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.
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.