being released across October.

Everyone participating in the project is donating their time, and each performer is nominating a charity to champion with their song. Charities supported to date include The Dumfries and Galloway Befriending Project, Help Musicians, The Pituitary Foundation, OperAffinity, The Fawcett Society and the Lebanese Red Cross.

Performers: Nicky Spence, Natalya Romaniw, Catriona Morison, Julien Van Mellaerts and Sofia Castillo (flute), Isabelle Peters, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, David Horton, Dame Felicity Lott
Pianist: Dylan Perez
Film & Audio: Jamie Hall
Music & Words: Murphy & Attridge

Lewis Murphy & Laura Attridge say -

We discovered early on in the interviews that however difficult the experiences of each performer, the conversation always turned towards moments of profound joy and hope - we wanted to honour that resilience and optimism in the face of great crisis and ongoing trauma; we therefore focused our efforts on bringing those particular moments to life in order to bring that same joy and hope to our audience members. Every piece is therefore really a note from isolation from each performer to say ‘we can get through this’.”

Lewis Murphy and Laura Attridge have quickly established themselves as one of the most exciting young creative partnerships on the opera scene today. They are particularly interested in making socially conscious work which responds directly to the modern world and asks questions of its viewers. Their ever-growing portfolio together already includes commissions from the Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera, Glyndebourne, the National Opera Studio, and Sound Festival. Lewis and Laura's latest commission is a new one-act opera for Leeds Youth Opera entitled ARC23, set to premiere in 2021.

Laura and Lewis have started their collaboration for Glyndebourne’s Young Composer-in-Residence scheme with Belongings, an impressive opera drawing its inspiration from deeply moving human experiences during the refugee crisis, a hot topic of the time and always valid in some part of the world. Belongings clearly shows how Laura and Lewis have worked closely and inspired each other. A very promising work that makes me look forward to their next projects together.”

Sebastian Schwarz, former General Director, Glyndebourne

Instagram: @Murphy_Attridge
Twitter: @Murphy_Attridge

It was the first concert given by the male a cappella group, Chanticleer, since Covid-19 disrupted ‘normal’ life, and normal human culture and community. It was also, as music director Tim Keeler’s introduction and the post-concert Zoom-chat between VOCES8’s Barnaby Smith and the members of Chanticleer made apparent, a concert that required astonishing commitment from the singers to overcome restrictive obstacles and rules in order, quite simply, to be in the same space, take their masks off, and sing freely. Chanticleer grasped the opportunity to present newly commissioned music that should have been heard many months ago, and also to, in Keeler’s words, ‘include repertoire that reflects our commitment to engaging with these conversations in the best way we know how: through song.’

So, this was a diverse programme - a rich menu for the listener to digest in a short space of time, through a digital channel. Six countertenors in an ensemble of twelves voices? A programme juxtaposing Russian orthodoxy, Renaissance post-Tridentine majesty, the soul of the American spiritual and Stevie Wonder? But, it was a thrilling experience, and even if I was sometimes challenged to consider sounds, colours and approaches that I would normally eschew, it was unwaveringly engaging and exciting.

Chanticleer began their recital with Rachmaninov’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Otche nash’. The programme notes suggested that the ‘meditative echos [sic] culminate in a forceful and intense prayer of supplication to deliver us “from the Evil One.” It’s a cry from the depths for assurance and peace. It’s a cry we have all made at some point in the past few months.’ I have to say that during the past six months my own pleas for ‘deliverance’ have had a rather less abstract, and rather more political, target than the “Evil One”! But, I’m in absolute accord with the sentiment expressed - calm, reassurance and hope are in short supply at the moment.

Standing in a broad U-shaped formation, in an unidentified converted warehouse somewhere in California, Chanticleer metaphorically raised the roof - or at least shook the sloping skylights. The brickwork may not have had the elegance of Christopher Wren’s vaulted designs at the VOCES8 Centre at St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, but every iota of the cathedral-like resonance was exploited by the singers. It was really interesting to hear the male voices indulge in a wide, richly oscillating vibrato: in the UK, we’re so used to that English cathedral lucidity and refinement that even groups, such as VOCES8, who venture into varied repertory and embrace diversity of style, still - in comparison to the vibrant, pulsating resonance that we heard from Chanticleer - sound rather crystalline and reserved. In fact, the quasi-palpable richness was absolutely right for the deep religiosity of Rachmaninov’s setting, which reverberated with embracing visceral power.

