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.
20 Dec 2004
Kata Kabanova at the Met
Janacek’s Kata Kabanova began this year’s run at the Met on Friday night with a very new cast including two important and highly successful debuts.
This is Janacek late in his career, writing on a Russian subject by the playwright Ostrovsky. His admiration for Russian culture and literature may also have led him to follow Anton Chekhov’s example — Kata moves swiftly with the sense that any extraneous word or note has been rigorously pruned away — it is an opera that speaks directly and powerfully to its audience. Last night’s audience — the Met was at least 90% full — reacted with enthusiasm that bordered on delirium when the final curtain rose again for beloved Finnish soprano Karita Mattila’s pride-of-place first solo bow.
Janacek's Kata Kabanova began this year's run at the Met on Friday night with a very new cast including two important and highly successful debuts.
This is Janacek late in his career, writing on a Russian subject by the playwright Ostrovsky. His admiration for Russian culture and literature may also have led him to follow Anton Chekhov's example — Kata moves swiftly with the sense that any extraneous word or note has been rigorously pruned away — it is an opera that speaks directly and powerfully to its audience. Last night's audience — the Met was at least 90% full — reacted with enthusiasm that bordered on delirium when the final curtain rose again for beloved Finnish soprano Karita Mattila's pride-of-place first solo bow.
Ms. Mattila is not perfect. Let's get out of the way the fact that the lower voice is rather dry and not the most interesting register she possesses. Beyond that, her Kata moved from strength to strength as she created a wholly convincing character and sang the role with blazing conviction, beauty of tone and a glorious upper register. Particularly in act 3 her talents as an actress were astonishing — her physicality in expressing Kata's self revulsion, then the poignancy and aching need for some kind of physical contact from the feckless Boris, then the radiant calm with which she sang that birds would fly over her grave and bring their young with them. Then she turned and instead of an actressy leap into the Volga, she simply dropped off the riverbank and let herself be absorbed in the ever-flowing river's history. The woman next to me gasped; when it was all over the crowd went crazy.
Judith Forst provided a scary Kabanicha, ramrod straight, seethingly intolerant, demanding, manipulative, ultimately unbearable and so wonderfully tempting to hate. Along the revival's director Paula Williams and the rock-solid bass Vladimir Ognovenko as Dikoj, Forst has reimagined the bizarre little scene for Kababicha and Dikoj in act 2. Formerly played as a scene where the drunk and slobbering Dikoj disgusts her, she is now visibly aroused and the scene ends with Dikoj on his knees clutching her hips and buttocks with his face buried in her bodice. The curtain quickly falls on what will certainly be a monstrous and morally hypocritical coupling in contrast to the healthier mating of Varvara (the luminous Magda Kozena) and Vana Kudrias (Ramond Very is a superbly detailed and sympathetic performance) or the tragic one of Kata and Boris.
Tenor Jorma Silvasti displayed warm and shimmering tone as Boris and Chris Merritt presented the spineless, trapped but well-meaning Tichon to the life. In his Met debut, conductor Jiri Belohlavek let a taut, propulsive and very beautiful reading of the score, seconded by the Met orchestra in top form. The cast was strongly applauded but it all paled next to the reception for Ms. Mattila. This was a star performance totally at service to the role and the work, sung and acted by a star performer at the height of her art.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology