in Opera Now (Apr, 2017)
Something that certainly wasn’t a success in its day was Étienne Méhul’s Uthal, a one-act opera based on James Macpherson’s spuriously ‘ancient’ Ossian poems. To ramp up the gothic atmosphere (or add to the monotonous gloom, as the work’s detractors opined), Méhul removed violins from the orchestra and gave violas the lead, making the general musical palate more sonorous. To modern ears it is remarkably effective, and the overture depicting a storm, against which the distressed heroine calls her father’s name, certainly plunges the listener straight into the work.
Premiered in 1806, Méhul’s post-Gluckian structure and early Romantic scoring displays a vivid sense of drama, though some of his vocal writing …
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