Alan Opie

Baritone

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Elgar: King Olaf

Elgar: King Olaf


Elgar:

Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf

Emily Birsan (soprano), Barry Banks (tenor), Alan Opie (baritone)

The Banner of St George


Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Collegium Musicum Choir, Edvard Grieg Kor, Sir Andrew Davis

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

After having recorded Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (‘Recording of the Month’ in BBC Music), Sir Andrew Davis now turns to two of the composer’s most popular early choral works: Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf and The Banner of Saint George. The recording was made soon after a successful performance, featuring the same ‘excellent Bergen Philharmonic’ and ‘outstanding’ vocal forces: the ‘imposing’ baritone Alan Opie, the ‘high, incisive tenor’ Barry Banks, singing ‘fearlessly in some quite challenging passages’, and the American soprano Emily Birsan, who sang ‘with radiant delicacy’ (The Daily Telegraph).

Dating from his years of ‘apprenticeship’, the two works shaped Elgar’s reputation as a leading orchestrator and most popular British composer of his time. The secular cantata Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf derives from Longfellow’s epic poem about Olaf Tryggvason, who became King of Norway in 995. While the text was heavily adapted and augmented, the use of sophisticated compositional techniques, such as extensive motivic work, resulted in music of great power and solemnity.

The ballad The Banner of Saint George is based on the story of Saint George of Cappadocia, as related by the Bristol poet Shapcott Wensley. It was commissioned by Britain’s leading publisher, Novello, and composed in only one month in 1896. Elgar overcame the prescriptive nature of the words and produced a work of lasting charm, the music rising above the material to create atmosphere, momentum, and colour.

“The Bergen orchestra plays with a keen ear for colour and dramatic flux, and the chorus...makes the narrative live and breathe in suppleness, expressive sensitivity and lusty power...three fine soloists...carry the story with great distinction, subtlety and immediacy of impact.” The Telegraph, 8th February 2015 ****

“King Olaf has been recorded in full once before, in the 1980s...Fine though that version is, Davis’s is better: it has a dramatic sweep and concern for detail that you don’t get from Handley. The Bergen orchestra and choir play and sing Elgar as though it were part of their regular repertoire, while the soloists...all cope well with what is sometimes strenuous vocal writing.” The Guardian, 5th February 2015 ****

“King Olaf is a folk-tale narrative about the Norwegian Olaf Tryggvason, in the tradition of Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied or Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and it is splendidly performed by Davis’s Bergen forces. The soloists, Emily Birsan, Barry Banks and Alan Opie, all make positive contributions.” Sunday Times, 15th February 2015

“What a nice idea it was to have a Norwegian choir and orchestra performing English music about a Norse hero...The combined Norwegian choirs sing very well indeed in both works…[and] the Bergen Philharmonic plays with verve and distinction. Sir Andrew Davis…is just the man for these assignments.” MusicWeb International, February 2015

“I suppose it's appropriate that this Norse legend should be recorded by the Bergen Philharmonic, and under the expert guidance of ardent Elgarian Andrew Davis, they and the combined Norwegian choirs seem effortlessly at home with Elgar's music...if you're a fan of Elgar but haven't yet explored some of the choral works that are somewhat off the beaten track, then this is an ideal disc, with enthusiastically engaging performances from everyone.” James Longstaffe, Presto Classical, 26th January 2015

“there's nothing stilted about Elgar's music: it crackles with confident vitality...the Norwegian choruses respond with crisp vigour and superb English diction, only faintly (and appropriately) Scandinavian-tinged. Davis's expansive conducting and the excellent Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra bring out Elgar's vivid orchestral textures” BBC Music Magazine, April 2015 *****

“It is good to have such a fine and experienced Elgarian as Andrew Davis to conduct this performance with the benefit of hindsight, as it were, recognising Elgar's emergent greatness from long experience of where it was to lead him. Davis can fasten upon the glimpses of genius and relish them, while also understanding what there is of value when Elgar is still resting upon the more conventional manner out of which he was formed.” International Record Review, May 2015

“the combined Norwegian choirs sing in faultless English, while Davis leads the Bergen Symphony Orchestra with unerring sensitivity and nuanced conducting” Choir & Organ, May 2015 *****

Presto Disc of the Week

26th January 2015

Presto Discs of 2015

Finalist

BBC Music Magazine

Choral & Song Choice - April 2015

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Delius: Mass of Life & Idyll

Delius: Mass of Life & Idyll


Delius:

A Mass of Life

Janice Watson (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Alan Opie (baritone)

The Bach Choir

Prelude & Idyll

Janice Watson (soprano) & Alan Opie (baritone)


Bournemouth Symphony, David Hill

Long an admirer of Nietzsches poetry, Frederick Delius composed A Mass of Life while at the height of his powers, blending passages from Also Sprach Zarathustra into orchestral textures of great expressive depth and striking beauty. Written in his final years, the Prelude and Idyll sourced music from a long discarded opera, transforming a story of lust and vengeance into one which emphasizes the transience of life and love. David Hills previous BSO recordings include a perfectly judged Dies natalis by Gerald Finzi (The Guardian on 8570417), while his Vaughan Williams Sancta Civitas (8572424) was described as thrilling a great case for a neglected work (Classic FM).