Other immediately apparent differences between Chanticleer and the terrific ensembles - Stilo Antico, The Sixteen, VOCES8, The Gesualdo Six, I Fagiolini - from whom we have heard during the past ten weeks, were both the ethnic diversity of the ensemble and, paradoxically, their starched formality: those white bow ties and evening tails had been primped and preened to perfection (something that Barnaby Smith wryly observed in a post-concert Zoom-chat with the group).

But, Chanticleer were concerned to channel US roots in this programme. George Walker (1922-2018) was the first Black American to win the Pulitzer Prize (for Lilacs, in 1966). ‘O Praise the Lord’ (Psalm 117), Walker’s four-voice setting of Psalm 117 is direct and communicative, and Gerrod Pagenkopf was a striking countertenor soloist in the central lyrical episode. More strength and joy followed, in the form of Joseph H. Jennings’ arrangement of the traditional song, ‘Wondrous Love’. The group’s exploration of different sonorities that their Music Director Emeritus conjures - from focused unisons to the juxtaposition of high melodic celebrations against drone-like resonances, from homophonic sonic swells to imitative rainbows - was confident and meticulously delivered.

Then, we swerved back to the early seventeenth-century. Palestrina’s double choir motet, ‘Fratres, ego enim accepi’, which sets a text from the Offertory at Maundy Thursday, is both unusual, in that most of Palestrina’s motets are for five voices, and typical, as a characteristic representative of Roman polychoral liturgical majesty. I was struck by the operatic quality of Chanticleer’s ensemble sound: there was such a vibrant energy, which I think was driven by the bevvy of countertenors at the top, replacing the boy trebles or sopranos (often encouraged to sound like the former) that one hears in most UK vocal ensembles, in sacred or secular settings. This was terrifically muscular, positive singing (presumably transposed down a few notches?) which surged forwards with spiritual and musical conviction.

The Portuguese composer and theorist Vicente Lusitano is perhaps best known for the public dispute he had with Nicola Vicentino, during the 1550s (about improvised counterpoint and whether diatonic or mixed genera were desirable). The disputants wagered a pair of gold scudi and two ‘judges’, Bartolomé de Escobedo and Ghiselin Danckerts, both singers in the papal chapel of Julius III, were elected to declare a winner. Lusitano won the debate but ultimately lost the historical and musicological ‘argument’, for his music is little known and seldom heard. His ‘Ave, spes nostra’ was sung with treacly density and smoothness, the textural graininess of the lower tessitura showcasing both the colour of the low voices and the complex movements of the inner lines. These were flowing, rolling musical waters - with harmonic dips and darkness: a wonderful cushion of vocal sound.

Another of Jennings’ arrangements followed: the spiritual, ‘There is a Balm in Gilead’. Cortez Mitchell took the solo role, and sang from the heart, his surging vocalism supported by the shimmering hum of the collective. The sound was genuine and free, but a little at odds with the starched white collars! I was a bit doubtful about the promise that Steven Sametz’s Birds of Paradise (commissioned by Chanticleer in 2020) would turn each singer of the ensemble into a different bird to ‘tweet, flit, chirp’ and that the singers would ‘ruffle our feathers and flap our wings’, but in the event Sametz’s composition, which Chanticleer sang from memory) had a stunning visceral energy. The work’s physicality, and the lulls and rises, were hypnotic. Homophonic textures were decorated with swoops and swoons, trills and gurglings. What might have been a cacophonous excess was in fact a truly harmonious winged menagerie, to which baritone Matthew Knickman’s solo brought moments of calm.

Jean Sibelius’s Rakastava is best known in its arrangement for string orchestra. It was in fact written for a competition organized by the Helsinki University Chorus in 1894. Sibelius did not win. It’s one of the composer’s most substantial unaccompanied choral works but it’s also a composition of great intimacy, expressing yearning and nostalgia with equal erotic fervour. Once again singing from memory, Chanticleer seemed to conjure the force of many more voices than their actual number, and if the ‘Finnish’ spirit of the music was distant, then the group made the music their own. That said, bass-baritone Zachary Burgess evinced elegance in his monotone recitation - the text was clearly enunciated, the lower voices throbbed, and the upper radiance was elated - and tenor Brian Hinman was a fine soloist, sensitively shaping the repetitions and using his head voice most poignantly.

