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
Suor Angelica and Pagliacci at Liège
Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I’d love to hear Angelica’s second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent ( nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly.
Hasmik Papian - Suor Angelica et Fiorenza Cossotto - La Zia Principessa (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)
Opéra Royal de Wallonie (Liège)
Suor Angelica: Hasmik Papian (Angelica), Fiorenza Cossotto (Zia Principessa), Laura Balidemaj (Badessa), Christine Solhosse (Zelatrice), Cécile Galois (Maestra delle Novizie), Nicole Fournié (Genovieffa), Chantal Glaude (Osmina), Christine Remacle (Dolcina), Magali Mayenne (Infirmiera)
Pagliacci: Vladimir Galouzine (Canio), Alketa Cela (Nedda), Seng Hyoun Ko (Tonio), George Petean (Silvio), Florian Laconi (Beppe)
Orchestre, Choeurs de l'Opéra de Wallonie
Conductor: Giuliano Carella
Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I'd love to hear Angelica's second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent (nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly.
Director Claire Servais had some good ideas. She put everything behind bars (a reality in this kind of cloister) and showed us the nuns' cells stapled upon each other. The big confrontation scene with Angelica behind and Zia Principessa before bars worked extremely well, made even more poignant by the brief appearance outside the cloister of Angelica's living son and the Principessa's hesitation before making up the story of his death At the end of the opera Servais however mixed up Angelica and Cio Cio San. A nun with Angelica's knowledge of poisonous plants wouldn't think of committing suicide with a blunt knife. Servais succeeded in avoiding the sentimentality of the original ending by a simple device: Angelica may think she sees the Madonna and gets her pardon but for the spectator there is only the loneliness of a painful death to watch.
General Manager Jean-Louis Grinda himself directed Pagliacci. I cannot say I liked the idea of turning every villager into a clown until the end of the opera when everybody takes off his or her mask. We've seen those clowns in the Antwerp Hänsel und Gretel and last year's Tannhäuser at De Munt used exactly the same device. On the other hand I liked his concept very much in that Canio enters and propagates the evening's entertainment in his clown's outfit while gradually returning to his normal clothes in which he sings "No, Pagliacco non son". Vladimir Galouzine succeeded into raising the house to a white hot temperature. Some thirteen years ago he made his début here with a clear ringing Renato des Grieux (with the late Yoko Watanabe). The voice has changed into a burnished brown sound with an enormous amount of volume. Sometimes he loses focus and there is no ring any more on the highest notes. He even breathed between "Ridi" and "Pagliacco" in "Vesti la giubba". But he doesn't try sobbing or improving on the score with "infamia, infamia" like Gigli used to do. The torrent of sound, the honesty of acting is simply overwhelming so that one forgets the less pristine sounds. This is probably his best role for the moment, better suited to the voice than Kalaf or Otello.
Another big voiced singer is baritone Seng Hyoun Ko. With Galouzine one forgets his somewhat special histrionics while with Ko one is too much reminded of his chopping up the line, of making noise for noise's effect. He can sing a piano but even then (and much in the tradition of Korean singers) one feels he is just imitating some other singer's records. I would wager quite a lot on Ko studying his role with Gobbi's CD's near him. Still there is no denying the force of nature his voice is. I admit that up to now I didn't know the name of Alketa Cela (though she has sung in Brussels) and so I was in for quite a surprise. The soprano has a big lirico, slightly but sexy husky in the middle voice, very agreeably coloured in the best Mediterranean way. Only at the top she now and then flattens the sound too much. The lady is a beauty too and knows how to impress on a scene. A real find and I hope she will soon be back in the country. Young Romanian baritone George Petean will go far too. He has some decibels less than Ko but the voice is smooth, well rounded and with a brilliant top and he outclasses the Korean in style and musicality. I'd like to hear him in one of his Verdi roles. Our luck still held as Florian Laconi was a Beppe of one's dreams and it was immediately clear that he won't sing long as a comprimario. Indeed he has already sung Faust.
Giuliano Carella is somewhat better known for his many recordings of belcanto operas but he proved himself to be a formidable veristo too, whipping up his orchestra into passion without drowning his singers (difficult of course with Galouzin and Papian). A great evening.