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

“The singing is suitably majestic for Nietzsche's vision of mankind's destiny...Hill draws some marvellously expressive playing from the BSO, with soloists – chief among them Alan Opie – in magnificent form.” The Observer, 27th May 2012

“Alan Opie, who has the lion's share of the solo music in the work, is almost Wotan-like in his performances...Andrew Kennedy, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Janice Watson also offer fine lyrical interpretations of their solo parts...This is a must for any Delius Liebhaber and...a marvellous starting point for anyone new to Delius's unique but compelling art.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2012

“Even if you already have those discs, the excellent line-up of vocal and orchestral forces in this new one is well worth investigating, the Bach Choir on fine form and the four soloists sounding thoroughly immersed in their roles...Hill maintains the inner momentum and points up the essential poetry of the piece.” The Telegraph, 7th June 2012 *****

“David Hill's impressive new recording with his Bach Choir (in the original German) boasts confident, ardent choral singing and orchestral playing, and a string solo team - even if Alan Opie, representing the prophet Zarathustra, perhaps makes his points with too much Wagnerian declamation at the expense of line....But listeners tempted by Naxos's bargain price into exploring this work won't be disappointed.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2012 ****

“splendid modern sound, a thrilling choir and orchestra, and, in David Hill, a conductor no less devoted to Delius than his more celebrated predecessor [Beecham]. His soloists are outstanding: Janice Watson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Andrew Kennedy sing with clarity and radiance, but the star is Alan Opie, whose lyrical singing is wonderful.” Sunday Times, 10th June 2012

“Even I, congenitally allergic to Delius’s music and Nietzsche’s writing, can scarce forbear to cheer this stunning recording...it certainly celebrates life, especially in this thrilling performance by the Bach Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and quality soloists” The Times, 16th June 2012 *****

“fresh, finely nuanced singing.” Financial Times, 23rd June 2012

“It's a tribute to David Hill and his musicians and technical team that this rolling wave of joy is exceptionally well caught.” MusicWeb International, August 2012

“Hill draws some magnificent playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and has a top-class quartet of soloists, most notably baritone Alan Opie (who has the lion’s share of the solo music in the work) who delivers a lyrical and radiant account. The chorus parts are notoriously hard but the members of the Bach Choir rise to the challenges superbly and help produce a really thrilling performance.” Chris O'Reilly, Presto Classical, 16th July 2012

Presto Disc of the Week

16th July 2012

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - July 2012

Naxos - 8572861-62

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Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music

Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music

and other works


Vaughan Williams:

Serenade to Music

Elizabeth Connell (soprano), Amanda Roocroft (soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Martyn Hill (tenor), Maldwyn Davies (tenor), Anne Dawson (soprano), Linda Kitchen (soprano), Alan Opie (baritone), Gwynne Howell (bass), Sir Thomas Allen (baritone), Sarah Walker (mezzo-soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano) & John Connell (bass)

Five Mystical Songs

Sir Thomas Allen (baritone)

Fantasia on Christmas Carols

Sir Thomas Allen (baritone)

Flos Campi

Nobuko Imai (viola)


“Performances like these don’t come along very often; each one is an absolute winner, and with rich, atmospheric recording quality the satisfaction is of a very special quality” CD Review

“Strongly recommended!” Fanfare

“Profoundly moving” Gramophone Magazine

“Sometimes heard as a full choral work, the Serenade to Music takes on its greatest beauty in its original version for sixteen soloists. Matthew Best's soloists are certainly up to the task here, with some big names in the ranks and a sound that beautifully sits between choral and soloistic singing styles. Thomas Allen is a moving and believable soloist in the Five Mystical Songs; after just a few bars of the first number, Easter, I was convinced.” David Smith, Presto Classical, June 2014

Hyperion 30th Anniversary - CDA30025

(CD)

$9.75

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Britten: Canticles I-V, etc.

