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.
29 Apr 2005
Giovanna d’Arco at Antwerp
The performance started with another prologue than the usual Verdi one. The Minister of Culture had just announced that the Vlaamse Opera would lose its orchestra so that it could be cut into two to complete the two Flemish Symphonic Orchestras which have some empty chairs. As a token of protest the Opera Orchestra decided to play in their daily outfit, not wanting to deprive their clients (and future supporters) of a performance and not repeating the odious Italian way of striking. Their action resulted in a wave of sympathy. At the end of the performance, frail 81 year old Silvio Varviso spoke briefly but forcefully and asked for the spectators’ support. He is completely right as the Opera Orchestra has grown enormously these last 15 years and can easily compete (and sometimes surpasses) Pappano’s former phalanx: De Munt Orchestra. This was only the last stage in a series of happenings that illustrate the difficulties in performing a less known opera.
Vlaamse Opera Antwerpen: Giovanna d'Arco.
Concert performance on April the 16th 2005.
Guylaine Girard (Giovanna), Stefano Secco (Carlo), Bruno Caproni (Giacomo), Kurt Gysen (Talbot), Eric Raes (Delil)
Symfonisch orkest van de Vlaamse Opera en Koor van de Vlaamse Opera
Conducted by Silvio Varviso
The performance started with another prologue than the usual Verdi one. The Minister of Culture had just announced that the Vlaamse Opera would lose its orchestra so that it could be cut into two to complete the two Flemish Symphonic Orchestras which have some empty chairs. As a token of protest the Opera Orchestra decided to play in their daily outfit, not wanting to deprive their clients (and future supporters) of a performance and not repeating the odious Italian way of striking. Their action resulted in a wave of sympathy. At the end of the performance, frail 81-year old Silvio Varviso spoke briefly but forcefully and asked for the spectators' support. He is completely right as the Opera Orchestra has grown enormously these last 15 years and can easily compete (and sometimes surpass) Pappano's former phalanx: De Munt Orchestra. This was only the last stage in a series of happenings that illustrate the difficulties in performing a less known opera.
Originally, soprano Micaela Carosi had accepted the assignment but she gave it back after studying the score: too much coloratura for her taste. No problem for Michele Crider, a stalwart of Antwerp concert performances. The lady, however, got pregnant and would have her baby at the moment of the performances. Enter Nelly Miriciou who would surely please a lot of her fans. Then disaster struck in Amsterdam when Miriciou lost her voice completely and only came back with less than half a voice for the last performances. She (or her voice) was so shaken she cancelled too. Antwerp was lucky enough to find Marina Mescheriakova to sing all performances except the last one when she was to be Cio Cio San in London. Covent Garden absolutely refused to release her and for a month a frantic research went on to find a replacement, knowing the role and willing to sing one single performance. And at last Guylaine Girard, a soprano from Quebec, was found.
The lady has a clear, nice, though not large sound. Her main asset is her profound musicality and her brilliant technique. She knows how to shape a phrase, uses a lot of well supported pianissimi, knows how to sing messa di voce and people who heard Mescheriakova as well told me the Russian soprano with double the voice made less of an impression. Almost the same can be said of tenor Stefano Secco. He too is not over endowed with a striking big voice though the colour is distinctly Italian and he too succeeds with purely musical means. Irish baritone Bruno Caproni, who has the decibels, was not at his best. He sang rather blandly at first, improved in the second part of the opera and then once again lapsed into routine. Veteran conductor Silvio Varviso who is uncommonly popular at the Antwerp Opera, which he has almost made his artistic house, once more was at his best. Without big gestures, he gave rhythm and drive when necessary while restraining himself and the orchestra in solo moments of a soprano whom he probably had met only a few hours before. It speaks of craftsmanship when one still can give the impression of a thoroughly rehearsed performance. And indeed, it would be a crime to kill this opera orchestra or to merge the chorus with another one. Few if any small provincial opera houses can boast of such quality.