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?
01 Jun 2005
Britten's A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Chicago Opera Theater
In its recent performances of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Chicago Opera Theater affirms its reputation for carefully gauged and well cast productions. Already from the subdued opening accompanied by muted strings an underlying tension is evident in the darting figure of Puck, a spoken role assumed in this production by the actor Jason Griffin. The movements of all the characters in this production are matched consistently to an orchestral or vocal expression, emphasizing thus the union of choreography with lyrical and declamatory effect. Chicago Opera Theater’s presentation divides the action and emotional entanglements of Britten’s three acts into two parts. Soon after the start of the first of these the royal fairy couple, Oberon and Tytania, enter in formal dress. Their disagreement over a youth taken into the service of the queen, yet desired by Oberon, fuels an initial conflict that — by the time of its resolution — will bear on the fates of the other pairs of young lovers in the piece as well.
Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Photo: Chicago Opera Theater)
Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Libretto by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.
Chicago Opera Theater
Conducted by Alexander Platt. Directed by Andrei Serban.
Click here for additional information.
In its recent performances of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream Chicago Opera Theater affirms its reputation for carefully gauged and well cast productions. Already from the subdued opening accompanied by muted strings an underlying tension is evident in the darting figure of Puck, a spoken role assumed in this production by the actor Jason Griffin. The movements of all the characters in this production are matched consistently to an orchestral or vocal expression, emphasizing thus the union of choreography with lyrical and declamatory effect. Chicago Opera Theater's presentation divides the action and emotional entanglements of Britten's three acts into two parts. Soon after the start of the first of these the royal fairy couple, Oberon and Tytania, enter in formal dress. Their disagreement over a youth taken into the service of the queen, yet desired by Oberon, fuels an initial conflict that — by the time of its resolution — will bear on the fates of the other pairs of young lovers in the piece as well.
In the roles of fairy king and queen Tobias Cole and Danielle de Niese exhibit regal bearing alternating with bemused detachment or boundless passion. Britten's writing for countertenor and coloratura soprano is admirably fulfilled by this pair, each sinking into the dignity or erotic mask of the respective role with convincing vocal and dramatic involvement. Cole shows an especially effortless and graceful approach to the sung and declaimed line of Oberon, while de Niese's skillful vocal approach underscores her unexpected later attachment to the rustic Bottom.
The two pairs of young lovers — Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius — are sung by Allyson McHardy and Patrick Miller, Laura Whalen and Ian Greenlaw, respectively. In their fine delineation of character in both singing and acting the four lovers negotiate the amorous confusion caused by wrongful application of the herb on the part of Puck. Their youthful exuberance and quarreling parallel the erotic abandon of Tytania after Puck's machinations lead her to awaken and fall enamored of Bottom wearing the head of an ass.
In this production the dreams, thoughts, and emotions of characters are intermittently suggested by film clips projected on the rear part of the stage. The pink, purple, and green colors — as well as "nodding" flowers — suggest the stylized hues of a woodland while directing focus to the emotional tangles played out and righted within their midst. Most of the stage content in Part One of Chicago Opera Theater's presentation, up to the point of confusion of nearly all leading roles, covers the first two acts of Britten's opera. Although there are moments — especially toward the close of this Part One — where Britten's writing for the text lags in inspiration, the forces conducted here by Alexander Platt keep a consistent musical and dramatic fluidity.
The imaginative movements assigned to the fairies of Tytania's and Oberon's realm for this production — riding on scooters, sporting hula-hoops, executing cartwheels — are in keeping with the fanciful spirit of the text. Yet these actions can also detract from the simultaneous performance of the principals, especially when the fairies run out into the audience and shine their flashlights in a cliché maneuver. The buffoonery engaged in by the collected rustics is here both well-timed and humorously acted. Noteworthy among these singers are the Bottom/Pyramus of Kevin Burdette and the Flute/Thisbe of Tracy Wise.
By the close of their play-within-a-play at the court of Theseus in Part Two, the lovers are appropriately re-aligned and disagreements have been settled. Puck's closing promise to "restore amends" recalls his earlier movements in Part One of this production, during which he wove together hanging chains as a symbol of the lovers' entanglements. The twofold musical and dramatic resolution of the play and the play within has a renewed significance as this Puck unites both action and indulgence from Chicago Opera Theater's memorable dream.