Recently in Performances
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
08 Feb 2005
Glass's Akhnaten in Boston
The Boston Conservatory of Music gave two performances, each with a different cast, of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten last week five years to the day after the work’s Boston premiere by the Boston Lyric Opera in February 2000. Aside from the pleasure of being able to hear a big contemporary work again so soon, the two productions were so radically different from one another that a whole new perspective on Glass’s work could be had.
The Boston Conservatory of Music gave two performances, each with a different cast, of Philip Glass's Akhnaten last week five years to the day after the work's Boston premiere by the Boston Lyric Opera in February 2000. Aside from the pleasure of being able to hear a big contemporary work again so soon, the two productions were so radically different from one another that a whole new perspective on Glass's work could be had.
Boston Conservatory (as differentiated from the New England Conservatory of Music--although the two do share some resources in NEC's opera productions) has specific theater and dance specialties. The opera department has recently been reorganized and is now under the directorship of the distinguished American baritone Sanford Sylvan, who also directed this production. The opera was presented in the Conservatory's problematic theater which is more of an auditorium with virtually no off-stage space, cramped seating and, at least on this occasion, totally inadequate ventilation. Nevertheless, both performances were sold out with waiting lists and a wholly mixed crowd, particularly as to age, reacted to the work and its highly effective performance with high enthusiasm.
Sylvan presented this highly ritualistic work as part oratorio, with the chorus standing on risers at the rear with their scores, a decision that did two things — emphasize the static nature of Egyptian religious practice and, I suspect, solve the problem of short rehearsal time. The priesthood, a major antagonistic force in Akhnaten, was treated in a manner Verdi would very much have approved — an implacable, vengeful and controlling obstacle to any deviation from the established norm. Akhnaten and his family life, by contrast, were depicted in a realistic style with great informality, much touching, affection and fun in game playing in the face of crushing hierarchical convention. The climactic scene in which the family is slaughtered by the priests became shocking in its inhuman violence and blatant prejudice.
Beatrice Jona Affron, who has conducted for Boston Lyric opera and been a cover conductor for the Boston Symphony, led the orchestra in an assured, richly colored performance of Glass's minimalist score. The young cast all performed well with an especially striking vocal performance by Matthew Truss a young African-American countertenor with a brilliant top voice. (Interestingly, the BLO performance lost its noted countertenor lead during rehearsals and a student countertenor from the New England Conservatory learned the role quickly and performed with great assurance--something very right is going on in our music schools here in Boston). Despite the heat and lack of leg room in the theater, the packed house gave the performers a huge reception at the end of an excellent performance.
I will make one final, possibly controversial, observation: The epidemic of obesity we are being warned of among our young people by health authorities was in full view on stage, among singers in their late teens to mid 20s. My standard is not the unhealthily dieted super model look, but at least six of the leading performers, both male and female, were between 40 and perhaps 130 pounds overweight, causing some of them real difficulty in executing simple stage movement. The problem was exacerbated by the costume designer's inability to fit individual singers (the opera had a different cast for each performance) as flatteringly as he might have liked.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology