Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
02 Jan 2005
Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at De Munt, Brussels
© Johan Jacobs De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an...
© Johan Jacobs
De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an unforgettable Contes d'Hoffmann (later reworked for Salzburg), fully respecting the original intentions while in Brussels he did a spectacular and updated Agrippina and a dark and brooding Don Giovanni. Though he is now one of the happy few directors wanted all over the world he nevertheless often returns to this country. McVicar has one overriding obsession: he wants to tell a good story and he wants to tell it clearly. He doesn't like humbug and clearly speaks out when he sees it. Of Robert Wilson's Aida (also premièred in De Munt and later given at Covent Garden) he says: " "they are constructing something on the scene while a sound track of Aida is running" ; a pronouncement that more or less corroborates with the opinion of the Aida (Norma Fantini) who called it "Aida in Tokyo".
Well, McVicar delivered the goodies. This was Midsummer Night's Dream as Shakespeare probably would have loved to see it and never saw it as the technical means and the money at his disposal were infinitely smaller. In an interview after the performance I read that the play is performed on a giant attic of a big English country house and that came somewhat as a surprise to me. The lightning (Paule Constable) and the scenery were so ingenious (Rae Smith) that I took it for a wood, be it one without too many leaves. And with the rising costs of garbage collection nowadays, one often finds seats and all kinds of props in our few woods. The whole looked rich and sumptuous and gave a wonderful idea of a fairy tale: somewhat like Disney with style. So did the costumes of the many performers (Smith too) and it was a joy to see fairies instead of giant bees or spiders or the nowadays popular cliché of clowns.
McVicar likes his singers to think with him and to have the same attitude towards telling a clear story though he had some stiff demands to made upon the cast (he likes to meddle with casting). Puck (David Greeves) didn't only have to sing and to act but to perform some difficult acrobatics high in the sky as well. Oberon can lengthen and shorten his height in the best fairy tale tradition and I admired Michael Chance who quietly and assuredly continued singing while his legs were lengthening with some 14 feet.
The big cast was lead by bass-baritone Laurent Naouri as Bottom. He doesn't like his wife to use her influence and I wish she would. It needn't end in a Sutherland-Bonynge or Freni-Ghiaurov blackmail but Naouri is a very fine singer whom I'd like to hear more in his native repertory where he could take over José van Dam's sceptre. He failed in his Met audition several years ago and I think the Met would do well to give him a second chance instead of only engaging Madame Naouri-Dessay. As he studied at the Guildhall in London his voice freely rang out in the verses culled from the original play. Laura Claycomb was the sensuous Tytania though I think the part is somewhat low for her high coloratura soprano. Countertenor Michael Chance as Oberon didn't endear me to his kind of voice as his sounds were weak and unfocused. All other artist performed worthily. Special mention must be made of the youth choir of De Munt. Strengthened by a few other choirs they sang and acted their heart out and either McVicar worked wonders with them or otherwise they are all headed for a big career on the scene due to their innate talent. Ivor Bolton was the careful conductor of the splendid sounding orchestra.
And so we come to the main drawback in my eyes and especially my ears. Frankly, I don't think that Britten's score deserves such a splendid and costly production. By 1959 the composer was probably tired of criticism that he was old-fashioned, that only movie composers employed tonality and he tried to prove his detractors he too was a modern composer. 45 years later this only results in a far too heavy orchestration always dominated by the woodwinds, all kinds of drums, bells and timpani resulting in a lot of dissonance. The original play was reduced to one third but the original words were used in the libretto. Due to all the noise Shakespeare is in for a heavy drubbing. This reviewer who is a former teacher of English was not able to understand more than a few sentences from the female performers. The men as always could be understood somewhat better as they had a lot of sprechgesang but still spectators without the ability to read either the Dutch or French surtitles wouldn't know what the fuzz on the scene was all about. Britten never was a prolific tune-smith ("Young man, don't you think I would have written some fine melodies if I had had Verdi's talents" he remarked in 69 when I was complaining of lack of melody in his works). Only at the beginning and end of each act that Britten allows himself some lyric utterances but for the rest it is often a trip through the desert.
[Click here for additional information on this production.]