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.
19 Feb 2005
Renée Fleming in Boston
Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night’s program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time.
Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night's program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time.
I am not a great fan of vocal recitals at Symphony, not only because of the hall's size, but because a recitalist inevitably looks isolated on the huge platform and the Hall's unattractive stage lighting creates neither mood nor intimacy. Jordan Hall is far more suitable except as to capacity for so popular an artist. Fleming, however, possesses a big enough voice and personality to fill Symphony's huge expanses, and enough star power to fill its seats last night. Currently very blond, she passed on her customary Ferré gown in favor of Oscar de la Renta in very pale champagne beige with sequins, adding a fourteen foot long semi-sheer white chiffon stole in the second half for well managed dramatic effect. Audience response was rapturous.
The program began with Purcell's "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation," a kind of mini-mad scene for Mary and the sort of angular, dramatic and vocally demanding piece recitalists often favor as warm-up material. An extended recitative is followed by two cantilena sections. It's a strange and fascinating piece that didn't pull into focus until Ms Fleming settled down to show her legato phrasing near the end. Thereafter, everything was very much under control. The Purcell selections were "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias, "I take no pleasure in the sun's bright beams," "I attempt from love's sickness to fly" from The Indian Queen and "O, let me weep" from The Fairy Queen. The Purcell brought out the first well executed coloratura of the evening and what would also be a theme in the Handel to come — intimate, beautifully sustained laments that held the audience in hushed attention. The swooping portamenti and other liberties that have been controversial in some of Ms Flemings work were left back in the "Expostulation's" recitative — throughout the evening there was a clean line and great attention to dynamic shading.
The Handel began with a fleet, vivacious "Oh! Had I Jubal's lyre" from Joshua, and proceeded through a finely spun "O sleep, why dost thou leave me?" (extended applause) and "To fleeting pleasures make your court" from Samson which was played in character as a seductive, kittenish Dalila. Another lament, "Calm thou my soul/Convey me to some peaceful shore" from Alexander Balus was followed by "Endless pleasure" from Semele, also performed in character as a deliciously self-absorbed coquette.
There was a complete change of mood after intermission. Surrounded by diaphanous chiffon, Fleming let out her opalescent tone generously in Alban Berg's "Sieben frühe Lieder." She preceded the set with a request that the audience please hold applause until after each of the lieder sets. They did so in the gorgeously sung Berg but their discipline broke down a bit toward the end of the Schumann set that consisted of eight songs: Ständchen, Mondnacht, Er ist's!, Hauptmann's Weib, Hochländisches Wiegenlied and Du bist wie eine Blume (both to texts by Robert Burns as translated into German), Aufträge and Stille Tränen. The Schumann was sung simply, directly and with warmth.
There were four encores: a thrilling, full bore performance of Strauss's Cecilia (Fleming said she hates to do a recital without Strauss somewhere in the evening); Puccini's "O mio babbino caro;" a surprisingly restrained version of Ms Fleming's art nouveau arrangement of "Somewhere over the rainbow" that had been purged of about 50% of its usual departures from the vocal line (the crowd loved it); and a lovely, shimmering performance of Maietta's Lied from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt notable for its perfect legato and for the elegance of Hartmut Höll's playing of the extended postlude.
Höll's accompaniment was a revelation. Widely celebrated for his lengthy collaborations with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and mezzo Mitsuko Shirai in German Lieder, among many other distinctions, he brought style, elegance and support (rather than competition with the soloist) to the program, scaling his volume perfectly to Ms Fleming's, letting his beautifully colored and shaded tone ring out fully only in the Berg in which she herself let fly in an appropriate late Romantic manner. Theirs was a most rewarding collaboration.
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology