Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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".
Click here for additional production photos.