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.
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.