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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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?
05 Aug 2005
BIZET: Les Pecheurs de Perles
Bizet's youthful masterpiece is notoriously difficult to stage. Up to now I have not seen a production which is not slightly ridiculous. So it is an ideal opera for a concert performance or a listening experience. If you are looking for an authentic performance this is not the one to go for.
The orchestra is somewhat thin sounding and so is the chorus. Conductor Bruno Rivoli (whose name is printed in the smallest letter possible on the back) has some strange ideas concerning tempi at the start of the opera (the faster the better) until Alfredo Kraus makes his entrance and then Mr. Rivoli gladly follows the experienced guide. There is no libretto included and for those wishing to brush up their French this is not the course to follow. The chorus has no inkling what it is singing and Vicente Sardinero grunts a lot of sounds that vaguely resembles French. Therefore this set is strictly for the fans of the three principal singers and it must be said they will not be disillusioned.
The main attraction of course is tenor Alfredo Kraus whose picture is on the cover though he is at least twenty years younger on it than he was at the time of the performance. Still the voice after a career of 26 years had the youthful sheen which at the end of the eighties would gradually disappear. Kraus is the only singer with perfect French and he is his stylish self though with a few reservations which definitely won't put off his fans as he is playing a home match and not recording a set for the international market he is not too much concerned with note values. Each high note is kept a second longer than necessary though he doesn't make a circus spectacle of this facility. He makes his entrance with a blazing unwritten high C and he keeps up the good works all along .There is in my opinion something lacking in this performance: charm and sweetness. Take the big aria " