Recently in Performances
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
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