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.
24 Apr 2005
Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera at Boston University
Last night I saw the second of four performances of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera given at the Huntington Theater by the Boston University Opera Institute. Hallmarks of their program are fresh, clear voices brought along in a sane way in appropriate repertory, with stage time given in productions directed, conducted and designed with care. There was a bit of extra drama to this production as Craig Smith, a grand figure in the Boston musical landscape, suffered a heart attack during the final days of rehearsal and David Hoose came to the rescue. The good news is that Smith is doing well. Hoose brought the opera to the stage in fine condition.
Illustration from the title page of a German vocal score to La finta giardiniera, printed around 1829.
Last night I saw the second of four performances of Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera given at the Huntington Theater by the Boston University Opera Institute. Hallmarks of their program are fresh, clear voices brought along in a sane way in appropriate repertory, with stage time given in productions directed, conducted and designed with care. There was a bit of extra drama to this production as Craig Smith, a grand figure in the Boston musical landscape, suffered a heart attack during the final days of rehearsal and David Hoose came to the rescue. The good news is that Smith is doing well. Hoose brought the opera to the stage in fine condition.
I had seen Finta Giardiniera at Glimmerglass almost ten years ago with a cast that reads interestingly now: Giuliana Rambaldi, Sondra Radvanovsky, Marguerite Krull, Karina Gauvin and William Burden. And I didn't get it. The production may well have been at fault, but things that struck me forcefully last night didn't come across at that time. This is very late teenaged Mozart, or he may actually have been twenty at the time of the 1775 premiere. Gluck's librettist for Orfeo provided a text that has at its center the same situation that would explode ninety years later into Tristan und Isolde. A pair of lovers in a tempestuous relationship: he stabs her in a fit of jealousy and flees, believing her dead. She survives and goes out in disguise to find him. She does so as he is on the verge of marrying. Their reunion causes emotional turmoil and other plot complications. The dramatic device here isn't a potion but a night of temporary insanity that ends at dawn with recognition that their love is still there. In a great duet they reconcile. A conventional happy ending with three couples united ends the opera. At this point in Mozart's career, many of the arias are delightful and well composed but conventional in form and the orchestral introductions to some create problems for singers and director by going on at great length with no obvious dramatic function. But some of the numbers — just enough to make the situation achingly real--find the composer trapping into the inner life of the characters in a way that presages the great works to come. The crucial duet of reconciliation, in particular, is deeply human and compassionate — and beautiful music into the bargain
The opera is chock full of previews of things to come, particularly in Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni. Of principal interest is the entire matter of tone, as LFG mixes seria and buffo characters in a manner that will lead to Leporello interacting with Donnas Elvira and Anna, and Despina calling the shots chez Fiordiligi and Dorabella, albeit a bit more smoothly in both cases. In an uncommonly interesting program note, director Sharon Daniels (who drops a line that will resonate well with many opera lovers: "believing as I do that the composer is the first stage director") discusses second and third thoughts about how to direct and design this opera based on what seemed like conflicting signals from that very composer. At first she found grinding rather than shifting gears, and grand tragic arias that simultaneously poked fun at the over-the-top suffering of the character involved — a device to be found in later Mozart as well. Her eventual solution was to place the action in the Edwardian period, in the artifice of highly colored art nouveau decor and graceful very masculine and very feminine costumes.
Under Hoose's lively presentation of what Smith had prepared, ensemble was strong and the young cast sang strongly, particularly Jessica Tarnish as heroine Sandrina and Darren Anderson as the limpid, bright-voiced tenor hero Count Belfiore. But the cast as a whole deserves mention: petite, accomplished coloratura Stephanie Chigas en travestie as Ramiro, Michael Callas, who understood perfectly that Nardo was to be father to both Leporello and Figaro, Joyce Ting's witty minx of a serpetta, Courtenay Symonds, scoring in both comedy and voice as Arminda, and Oshin Gregorian as the flustered, frustrated Podesta.
Ms. Daniels arrived at a particular series of decisions on the proper mix of low comedy, pathos and high sentiment. That her decisions might or might not have been mine in any particular instance is irrelevant. The production emerged a unified whole. An indication that she had achieved her goal was that intermission conversation centered around plot points and the sincerity of a particular character's emotions at a particular moment in the story.