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George Frideric Handel

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Classical iconoclast

August 2

Handel Israel in Eygpt William Christie Prom

Classical iconoclastHandel's Israel in Egypt with William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, a performance space big enough to create the sense of occasion that made the oratorio a favourite with 19th century audiences.  The first recording, made at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1888 with 4000 voices, is hard to listen to, but even with modern technology one wonders what a chorus of thousands would have sounded like  in the circumstances.  Fortunately, modern performance practice emphasizes quality, not quantity. William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age oif Enlightenment are Handel specialists par excellence.  Even by their high standards this was wonderful. Period inspired practice highlights the music itself, illuminated and remade anew. This performance seemed to glow, the voices ringing pure and clean, the orchestra alert and alive. Sombre, regular drum rolls "raise the curtain" to the drama,f or Israel in Egypt is a drama, despite the Biblical context.  The choral writing in the First Part unfolds like a grand procession: note the phrases in the text, repeated in succession, suggesting massed forces. No need for a cast of thousands: Handel's already written panorama into his score.With the Choir of the Age of Enlightenmnet, we can hear the individual voices in the crowd. An important consideration, since much of the beauty of the piece depends on the blending of voices,and patterns in the musical line. When the chorus then explodes in uniso -  "Come ! Come!"-  the effect is highly charged.  When the clear, piping solo voice emerges from the tumult, it's extraordinarily moving. The voice is pure, yet vulnerable, like the young, isolated Joseph, perhaps, and the spirit of the people of Israel, in exile, yet uncowed.  When the chorus returns, a single horn is heard, unaccompanied. Again, the beauty and validity of period instrumentation. If Part 1 is a deeply felt, personal Requiem, Parts 2 and 3 are, as William Christie says in the interval broadcast, "Hollywood. We're essentially creating a vast fresco of plagues, and also the extraordinary exit of the Jews from Egypt. So it's a travelogue, as big as anything Cecil B De Mille could have created."   The second part begins with a recitative, the tenor Jeremy Budd describing the new, brutal Pharaoh who "turned the waters into blood", that last word pronounced with theatrical emphasis.  Then the aria for counter tenor, Christopher Lowrey: "blotches and plagues, on all man and beast". Florid decorative lines, gruesome subject.   Zingy, zig zag lines from the strings, underpinned by timpani and brass, vividly evoking magnificent forces.  Another sudden switch: the choir sing in hushed tones.  Darkness falls on the land: high male voices contrast with low basses.  The zig zags become ostinato, the voices matching forcefully.  A soprano enters, strings dancing around her. This extended lyrical interlude suggests that, despite the violence surrounding, purity will triumph.  The parting of the waves of the Red Sea, no less, even now in the age of cinema and computer-aided design not an easy task to achieve,  And Handel does it with sound. Vigorous playing from the OAE, and technicolor singing, gently fading into serenity. Israel has now escaped Egypt: Part 3 is celebration. "The Lord is my Saviour" sang  the sopranos (Zoë Brookshaw and Rowan Pierce), the first of a series of lovely set pieces followed by an extended  trio of male voices (Jeremy Budd, Dingle Yandell and Callum Thorpe). In the choral passages, the balance between male and female voices was particularly impressive, the temporary hush broken by blinding light of the second section, which then elides into finely parted cells where single voices intertwined, itself followed by an energetically rhythmic sequence in which each different voice group sings in unison, garlanded around each other.  Christopher Lowrey's solo aria stood out.  Passages decorated by flurries displaying technique need to be kept clear like this.  Part of the beauty of baroque style is fluidity and translucent clarity of line. The use or non-use of vibrato s in itself a red herring, seized upon by those who don't get the aesthetics of style.  Again, the waters of the sea part and the miracle is recalled in recitative, the striking song of the soprano and the heady excitement whipped up by choir and orchestra,  Gosh, I love the sound of period percussion, so earthy and "human".  And so Israel and Egypt ends as it begins, with drums: the three parts, each so distinctive, are inextricably united.  

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

August 14

Russia seizes passport of controversial opera director

The Putin regime has upped the pressure on director Kirill Serebrennikov by refusing to return his passport while pursuing a criminal investigation into its authenticity. Kirill Serebrennikov has a busy international career, especially in Germany. He is due to stage Handel and Gretel in Stuttgart in October. Rehearsals are due to start any day now. By confiscating his passport the Russian authorities are killing his career until he toes the Putin line. More here.




Royal Opera House

August 7

Remembering Lee Blakeley (1971–2017)

Lee Blakeley Lee Blakeley was born in Yorkshire in 1971. He studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and at the University of Glasgow , graduating with the prize for directing. In his career he worked extensively as a director of opera, musical theatre and theatre, winning particular acclaim for his productions of works by Stephen Sondheim at Théâtre du Châtelet , Paris. In the USA Lee worked regularly with Santa Fe Opera , his many popular productions there including Madame Butterfly , The Pearl Fishers, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein and Rigoletto. Further productions in North America included Falstaff for Los Angeles Opera , The Tales of Hoffmann for Canadian Opera Company and the US premiere of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart , for Opera Theatre of St Louis . His relationship with The Royal Opera began in January 2003, when he assisted director David McVicar in his new production of Mozart ’s Die Zauberflöte . Lee returned regularly to direct the revivals of this much-loved production, in June 2003, January 2005, January 2008 and February 2011. He was just as closely involved in another highly successful McVicar production for The Royal Opera, of Gounod’s Faust . He again assisted David on the production’s premiere in June 2004, and returned as revival director in September 2004 and September 2011, and as associate director in September 2006. Lee was a dedicated proponent of new work, both in the theatre and the opera house. As artistic director of Opera Theatre Europe he presented the European premiere of Tobias Picker ’s opera Thérèse Raquin at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre in 2006, in addition to developing site-specific pieces for the Covent Garden Festival and ENO Studio. Oliver Mears , The Royal Opera’s Director of Opera, paid the following tribute: ‘We were very saddened to hear of Lee’s sudden death. He worked across many productions here at the Royal Opera House, working particularly closely with David McVicar. His dedication to new writing and to developing contemporary operas was an important part of his work, and he presented the European premiere of Tobias Picker’s Thérèse Raquin in the Linbury Studio Theatre. He brought intelligence, fun and flair to the rehearsal room and he will be very much missed.’



George Frideric Handel
(1685 – 1759)

George Frideric Handel (23 February 1685 - 14 April 1759) was a German-British Baroque composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, and concertos. Handel was born in Germany in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. Handel received critical musical training in Italy before settling in London and becoming a naturalised British subject. His works include Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks. He was strongly influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition. Handel's music was well-known to composers including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.



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