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.
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.