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.
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.