Recently in Performances
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
22 May 2005
I Masnadieri at Liège, 21 May 2005
I never “got” I Masnadieri; not even in the wonderful Bergonzi-Caballé recording I bought the moment it appeared in 1975. I had a feeling that for once Verdi had lost his unbelievable magic as a tune-smith. Corsaro, Giorno di Regno, Battaglia, Alzira etc. all sounded familiar after a few playings but Masnadieri never got under my skin with the exception of the rousing tenor cabaletta and the soprano’s aria. I was in good company as even Budden in his well-known analysis of the opera speaks of “a seemingly backward step.” Well, the good news is that Verdi of course knew it better and that the opera really works in a professional production with acceptable singers.
Amarilli Nizza (Amalia) and Misha Didyk (Carlo Moor) (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)
I never "got" I Masnadieri; not even in the wonderful Bergonzi-Caballé recording I bought the moment it appeared in 1975. I had a feeling that for once Verdi had lost his unbelievable magic as a tune-smith. Corsaro, Giorno di Regno, Battaglia, Alzira etc. all sounded familiar after a few playings but Masnadieri never got under my skin with the exception of the rousing tenor cabaletta and the soprano's aria. I was in good company as even Budden in his well-known analysis of the opera speaks of "a seemingly backward step." Well, the good news is that Verdi of course knew it better and that the opera really works in a professional production with acceptable singers.
Not that the Liège production (originating in Lübeck) by the Swiss director Dieter Kaegi with sets and costumes by Stefanie Pasterkamp was stunningly revealing. You cannot pin a definite time-frame on it though it definitely looks post World War II. The first scene in the first act has Carlo singing in a magnificent library instead of the outside of a tavern on the frontier and the masnadieri literally push their way in through the library walls destroying a lot of books while their destroyed pages will stay on the scene till the end of the opera; probably a symbol for tenor Carlo's lost academic career.
From the second scene on we are in the castle of the Moor family where we'll stay for the remaining three acts as well though the castle becomes more and more of a waste. So there is no forest and one wonders why Amalia on her flight for Carlo's utterly bad baritone brother Francesco is running around in the same place where the bad guy tried to have his way with her.
Another "modern" touch was having father Massimiliano pushed around by Amalia in a wheelchair on a platform above two forbidding stairs. Now it's not a bad idea to have poor old and sick Massimiliano creep down those stairs but there was some tittering in the house the moment the soprano started her aria while at the same time trying to push the wheelchair (luckily without the bass in it) downstairs.
A better idea was the end of the opera. After Carlo has killed Amalia (which is in the libretto) his bunch of bandits kill him (not in the libretto) to punish him for his back-pedalling on his oath or because they cannot enjoy the girl. Anyway it made for strong theatre. All in all, the production was not outrageous or didn't make the singers life miserable but neither did it much to help us forget the libretto's weaknesses.
The musical side was very strong with one exception. Honour should go to Jean-Pierre Haeck and his orchestra. He clearly believed in the score and didn't rush the cabaletti to get over with them as quickly as possible. He supported his singers very well and allowed them the acuti Verdi didn't write or the cadenza's the composer left to the imagination of the singers (as a practical guy he knew that creator Jenny Lind would improvise her own anyway, so why lose energy on writing them). Haeck succeeded very well in mounting the tension of the opera and by the third and fourth act the whole house was in thrall of a musical drama which they would probably find ridiculous if they read it beforehand. Haeck integrated the rum-ti-tum chorus passages well, making these waltzes even threatening.
The best singing of the evening came from bass Enzo Capuano. This veteran is always a joy to watch and to hear. His voice is not overly big or distinguished though there is a certain nobility in the timbre but he is clearly steeped in the great Verdian tradition, knows how to emphasize a phrase and has the legato necessary for those long rolling utterances.
Less Verdian was Ukrainian tenor Misha Didyk. Mezza-voce and piano are not his strongest features and he has a lisp in the best Corelli-tradition. But the voice is a real tenor, with a lot of metal, ring and squillo in it and he made some exciting sounds in the cabaletta "Nell'argile" while in the last act he rose to the tragic situation. The voice is almost a copy of the sound of youthful Galouzin before that darkened so heavily.
Amarilli Nizza has some fine qualities. She is beautiful and slender and has a real Italian rich voice, especially in the upper middle register. Above the staff however the voice at times (which she seemingly cannot always control herself) often becomes either thin or somewhat shrill.
The musical fly in the ointment was baritone Marcel Vanaud. Of course it is the duty of the Walloon opera to give chances to Walloon singers but Vanaud has been singing here for 30 years and it was never a thing of beauty. The voice is big, still can sail to a G but is unacceptably throaty and has some really ugly patches. Francesco may be a villain but that doesn't mean that pure noise without any smoothness or a hint of legato will do. So I think it's more than time for Mr. Vanaud to retire (and next season he is back as father Miller, a role which really asks for belcanto singing) and leave his place to younger and far better Walloon Verdi baritones as Lionel Lhote who is this season's favourite baritone in the Flemish opera.