Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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