Britten:

Canticles I-V

Let the dreadful engines of eternal will

Purcell realization

In the black dismal dungeon of despair, Z190

Purcell realization

Evening hymn, Z193

Purcell realization


Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor), Roger Vignoles (piano), Michael Chance (countertenor), Alan Opie (baritone), Sioned Williams (harp) & Michael Thompson (horn)

‘Rolfe Johnson is in superb voice … this disc is an outstanding example of his artistry’ (Gramophone)

Helios - CDH55244

(CD)

$9.50

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Vaughan Williams: Hugh the Drover

Vaughan Williams: Hugh the Drover

(a romantic ballet opera)


Rebecca Evans, Bonaventura Bottone, Sarah Walker, Richard Van Allan, Alan Opie, Neil Jenkins

Corydon Singers & Orchestra, The New London Children's Choir, Matthew Best

Hyperion Dyads - CDD22049

(CD - 2 discs)

$14.25

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Walton: Troilus and Cressida

Walton: Troilus and Cressida

(complete opera, original version with the role of Cressida for soprano)


Clive Bayley (Calkas), James Thornton (Antenor), Arthur Davies (Troilus), Nigel Robson (Pandarus), Judith Howarth (Cressida), Yvonne Howard (Evadne), David Owen-Lewis (Horaste), Alan Opie (Diomede)

Opera North Chorus, English Northern Philharmonia, Richard Hickox

“Troilus and Cressida is here powerfully presented as an opera for the central repertory, traditional in its red-blooded treatment of a big classical subject. Few operas since Puccini's have such a rich store of instantly memorable tunes as this. Walton wrote the piece in the wake of the first great operatic success of his rival, Benjamin Britten. What more natural than for Walton, by this time no longer an enfantterrible of British music but an Establishment figure, to turn his back on operas devoted like Britten's to offbeat subjects and to go back to an older tradition using a classical love story, based on Chaucer (not Shakespeare). Though he was praised for this by critics in 1954, he was quickly attacked for being old-fashioned. Even in the tautened version of the score offered for the 1976 Covent Garden revival – with the role of the heroine adapted for the mezzo voice of Dame Janet Baker – the piece was described by one critic as a dodo. Yet as Richard Hickox suggests, fashion after 40 years matters little, and the success of the Opera North production in January 1995 indicated that at last the time had come for a big, warmly Romantic, sharply dramatic work to be appreciated on its own terms.
This recording was made under studio conditions during the run of the opera in Leeds. The discs confirm what the live performances suggested, that Walton's tautening of the score, coupled with a restoration of the original soprano register for Cressida, proved entirely successful.
Hickox conducts a performance that's magnetic from beginning to end. The scene is atmospherically set in Act 1 by the chorus, initially off-stage, but then with the incisive Opera North chorus snapping out thrilling cries of 'We are accurs'd!'.
The first soloist one hears is the High Priest, Calkas, Cressida's father, about to defect to the Greeks, and the role is superbly taken by the firm, dark-toned Clive Bayley. Troilus's entry and his declaration of love for Cressida bring Waltonian sensuousness and the first statements of the soaring Cressida theme. Arthur Davies isn't afraid of using his head voice for pianissimos, so contrasting the more dramatically with the big outbursts and his ringing top notes. This is a young-sounding hero, Italianate of tone. Similarly, Judith Howarth's Cressida is quite girlish, and she brings out the vulnerability of the character along with sweetness and warmth. After Calkas has defected to the Greeks, her cry of 'He has deserted us and Troy!' conveys genuine fear, with her will undermined.
All told, although some fine music has been cut, the tautened version is far more effective both musically and dramatically, with no longueurs.
The role of Diomede, Cressida's Greek suitor, can seem one-dimensional, but Alan Opie in one of his finest performances on record sharpens the focus, making him a genuine threat, with the element of nobility fully allowed. As Antenor, James Thornton sings strongly but is less steady than the others, while Yvonne Howard is superb in the mezzo role of Evadne, Cressida's treacherous servant and confidante. Not just the chorus but the orchestra of Opera North respond with fervour.
Naturally and idiomatically they observe the Waltonian rubato and the lifting of jazzily syncopated rhythms which Hickox as a dedicated Waltonian instils, echoing the composer's own example. As for the recorded sound, the bloom of the acoustic enhances the score, helped by the wide dynamic range.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Penguin Guide

Rosette Winner

Summer Opera Sale

Chandos - CHAN9370

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Britten: Gloriana

Britten: Gloriana

English National Opera, London Coliseum 1984


Sarah Walker (Elizabeth I), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Essex), Jean Rigby (Lady Essex), Richard van Allan (Raleigh), Elizabeth Vaughan (Lady Rich), Alan Opie (Cecil), Neil Howlett (Mountjoy), Malcolm Donnelly (Henry Cuffe)

English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Mark Elder (conductor) & Colin Graham (director)

Sound Format: PCM Stereo

Picture Format: 4:3 | Original Language: GB

Subtitles: GB, DE, FR, ES | Running Time: 147 mins

Resolution: 1080i High Definition (Upscale)

Blu-ray Disc 25 GB (Single Layer) | FSK: 0

Blu-ray Disc

Region: all

Summer Opera Sale

Arthaus Musik Legendary Performances - 109152

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Britten: Gloriana

Britten: Gloriana

English National Opera, London Coliseum 1984


Sarah Walker (Elizabeth I), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Essex), Jean Rigby (Lady Essex), Richard van Allan (Raleigh), Elizabeth Vaughan (Lady Rich), Alan Opie (Cecil), Neil Howlett (Mountjoy), Malcolm Donnelly (Henry Cuffe)

English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Mark Elder (conductor) & Colin Graham (director)

Sound Format: PCM Stereo

Picture Format: 4:3 | Original Language: GB

Subtitles: GB, DE, FR, ES

Running Time: 147 mins

DVD Video

Region: 0

Format: NTSC

Summer Opera Sale

Arthaus Musik Legendary Performances - 109151

(DVD Video)

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Walton: Troilus and Cressida

Walton: Troilus and Cressida


Judith Howarth (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo-soprano), Arthur Davies (tenor), Nigel Robson (tenor), Brian Cookson (tenor), Peter Bodenham (tenor), Keith Mills (tenor), Alan Opie (baritone) James Thornton (baritone), Clive Bayley (bass), Bruce Budd (bass), Stephen Dowson (bass) & David Owen-Lewis (bass)

Chorus of Opera North & English Northern Philharmonia, Richard Hickox

Released as a part of the Richard Hickox Legacy series, this essential recording of Walton’s Troilus and Cressida is widely recognised as the finest available.

Edward Greenfield wrote in Gramophone that ‘even among Chandos’ many bold achievements over the years, this magnificent set of Troilus and Cressida stands out... [Hickox’s] expressive warmth is matched by his understanding of Walton’s fiery side, with magnificent performances form the entire cast’.

Troilus and Cressida, William Walton’s first opera was commissioned by the BBC in 1947 although only after seven years, in 1954, did the premiere take place, in Covent Garden. For a revival in 1976, Walton removed about thirty minutes of music and adapted the soprano part of Cressida to bring it within the range of the mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker. The version recorded here follows Walton’s more concise score whilst returning the part of Cressida to its original soprano register.

Based on Chaucer’s classic love-tale Troilus and Criseyde, the opera represents Walton’s desire to engage with traditional operatic themes. Walton wanted to write a romantic, ‘Pucciniesque’ opera and the rich scoring and many memorable melodies certainly invite comparison.

Walton dedicated Troilus and Cressida to his wife, Lady Susana Walton, who contributes a personal note in the booklet.

Summer Opera Sale

Chandos 241 - The Hickox Legacy - CHAN241-50

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Britten: The Rape of Lucretia

Britten: The Rape of Lucretia


Jean Rigby (Lucretia), Nigel Robson (Male Chorus), Catherine Pierard (Female Chorus), Donald Maxwell (Tarquinius), Alastair Miles (Collatinus), Alan Opie (Junius), Patricia Rozario (Lucia), Ameral Gunson (Bianca)

City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox

Premiered in 1946, The Rape of Lucretia was Britten’s second opera, coming after the unheralded stellar success of Peter Grimes. Perhaps in reaction to this, The Rape of Lucretia marks a radical change in approach and Britten’s decisive break with the grand opera tradition. A short work in only two acts with a small cast and ensemble, it was the first ever chamber opera, a genre to which Britten and many others would return.

Despite its modest size, the opera packs a powerful emotional punch in dealing with its dark subject matter. It tells the story of the Roman noblewoman Lucretia who is raped by the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus, ruler of Rome, and elects to kill herself rather than live with the shame. The compact libretto, developed by Ronald Duncan, is an adaptation of a play by André Obey, itself based on Shakespeare’s poem on the same subject.

The recording, made in 1993, is reissued as a part of the Richard Hickox Legacy Series, the renowned Britten conductor leading the City of London Sinfonia. Hickox was praised for his ‘clear-sighted direction’ and there were also high marks for the ‘vivid, beautifully disciplined response from the City of London Sinfonia’ (Hi-Fi News). The recording includes Jean Rigby’s ‘beautifully sung and movingly felt performance’ (The Sunday Times) as Lucretia, and the supporting cast is excellent.

“Hickox allows his singers plenty of space with no loss of tension; they respond impressively, with Catherine Pierard exceptional as the Female Chorus.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2014 ****

“The cast is dominated by Jean Rigby's admirably portrayed Lucretia, warm but positive in a role that can seem monochrome in character. She lacks the warmth of voice of Janet Baker or Kathleen Ferrier but has a poise and dignity in the role that make up for it.” MusicWeb International, 10th October 2014

Summer Opera Sale

Chandos 241 - The Hickox Legacy - CHAN241-51

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