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.
08 Apr 2005
Ambrose Thomas’s Mignon at OONY
Mignon at OONY turned out to be a mixed experience last night. Eve Queler is controversial as a conductor and last night’s opera did not play to her strengths or do anything to conceal her deficiencies. The overture began in a plodding fashion and only came intermittently alive in the conclusion based on the coloratura showpiece for Philene. Throughout, Mignon has some really lovely arias and ensembles but a lot of note spinning as well and not just during the recitatives (the opera was presented in Thomas’s second of three scores, the one in which he suppressed most — not quite all — of the spoken dialog and wrote his own recits). Ms Queler provided almost nothing to enliven, vary or give grace and charm to these conventional passages.
Stephanie Blythe (Photo: J Henry Fair)
Mignon at OONY turned out to be a mixed experience last night. Eve Queler is controversial as a conductor and last night's opera did not play to her strengths or do anything to conceal her deficiencies. The overture began in a plodding fashion and only came intermittently alive in the conclusion based on the coloratura showpiece for Philene. Throughout, Mignon has some really lovely arias and ensembles but a lot of note spinning as well and not just during the recitatives (the opera was presented in Thomas's second of three scores, the one in which he suppressed most — not quite all — of the spoken dialog and wrote his own recits). Ms Queler provided almost nothing to enliven, vary or give grace and charm to these conventional passages.
Mignon needs a major infusion of French singing style in order to blossom. This was intermittently available last night. Firstly, there was a huge divide in vocal quality and/or size. Ms Blythe and Mr Relyea have extremely large voices — the rest of the cast considerably smaller. In trios, ensembles and numbers sung against the overly large chorus, a lot of solo lines were not audible versus others that soared out easily. Ms Blythe is a wonder and was in fine form. She can control her dynamics, has great legato and unquestionable star power. The lower quarter of her voice has become the most formidable mezzo chest I have heard since Horne in her prime and there lies my one complaint. This Mignon sounded as if she could have easily dispensed with the Gypsy leader and Philene with one stroke of the back of her hand. There was little vulnerability or charm about her Mignon. But vocal health and beauty for days, oh my! Mr. Relyea also scored on vocal plushness and legato — in fact these two roles depend on those qualities as others in the cast get the ear-catching numbers. There wasn't the great rolling bass-of-the-old-school authority about his Lothario but, again, lots of vocal health and ease in the music.
Announced as singing with a cold, Massimo Giordano nevertheless showed off a very good tenor voice, all of a piece from bottom to a secure, freely spinning top as Wilhelm Meister. Eglise Gutierrez must still be showing the effects of her cold. She was in and out of phase all night, sometimes quite absent in the middle and lower registers, sometimes singing securely and interestingly. The climax of "Je suis Titiana!" collapsed into a pitchless yell and scrambled conclusion, after which she seemed unable to open the door to leave the stage and decided to sit in chairs vacated by percussionists. Unfortunately, she elected to slump into a most inappropriate posture for a concert stage. In her vibrant red dress, strange posture (and while flipping pages of her score back and forth) she created an unfortunate distraction as Blythe, Relyea and Giordano were trying to bring the opera to its conclusion. Much of this may be due to inexperience. Her career is only eighteen months old. She showed a lot of vocal promise and we'll have to hope she's at her best next year as Lakme.
Kate Aldrich wowed everyone with Frederic's lilting song, and clear-voiced lyric tenor William Ferguson again impressed in the role of Laerte — what a fine Prunier in La Rondine he will be if and when he takes on the role. Backed up against the stage wall, the massive chorus sometimes overpowered the soloists and could have afforded to be a good deal more modest in size, although they did sing with admirable tone and vigo (perhaps Ms Queler could job some of them out to patch things up in the Metropolitan's chorus).
Only about 75 to 80 percent of a house — rare for the usually sold out or close to sold out OONY performances — was in attendance. On the whole, a very good if not extraordinary evening of a lovely, tuneful piece. Next year: Guglielmo Tell (with Marcello Giordani), Lakme, and L'Amore dei tre re with Fabiano Bravo and Samuel Ramey.