Recently in Performances
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
19 Nov 2004
Handel's Semele at the ENO
Semele Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004] IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of...
Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004]
IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of getting above your station. (True, it also warns royals to be careful whom they sleep with.) This tale of Jupiter's incendiary affair with mortal Semele is a satire on celebrity, ambition and vanity that might have been written for the Big Brother generation.
And English National Opera's revival of Robert Carsen's production does it justice of a modern kind: gorgeous to look at and listen to, it is also rather shallow, a romp rather than a morality tale. It reserves its disapproval more for the drunken toffs who celebrate the birth of Bacchus from his mother's ashes (an entertainingly profane moment, welcoming this jovial son of god in a "Lenten oratorio") than for the "vain wretched fool" Semele, whose destruction is so easily fixed by Juno.
We are in a 1950s milieu of upper-crust debauchees in frocks to make the ladies gag with envy. The updating is more for visual effect than dramatic relevance, and it works wonderfully with its stark side-lighting, blessed use of the huge open stage and a welldirected chorus keeping things ticking over. And as well as beautiful images (Semele lying in bed in Heaven with Earth shining through the window, seen through a gauzy curtain) it is full of sight gags, character comedy and a theatrical intelligence to match the authors'.
Carolyn Sampson sings poor, silly Semele with beguiling facility, style and beauty, adding her own roulades to Handel's already extreme demands, pinpointing every note of the coloratura and doing it all with liquefying sexiness: slinking on to sing "Endless pleasure, endless love" as breathily as Marilyn cooing happy birthday to JFK, coyly baring all before slipping back into Jupiter's boudoir, tossing off an outburst of joyous vanity, hyperventing the hysteria of the mistress who's got above herself. This is a great performance.
It is well matched: Ian Bostridge's Jupiter gradually unbends to deliver the sweetest soft legato, Patricia Bardon's Juno is hilariously fiery as the (literally) queenly betrayed wife, and Janis Kelly camps Iris up something terrible.
After a languid start, Laurence Cummings, conducting, brings real Handelian sensibility and drama to the orchestra, and the chorus has a fine time undressing, drinking and indulging in some of Handel's loveliest music. A top evening, ENO right back on form, and the audience too.
Semele — Carolyn Sampson
Jupiter — Ian Bostridge
Ino — Anne-Marie Gibbons
Juno — Patricia Bardon
Athamas — Robin Blaze
Somnus — Graeme Danby
Cadmus — Iain Paterson
Iris — Janis Kelly
Click here for a synopsis of the opera.