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David Owen Norris: ‘The songs show us that Sullivan is no pale imitation of something else’.

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s songs are the work of a singer, and a good singer at that – he was First Boy after only a couple of years in the Chapel Royal. Thomas Helmore, the choirmaster, took singing seriously. He was famous for the beauty and purity of his one-note chanting – Sir George Elvey, the organist at Windsor, hearing Helmore on a day when there was no choir and no organ, remarked: ‘I never in my life heard anything to approach the grandeur and solemnity of that monotone service.’ The young Sullivan took this lesson to heart – his most famous song, The Lost Chord, begins by quoting the versicle ‘O Lord, open thou our lips’.

John Hullah, the Gareth Malone of his day, helped to teach the Chapel Royal boys to sing, and Sullivan learned something of his later breezy comic style from Hullah’s catchy compositions. So Sullivan’s early musical life was spent under the influence of two great singers. ‘Mr Hullah grinds them, and I strop them’, said Helmore, referring to the processes applied to cut-throat razors.

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Christophe Rousset celebrates a quarter century at the forefront of the Early Music scene with Les Talens Lyriques; Sir John Eliot Gardiner takes Monteverdi’s three surviving operas on tour around the world; and our guide to the brightest and best opera festivals of 2017. Plus, remembering the velvet voice of Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda; individuality and imagination in the songs of Arthur Sullivan; Debussy’s ravishing Pelléas lets down its hair at Garsington; American baritone Scott Hendricks shares his love of playing bad boys; the art of the librettist; British conductor Nicholas Chalmers; and an 80th birthday tribute to Grace Bumbry.

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Other Articles in this Issue

This year’s celebrations for Monteverdi’s 450th birthday
Write to Opera Now, 20 Rugby Street, London, WC1N 3QZ, email or tweet @Operanow. Star letters will receive a free DVD from Opus Arte’s extensive catalogue of world-class opera productions.
The young British conductor Nicholas Chalmers is establishing a formidable reputation in the opera world as a champion of emerging talent and a passionate advocate for the future of the art form. His latest venture at Nevill Holt promises to add to his growing hit-rate of operatic success stories. Interview by Robert Thicknesse
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has announced that
An excerpt from an opera that Franz Liszt began in
German bass Kurt Moll has died aged 78. One of the
Although the Festival d’Opéra de Québec is entering
Being authentic isn’t always easy, says Christophe Rousset, as he describes the tension between historical fidelity and the need to evolve and embrace chance as a musician. Andrew Mellor meets the harpsichordistconductor as he celebrates a quarter century at the forefront of the Early Music scene with his ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques.
Celebrating Monteverdi’s 450th birthday anniversary this year, John Eliot Gardiner revisits a composer who has been a lifelong inspiration as a fellow musical pioneer. Ash Khandekar meets the conductor as he embarks on an extraordinary musical and intellectual odyssey back to the 1600s, touring Monteverdi’s three surviving operas around the world.
Garsington Opera’s new staging of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande features two charismatic young singers, both making their festival debuts this summer. Baritone Jonathan McGovern and soprano Andrea Carroll tell Andrew Green about the challenges of preparing for their complex, elusive title roles.
Rare, unusual operas, stunning historic settings, rural idylls and memorable journeys that take you off the beaten track: Opera Now’s team of correspondents bring you some opera festival highlights to fill your 2017 diary…
Nicolai Gedda (1925-2017) was possessed of a honeyed tenor voice, known for its elegance and versatility across a wide range of styles and languages. A handsome figure on stage, he exuded an easy bonhomie and showed a generosity of spirit towards even the most difficult colleagues, winning the love and admiration of a legion of fans over the course of a 40-year career.
With his eclectic musical tastes and a wide operatic repertoire, American baritone Scott Hendricks is a singer who resists being pigeonholed. You’ll often see him playing one of the mean, moody bad boys of opera, but this affable artist is just as convincing portraying characters with moral scruples – as he is doing at London’s Royal Opera House this month.
Professor Anthony Ogus rediscovers his ancestral heritage while on a visit to Lithuania, where decades of Soviet occupation and the radical changes that came in its aftermath have left an indelible mark, alongside a rich cultural legacy arising from the nation’s strategic importance in the history of Europe and the Baltics
Librettists don’t have too much need for a collective
Joseph Calleja has a distinctive tenor voice which
One would have thought that Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, which has been staged dozens of times, would offer more originality and nuance in its musical score. If the main purpose of opera is to express in the music what words can’t, then the focus on text in Dead Man Walking leaves a musical void at its most explosive moments
An exciting new trend has begun among America’s smaller regional companies, who are busily commissioning and staging world premieres. Many use smaller venues to mitigate financial risk, but Arizona Opera mounted its first world premiere since the company’s inception in 1972 as a main stage production
Can a company on an apparent slide to irrelevance afford such fingers-crossed programming as a new opera by a composer with little previous form? And then hire a rookie director on top? Answers on a postcard
English Touring Opera is a good barometer for the state
Frank Martin never intended his intimate, 1941 ‘oratorio profane’, Le Vin herbé, to be staged – and it rarely is. Yet in director Polly Graham’s revelatory new production for Welsh National Opera, the work proves powerfully convincing as music drama, albeit of a nature far removed from any Wagnerian notion of the term
David McVicar’s exquisite and absorbing new production not only embraces the themes of Pelléas et Mélisande, it powerfully amplifies them, both visually and through perfectly pitched theatrical nuance. A decent Scottish version of this opera has been lacking since the 1960s. This one redresses, no question
What kind of opera strikes the iciest fear into the
In the intimate setting of Monte-Carlo’s Salle Garnier, the audience’s engagement with this new production of Tannhäuser was enhanced by the first outing in modern times of the 1861 French version of the text. Wagner’s scrummage with the Parisians is well known, but to hear this work sung in French is revealing
One of the winter’s intriguing fixtures was this match between ultra-serious Norwegian director Stefan Herheim and Italian prankster Gioachino Rossini. Would Herheim’s sophisticated technique prove too much for the quicksilver lad from Pesaro and his dashed-off schedule-filler?
To commemorate the 80th birthday of the American diva Grace Bumbry in January, Deutsche Grammophon reissued hard-to-find recordings and greatest hits. Benjamin Ivry assesses the singer’s varied career from its beginnings in the 1950s to her prime as a star of the opera stage and a notable interpreter of lieder
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