The repertoire presented was gathered into small groups of three or four works, often performed almost segue. I’m not sure that ‘Rescue’ by former Chanticleer member Matthew Alber was the ideal work to elide with Sibelius’s elegiac intensity, and I’m not really a fan of this sort of transatlantic saccharinity, but many are, and they will have enjoyed the fluidity and rhythmic strength of tenor Matthew Mazzola’s solo against the euphoric choric echoes, “Fly for a rescue”. Andrew Van Allsburg was the relaxed soloist in ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, though I felt this arrangement was not particularly successful emphasising as it did weighty waves of sound when it is melody and rhythm, not sonority, that give the song its character. Hinman’s arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)’ was more satisfying, highlighting both the rich layers of the collective sound and the beauty of the individual voices that stepped forward through the glowing texture.

The nineteenth-century American folksong, ‘Oh Shenandoah’ was a soaring, affecting encore. But, it wasn’t the last word from Live from London. In a pre-concert conversation, brothers Barnaby and Paul Smith (Artistic Director and Chief Executive of VOCES8 respectively) explained that there would be a Live from London Extra on 7th October, when the English Chamber Orchestra will perform live from Cadogan Hall, opening their 60th anniversary season with a special concert, introduced by Dame Janet Baker, in tribute to conductor and harpsichordist Raymond Leppard, who died in October 2019. (LfL season ticket holders are eligible for a discount.)

And there will be more. With a tear in his eye, Barnaby Smith reflected back over his, VOCES8’s and their fellow vocal ensembles’ experiences during the Live from London festival - an ambitious, innovative venture which has enabled singers to sing and audiences to connect with their music - but Smith also looked ahead, to Live from London - Christmas which will run from 1st December to 15th January, presenting performances by The Gabrieli Consort and Players, The Tallis Scholars, Take 6, I Fagiolini, London Adventist Chorale, Anúna, Amarcord, The Aeolians, Apollo5, and VOCES8 themselves. So, though times are bleak, there is something to look forward to after all.

Claire Seymour

Chanticleer : Tim Keeler (music director); Cortez Mitchell, Gerrod Pagenkopf, Kory Reid, Alan Reinhardt, Logan Shields, Adam Ward (countertenor); Brian Hinman, Matthew Mazzola, Andrew Van Allsburg (tenor), Andy Berry, Zachary Burgess, Matthew Knickman (baritone and bass)

Sergei Rachmaninoff - ‘Otche nash’, George Walker - ‘O Praise the Lord’ (Psalm 117), Traditional, arr. Joseph H. Jennings - ‘Wondrous Love’, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina - ‘Fratres, ego enim accepi’, Vicente Lusitano - ‘Ave, spes nostra’, Traditional Spiritual, arr J.H. Jennings - ‘There is a Balm in Gilead’, Steven Sametz - ‘Birds of Paradise’ (commissioned by Chanticleer in 2020), Jean Sibelius - Rakastava, Matthew Alber arr. David Maddux - ‘Rescue’, George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam arr. D. Maddux, as performed by M. Alber ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)’, Stevie Wonder arr. Brian Hinman - ‘I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)’

Recorded broadcast, from San Francisco; Saturday 3rd October 2020.

Providing an opportunity to hear Bostridge perform some of the lieder included on his recently released disc of Beethoven’s songs and folksongs alongside Schumann’s Liederkreis Op.39 of 1840 - settings of Eichendorff which are sometimes over-shadowed by the other cycles of Schumann’s ‘year of song’, Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und Leben - this recital promised to hearten my soul and mind as the autumnal nights draw in and portentous gloom enshrouds us.

But, ‘streaming’ comes in diverse forms and in the event that of the autumn head-cold variety forced me to take my musical pleasures via the digital kind. Sneezing and spluttering in a mask is neither easy nor pleasant, and to avoid alarming my fellow Wigmore Hall patrons I forewent my chance to sink into the familiar comfort of a Wigmore Hall seat and donned my headphones instead, grateful that I could still be part of the ‘audience’ for this performance but also aware that what I would hear, and subsequently describe, was not what precisely that which those in the Hall itself would experience.

