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.
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