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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?
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.