The concert began with three songs by Beethoven. I was surprised by the way Imogen Cooper shaped the image which opens ‘Resignation’, sustaining the terse motif through the written rests. “Lisch aus, mein Licht!”, the poet-speaker pleads, and I hear the initial rocking fall as that metaphoric light being gently snuffed. Bostridge, who sang with a calm firmness indicative of inevitability and acceptance, shaped the imagery with pointedness, enrichening his tenor and dramatically rolling the ‘r’ of “irregehet” to depict the spluttering flame, then softening to a tender head voice as the flame dissolved. The different moods of Beethoven’s four settings of Goethe’s ‘Sehnsucht’ were finely drawn, the simplicity of the varying tempi and forms allowed to speak for themselves. In ‘Ich liebe dich’, Bostridge used the strength of his lower register to convey the poet-speaker’s self-certainty, quietly retreating to re-create a remembered moment of shared distress and tears.

In ‘Auf dem Hügel’, the opening song of An die ferne Geliebte, the protagonist seemed more ‘present’ on the hillside, above the distant meadows, than in Bostridge’s recording with Sir Antonio Pappano, less lost in his solipsistic imaginings, and this served to make the nuanced heightening of his avowal, “Singen will ich, Lieder singen,/ Die dir klagen meine Pein!”, (I shall sing, sing songs/ That speak to you of my distress!), all the more touching and vulnerable. I found Cooper’s accompaniment a little heavy at the start of ‘Wo die Berge so blau’ and then a trifle uncoloured when the voice recites on a monotone, but it’s difficult to know what the listeners in the Hall heard, and, flexibly shaping the changing tempi, the duo certainly captured the restlessness of the protagonist’s longings.

The piano’s racing triplets in ‘Leichte Segler in den Höhen’ were wonderfully crystalline though, sparkling like the glinting brook and as light as the airy vaults of heaven wherein the poet-speaker imagines his image will appear to his beloved. Bostridge varied his vocal colour to convey first hopefulness, then intensity of suffering and finally earnestness as he pleaded with the winds, sun and brook to reveal to the distant beloved his pain and his tears, which are never-ending - unlike the written repetition, “ohne Zahl”, which Bostridge did not sustain into the next song. The piano’s syncopated animation and tight trills conveyed the easeful delusion of the confidence that the protagonist draws from the natural world, in ‘Es kehret der Maien’, but Bostridge increasingly suffused the vocal line with energy and drama, pushing forwards to the honest admission, “Nu ich kann nicht ziehen von hinnen” (I alone cannot move on), which was enunciated with bitterness, and closed in frenetic despair. With ‘Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder’, the circle was closed and though there was a lethargic weight in the image of the fading sun’s rays, and vulnerability in the yearning, it was with a desperate urgency that the cycle closed, as if by sheer force of will music could reconnect two hearts.

If narrative and musical ‘continuity’ characterise An die ferne Geliebte, then Schumann’s Liederkreis Op.39, with its diverse poetic sources and personas, offers no such coherence - though that hasn’t stopped commentators from seeking and purporting to find in these twelve songs a consistent emotional trajectory, one that journeys from the despairing alienation of the ‘In der Fremde’ to the perceived fulfilment of ‘Frühlingsnacht’.

Bostridge and Cooper did not seem to seek to impose order and logic on Eichendorff’s phantasmagoric imagery and enigmatic twists, emphasising instead the hallucinatory, quasi-improvisational quality of Schumann’s settings which is conjured by harmonic ambiguities and introspective motivic echoes. That’s not to suggest that the sequence lacked shape or persuasiveness. Cooper’s controlled, pure accompaniments perfectly complemented Bostridge’s characteristically immersive and discerning engagement with Eichendorff’s strange worlds and disorientating time-shifts. His diction ever immaculate, as Bostridge lived the unidentified protagonists’ experiences he drew the listener with him into the moonlit forests and murmuring woods, with their lonely nightingales, silent castles, glittering stars, white and red roses, and mysterious enchantresses - the shuddering trees, dungeon cells and weeping brides casting a patina of menace and unease.

The freedom of the piano’s rolling, low arpeggios captured the inner unrest of the protagonist of ‘In der Fremde’ (In a foreign land) which is driven the paradoxical tension between his desire for and fear of eternal rest, “Wie bald, ach wie bald kommt die stille Zeit,/ Da ruhe ich auch” (How soon, ah! how soon till that quiet time/ When I too shall rest). This tension was enhanced by Bostridge’s darkening nuance, a slight shiver vivifying the repeated final image, “und keiner kennt mich mehr hier” (and nobody here remembers me anymore). The smoothly extending vocal phrases seemed to embody that glance into an unknowable future. If the sentiments of ‘Intermezzo’ seem more consoling, then the piano’s tugging syncopations seemed to threaten the image of the beloved held deep within the poet-speaker’s heart.

