Earlier this month, Swedish soprano Julia Sporsén returned to Opera Holland Park to sing Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos. When she made her debut in the role at Scottish Opera earlier this season, reviews called her interpretation of the role "truly magnificent" and a "highlight" of the evening. Critics in London agree and have already praised Julia's performance for its "expressive power" and "gleaming high register":
"Julia Sporsén's soprano glows in the role [of the composer]."
Erica Jeal, The Guardian ★★★★
"Sporsén brings warmth and expressive power to her Composer."
George Hall, Financial Times ★★★★
"Honours are stolen here by Julia Sporsen’s ardently sung Composer: it’s conventionally a trouser role, but McDonald adds a new frisson by keeping the trousers, but dispensing with gender-swapping. Sporsen is very affecting as she peels off layers of neurosis, much encouraged by Jennifer France’s Zerbinetta peeling off layers of clothing. The duet between the two is the highlight of the night and takes us to the heart of what Strauss and his librettist are trying to tell us about the messiness of life, how a tiny collision of events can mean the universe."
Neil Fisher, The Times
"Seria and buffa elements were confrontational rather than cohesive - perhaps that’s how it should be - but Julia Sporsén’s Composer brought disparate parts into a cohesive whole, with her Schubertian-Straussian paean an die Musik. Sporsén’s soprano shone and thrilled and both her declaration that music is a holy art and her interactions with Zerbinetta were genuinely touching."
Claire Seymour, Opera Today
"But the scene, and most hearts, I hope, are stolen from the first appearance of Julia Sporsén's adorable if volatile Composer, deeply simpatica. The role needs flaming soprano top notes – creator of the role, after all, was Lotte Lehmann – and Sporsén allies them to a plangent intensity I haven't seen to the same degree in the role since the young Maria Ewing took a Proms audience by storm on a Glyndebourne visit back in 1981."
David Nice, The Arts Desk ★★★★★
“Sporsen sings gloriously as the Composer”
Barry Millington, The Standard ★★★★
“The Composer (an outstanding Julia Sporsén)…”
Sam Smith, MusicOMH ★★★★
“Played by the ardent Julia Sporsen, [the Composer] returns after the end of the opera…”
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times
“The Composer – Julia Sporsén, vehement and intense – is not the usual cross-dressed woman playing a man but, still wearing mannish trousers, a female composer.”
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer ★★★★
"Julia Sporsén's vivid soprano Composer (the voice type specified by Strauss, despite the part having become a favourite of young mezzos) was the vocal highlight of the Prologue, with characterful cameos from the rest of the cast."
Matthew Rye, Backtrack ★★★★
"The Composer is sung brilliantly by soprano Julia Sporsén – and how refreshing to hear it sung by a soprano, especially one with such a gleaming high register (intended by Strauss, but tradition has meant a shift to a mezzo)."
Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International
"Julia Sporsén’s Composer hits the spot with her volatile, intense and outrageously self-centred artistic tizzies, pressing her suit on Zerbinetta with full-on eroticism, and then suddenly bringing us into her perspective with an electrifying account of her hymn to the power of music that gives us the full benefit of her lovely, lightly-shaded voice."
Peter Reed, Classical Source ★★★★
"However, the first part of the evening belongs unequivocally to Julia Sporsén as the Composer of the eponymous Ariadne opera. Playing her role as a busy, buzzing and passionate control freak who is only reconciled to her preposterous position by a latent attraction to lowbrow-in-chief Zerbinetta, the soprano (not here a mezzo, as has become the custom, nor dragged up as a man) inflects every word with sense and gauges her character's priceless reactions with entertaining care."
Mark Valencia, Whats On Stage ★★★★★
"a passionate Julia Sporsen as the Composer"
Inge Kjemtrup, The Stage ★★★★
"[In the prologue,] comedy and seriousness were finely balanced with Julia Sporsen's composer being the passionate centre of everything. It was lovely to have the role sung by a soprano for once (the original composer was Lotte Lehmann), and it benefited from Sporsen's gloriously ringing top. Here McDonald had introduced another twist with the composer being a woman rather than travesty role. Sporsen was intense and committed, giving us a wonderfully vibrant line, and she was supported by some brilliantly etched characterful portraits from the rest of the cast. Certainly, Sporsen is a soprano who I want to hear in more Strauss, having heard her as the composer I now want to hear her as Octavian."
Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill ★★★★½
Performances run until 27 July 2018.
At Opera Holland Park, Julia had previously appeared in the title role of Katya Kabanova and as Micaëla Carmen, Gilda Rigoletto and Nedda Pagliacci.
(Photos by Ali Wright and by the Scotsman respectively.)