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?
04 Dec 2004
Berlioz in Boston
Not strictly opera, but so full of the usual suspects . . . My experience of Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony Romeo et Juliette (R&J) came full circle last night at Boston's Symphony Hall. I had first heard the work live in...
Not strictly opera, but so full of the usual suspects . . . My experience of Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony Romeo et Juliette (R&J) came full circle last night at Boston's Symphony Hall. I had first heard the work live in 1968 when Charles Munch conducted the BSO and soloists Rosalind Elias, Jerold Siena and Donald Gramm. Parenthetically, that's 36 years ago, Ms. Elias's career was at least a dozen years old at the time and she's still singing in San Francisco's Vanessa and directing operas. Quite an achievement.
Last night James Levine conducted the orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Matthew Polenzani and Julien Robbins in a superbly played and sung — and very personal vision — of R&J. In his program note Mr. Levine speaks of how much he loves Berlioz; how gratifying it is to play his music, particularly with America's most French repertory-oriented orchestra; how much Berlioz he will be scheduling with the orchestra in the near term; and how fresh and controversial the composer still is, even in France. While I have heard the work played ravishingly by other conductors, what distinguished this performance was that Levine took seriously the word "Dramatic."
The mezzo and tenor soloists do not portray the characters in R&J; she works with a chamber chorus as narrator and he sings the song of Queen Mab but otherwise does not in any represent Mercutio. The bass does, at the very end, recognizably portray Friar Laurence and the chorus takes the role of the Capulets and Montagues, but it's way to late in the game at that point to make a case for the piece as anything but a symphonic work. The love duets, the death scene and other big moments in the story are all orchestral and it is here that Levine chose to bring his operatic persona to the fore. This purely orchestral music was strongly characterized. The Ball at the Capulets had a festive air but with a strongly menacing undertone, a militant declaration that this was THE party being given by THE family. During the scene in the tomb, the sustained notes by the first clarinet went to the edge of acceptable tone to portray the agonized cries of the dying lovers. Under Levine's direction, string passages in the Introduction and in a couple of other places in the score very firmly pointed the way — in 1839 — to what Wagner would do in the great chromatic string passage that opens the mountain top scene at the end of Siegfried — music that Wagner was to write in the mid-1860s.
The Boston Symphony played magnificently, with some astonishing unanimity and virtuosity of string attack. Brass was rock solid and there was a sustained glow from the stage. The chorus enjoys the directorship of John Oliver and sounded like a French chorus on this occasion. I was delighted to discover a student of mine from a quarter of a century ago, one who used to build and rig scenery for our productions, singing in the bass section. Ms. Hunt Lieberson has always made absolute sense as a French mezzo and her claret-colored voice was in fine condition. Both she and Mr. Polenzani sang with the words well forward, floating ON the tone as is right for the style. His Queen Mab aria is a kind of rapid patter with pinpoint interjections by the chorus — it flew by as light as gossamer with bright, clear tone and complete confidence. Mr. Robbins was a noble, rich-voiced Laurence, his voice placed just a bit too far back in the mouth for ultimate clarity in French music, but in every other way he satisfied.
The audience was extremely enthusiastic.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology