Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
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. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
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.
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.
05 Apr 2005
Fanciulla: The Banality of Reality?
Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini’s operatic tale of the wild West, “La Fanciulla del West,” is too melodramatic to be fully credible – a reason it hasn’t joined his “Tosca,” “La Bohème” and “Turandot” in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it’s true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes “ugh!”
Nuggets of True Romance, With Weepy Gold Miners Singing in Italian
By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Time 3 Apr 05]
Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini's operatic tale of the wild West, "La Fanciulla del West," is too melodramatic to be fully credible - a reason it hasn't joined his "Tosca," "La Bohème" and "Turandot" in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it's true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes "ugh!" . . . .
The real Achilles' heel of "Fanciulla" may not be that it is over the top or dated, but that the romance it depicts is too real, its characters too flawed, and under their patina of local color, even too familiar. Which makes this opera all the more worth seeing and certainly hearing, even if ideally it would get a more sensitive production than this one.
Click here for the complete article.
I think there are a number of things that conspire to make La Fanciulla del West hard for some Americans to embrace, including a real lack of knowledge of our own history.
David Belasco was the great realist of his generation in the theater. He once purchased an actual Child's Restaurant, a chain somewhat akin to the old Howard Johnson's or the current Friendly's, dismantled it and had it reassembled on stage in New York because a Child's was the setting for a particular play. Melodrama was, of course, a recognized and appreciated form in the American Theater of the time. But how over the top Minnie and Co. actually are depends on your reading of "the Old West." Clearly some astonishing and unusual things went on out there. I think the Donner Party's cannibalism or the High Meadow Massacre during which Mormons exterminated an entire wagon train coming west indicate that just about anything could happen.
Ms. Midgette jeers at Minnie's "single kiss before chastely bedding down in separate bunks." During the high Victorian, whether in a city or in the high Sierras, a woman's virginity was a closely guarded thing. But listen to the feverish, sensuous music as Minnie and Johnson cling to each other after the kiss, punctuated by several highly suggestive gunshots from offstage, to get an idea of what's really going on. Our Minnie may not be as coldly chaste as Ms. Midgette thinks, and she certainly isn't by act three--her month consorting with Johnson during the second intermission is clearly driving Rance wild with jealousy.
As to the miners, Midgette says they seem silly today, "a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian." Well,they sing in Italian because it's an Italian opera. Do we jeer because Carmen and the other Spanish characters sing in French? Or Verdi's ancient Egyptians sing in Italian? The miners who stampeded westward during the gold rush were frequently lacking in education, many were incredibly young boys, and they all found themselves in a place where only a few would ever find gold and make a fortune. In a highly sentimental age, their emotional vulnerability and total lack of sophistication is not only understandable but can actually be very moving if depicted properly in an opera that's all about loss, isolation, loneliness, and broken dreams. I frequently remind people that the educational and cultural level we have today cannot be assumed for people from the past. Not so very long ago, a grammar school diploma--the equivalent of what Minnie is trying to give her boys, was the highest most people could hope to get and many never achieved it.
I'm glad she recognized the "wonderfully rich, dense score," that many of us feel is Puccini's finest. And she is spot on about the reality of the characters — Rance, for example, is no cardboard heavy but a deeply conflicted, emotionally desperate man. Her point about the characters being "too real, too flawed" for a modern audience could be right on the button. At Carnegie Hall a large part of the audience walked out after the first act of Donizetti's Marin Falliero because they had been given a libretto and could see there were no conventional love duets and no climactic mad scene for the soprano — merely a deeply human drama with a serious, not happy ending. The population embraces "reality shows" that are ludicrous for their actual lack of anything real or human. In Fanciulla the characters are in our faces, they hurt us and make us think and yearn and feel loss. That's what art's all about.
La Fanciulla del West in Full Score