Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
24 Nov 2004
OONY Presents La Fanciulla del West
Superb, if mixed, Fanciulla at OONY Last night's La Fanciulla del West at Carnegie Hall was the classic case of the whole being much better than the sum of its parts. It was a thrilling performance of Puccini's score and...
Superb, if mixed, Fanciulla at OONY
Last night's La Fanciulla del West at Carnegie Hall was the classic case of the whole being much better than the sum of its parts. It was a thrilling performance of Puccini's score and a huge, fully deserved, personal triumph for Aprile Millo.
Of the three roles Ms. Millo has done for OONY recently, this was surely the most successful, better even than her storied Adriana Lecouvreur and easily obliterating memories of her pale La Gioconda. For one thing, the role sits perfectly for her voice,allowing its beauty and sensuousness to emerge almost effortlessly. The high notes are still possible for her, even if the tone now spreads just noticeably,and they are both substantial and secure. Her major current technical limitation -- not being able to do anything in the top register piano let alone pianissimo, was no handicap in this score. She dominated the proceedings vocally and created a believable character, with no trace of the pretentious grande dame mannerisms that had trivialized her Gioconda. Her Minnie was down to earth, courageous, and emotionally vulnerable -- and Ms. Millo seemed to enjoy portraying her immensely. Audience reaction was tumultuous and it was all richly deserved, not inflated or fake enthusiasm for a cult figure. Last night Aprile Millo was a major Italian Soprano in great shape and in full communication with her audience.
I don't mean to suggest that it was a case of Aprile and the seven dwarfs, but nothing else except the spirited, tonally gleaming work of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and William Ferguson's strongly sung and acted Nick the Bartender came anywhere near her level. The orchestra played very well, with all sorts of inner detail cleanly articulated, but conductor Eve Queler let it roar out at volume levels that covered singers mercilessly. Ms. Queler has a penchant for finding promising, interesting young singers and giving them wonderful exposure in these concert performances. Last night, however, the entire first scene until Minnie's entrance (except for the brief Jake Wallace scene) that features a dozen such singers, was experienced as pantomime. Time after time during the evening, the orchestra was allowed -- encouraged? -- to obliterate anything in its path. As a performance of the Fanciulla symphony it wasn't bad, but Puccini did write this as an OPERA and far too many moments, even for the three principal singers, were inaudible.
There was another disappointment. Tenor Carl Tanner, who has been impressive elsewhere, was miscast here. Like Minnie, Dick Johnson has some spectacular ascents into the upper register and Mr. Tanner didn't fail. But Johnson -- also like Minnie -- really lives in his middle voice and needs strength at the bottom as well. Mr. Tanner's voice doesn't blossom down there and its focus is warm and soft rather than clear and brilliant. Given the orchestral volume, he was mostly either inaudible or not really present vocally from his first entrance until half way through the final duet of act one. Act two was much the same. In act three, he seemed to find enough volume for basic audibility but the heart of the role does not lie well for him, particularly under the orchestral circumstances he faced last night.
Marco Chingari, a handsome man with a fine-grained baritone of nice, warm timbre, made a sympathetic if moderately-scaled Sheriff Rance. Stephen Gaertner's Sonora emerged an attractive presence, Daniel Mobbs sang Jake Wallace beautifully, Mary Ann Stewart actually made something of Wowkle, and Mr. Ferguson's Nick showed promise of a fine lyric tenor leading man in the making. Evaluation of the rest of the large cast must await a performance in which they can actually be heard with some consistency.
Ira Siff faced some serious challenges in directing a semi-staged Fanciulla. There's a massive amount of realistic action and he was also facing a leading lady who has gained a considerable amount of weight in the past year and who elected to sit during most of act two. This last created serious difficulties for Mr. Tanner when attempting to play any scenes opposite her and Mr. Siff may simply have given up. Act two featured a lot of wandering around the stage until the climactic poker game for Johnson's life. Here, where Ms. Millo could justifiably have sat across a table from Rance, Mr. Siff had the singers standing on either side of the podium singing straight out at the audience with not a card in sight. Fortunately, Ms. Millo made the moment electric visually and vocally all by herself.
But I cannot stress enough that SHE was enough. The performance last night will be remembered as a huge success, a success that rests firmly on her fully capable shoulders.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology