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.
28 Jun 2005
Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots at Liège
This performance must have been heart-warming for all diehards of traditionalism — no Spanish Civil War, no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just plain religious warfare in France on the night of the 23rd of August 1572, the infamous ‘nuit de Saint-Bartholomée’ (St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre). One is now almost so used to the excesses of ‘das Regie-Theater’ that one almost is shocked to see such a realistic looking production where dozens of people move on the stage in magnificent authentic costumes all the time (300 of them during the whole opera). As a consequence director Lacombe had his singers act as realistically as possible with real sword fights instead of stylised ones, no squirming on the floor etc. Apart from the visual splendour, everything was concentrated on the music and the singing.
Didier Henry (Le comte de Nevens), Philippe Rouillon (Le comte de St Bris), Gilles Ragon (Raoul de Nangis), and Annick Massis (Marguerite de Valois) (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)
Liège: Les Huguenots
Annick Massis (Marguerite de Valois); Barbara Ducret (Valentine); Urbain (Marie-Belle Sandis); Gilles Ragon (Raoul de Nangis); Philippe Rouillon (St Bris); Didier Henry (Nevers); Branislav Jatric (Marcel)
Orchestre et choeurs de l'Opéra Royal de Wallonie
Conductor Jacques Lacombe - Director Robert Fortune
Costumes : Rosalie Varda - Sets : Christophe Vallaux
This performance must have been heart-warming for all diehards of traditionalism — no Spanish Civil War, no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just plain religious warfare in France on the night of the 23rd of August 1572, the infamous 'nuit de Saint-Bartholomée' (St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre). One is now almost so used to the excesses of 'das Regie-Theater' that one almost is shocked to see such a realistic looking production where dozens of people move on the stage in magnificent authentic costumes all the time (300 of them during the whole opera). As a consequence director Lacombe had his singers act as realistically as possible with real sword fights instead of stylised ones, no squirming on the floor etc. Apart from the visual splendour, everything was concentrated on the music and the singing.
It is no mean feat of the Liège Opera to cast a big star (in Europe anyway) as Annick Massis in the small role of the Queen of Navarra: one aria, a duet and an ensemble and that's it. Massis has no scintillating voice; in fact it is more of a big lyric and the sound is not too richly coloured. But then she compensates for her lack of natural means by a formidable technique. Every kind of coloratura trick is in her trade and she can milk out the "O beau pays de la Touraine" till the last note. As her French is perfect, I even prefer her interpretation to Sutherland's well-known dazzling, but far less incisive, performance. Massis proved too that a small role is not something to be taken on as an afterthought and she acted the Queen with dignity, coquetry and irresistible charm.
Another winning performance was given by Marie-Belle Sandis as the page Urbain. She has the requisites for the role: a delicious mezzo-soprano the French call "une Falcon" (much like von Stade), a perfect pronunciation and with her small figure she was fully credible in this somewhat awkward role. Still another French soprano (indeed, this was almost an authentic French performance) was Valentine. Barbara Ducret is typical for the sweet/sour voices many a famous French soprano had though to my taste the voice is a little too sour, too charmless though she has all the notes and a house rattling volume.
The male singers were more of a mixed lot. Philippe Rouillon was a sonorous and utterly convincing St Bris. Indeed I wished he had been given the bigger role of Marcel. Didier Henry did his best as Nevers, acting with a sure touch, making a real person of this somewhat bleak figure. His baritone voice is neither beautiful nor ugly. The problem lies with Meyerbeer, however. As Nevers is such an important role in the play though without an aria, no real first class baritone will be cast in the role.
The only disillusion of the evening was veteran bass Branislaw Janic as Marcel. He had the looks of the part and acted a "vieux Huguenot" as the composer would have wanted it but the voice is worn, with a big wobble, almost no resounding top and his two impressive solos, the Luther chorale and the Pif paf, went for nothing.
And then there was the surprise of the evening: former baroque tenor Gilles Ragon. As Les Huguenots is so rarely performed one has not heard a lot of Raouls in the flesh and some legendary performances are deeply printed in any collector's consciousness. Monsieur Ragon therefore has to compete with some strong ghosts. I saw my first and up to now last Huguenots 38 years ago with the legendary Tony Poncet as Raoul, the last of the great French fort ténors. Most even elderly people in the house had never seen a performance but almost all knew the recording of one of the greatest singing feats ever heard on a scene: the amazing Raoul of Franco Corelli in the 1962 La Scala performance where every time one hears it one asks oneself how it's possible that a human throat can make such loud and at the same time such beautiful sounds. Well, Giles Ragon did well, very well. Though the sound is not particularly distinguished the voice is big with a gleaming edge and a good top. His aria was a tremendous success and he easily dominated the ensembles. Indeed one wondered how such a big voice had ever had a career in baroque. During the duet he too understood that he couldn't compete with Corelli and there he preferred some piano on the ascending phrases. But all in all a winning performance; acted well too, though he is a very small man. Indeed there was as to voice as to height a lot of resemblance with Tony Poncet (though that tenor was even 10 centimetres shorter).
Conductor Jacques Lacombe got some excellent playing from the orchestra and the lustily singing chorus which is always at its best when it can sing in the native language. Lacombe had a few moments where his tempi were rather too slow, to wrench out some pathos while during some choruses he was on the fast side. The ballet was cut and there were some very minor other cuts but on the whole we got more than three hours of music which passed as in a moment. I hope the Walloon opera will revive this production in a few years time with a cast as good as this one and I can only copy the famous words of the Michelin Guide for the many who have never seen a performance: "Vaut le voyage".
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