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.
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.