Recently in Performances
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.
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?
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.