The inscrutability of the conversation with the wondrously fair bride riding her steed through the forest, in ‘Waldesgespräch’, was evoked by the dreamy gentleness of Bostridge’s delivery of the Lorelei’s grief, following the dark strength of the young man’s ebullient exclamations. The spitting anger which propelled her final warning and prophecy, “Es ist schon spät, es ist schon kalt,/ Kommst nimmermehr aus diesem Wald!” (It It is already late, already cold,/ You shall never leave this forest again!), was a reminder of the perils within the enchantress’s forest. Indeed, the slow restraint of the final section of ‘Die Stille’, which repeats the opening profession of happiness, seemed to belie the protagonist’s blissful self-belief.

‘Mondnacht’ (Moonlit Night) was beautifully expressive. Cooper’s celestial glimmer sparkled while the slow tempo again created an expansiveness suggesting the silver spread of the moonbeam over the earth. Bostridge used his head voice tenderly, to contrast the whispers of the forest with the strength and clarity of the stars in the night sky. In the piano postlude, Cooper gently resolved the open-ended vocal line, suggesting that the outspread soul might indeed have reached its imagined ‘home’, but the incessant rustling oscillations and Bostridge’s twisting distortion of the vocal rises in ‘Schöne Fremde’ (In a beautiful foreign land) seemed to deny the promise of rapture to come.

‘Auf einer Burg’ (In a castle) was a masterful union of poetry and voice. With deathly languor Bostridge introduced us to the ancient knight, driving with pained intensity towards the image of the centuries-old chevalier in his silent cell, enhancing Schumann’s rhetoric by turning the extended musical phrase into a piercing, slanting sneer, “oben in der stillen Klause.”, and thereby emphasising the temporal disorientation of the poem. Withdrawing to a shivering whisper to describe the forest birds’ lonely songs, the tenor then blanched his voice of tone and colour to depict with terrible irony the merry music of a wedding party on the sunlit Rhine, beside which the bride weeps. Bending forward, peering threateningly, Bostridge delivered the final line from the corner of his mouth, spitting out the final consonant with startling ferocity: “und die schone Braut, die weinet.”

The sparse urgency of ‘In der Fremde’ conveyed the poet-speaker’s bewilderment, as Bostridge twisted and squirmed across the Wigmore Hall platform, the song’s energy dissipating with the final recollection of the beloved’s death, “so lange tot” (so long ago), and collapsing into Cooper’s dark, exhausted chordal conclusion. The less dramatic delivery and sustained phrasing of ‘Wehmut’ (Sadness) aptly captured the ‘deep sorrow’ at the heart of the song, while ‘Zwielicht’ was beautifully lyrical, diminishing to a whispered but pointed image of the voices of distant hunters that ‘to and fro’ through the forest, “Stimmen hin und wieder wandern.” Bostridge employed a fraught, tense quasi-Sprechgesang for the final warning, “Hüte dich, sei wach und munter!” (Be wary, watchful, on your guard!). The softening of the final phrase of ‘Im Walde’ - “Und mich schauert’s im Herzensgrunde” (And deep in my heart I quiver with fear.) - drew the listener within the consuming blackness of the forest, and if the entire natural world - nightingales, moon and stars - seems to confirm the protagonist’s consoling conviction, “Sie ist Deine, sie ist Dein!”, then the pressing piano triplets seemed designed to shore up his self-belief rather than complement his joy. After all, the cycle closes with the young man alone, in darkness, in a ‘dreaming forest’.

In their encore, Bostridge and Cooper retreated from the unknown and infinite, returning to more mundane matters, with a vocally and pianistically visceral portrait of the suffering inflicted upon the lords and ladies of the court by the King’s debonair flea, in Beethoven’s setting of Goethe’s ‘Song of the Flea’. A different type of fantasy, but no less magical.

Claire Seymour

Ian Bostridge (tenor), Imogen Cooper (piano)

Beethoven - ‘Resignation’ WoO.149, ‘Sehnsucht’ WoO.134, ‘Ich liebe dich’ ( Zärtliche Liebe) WoO.123, An die ferne Geliebte Op.98; Schumann - Liederkreis Op.39

Streamed live from Wigmore Hall, London; Wednesday 30th September 2020.

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)

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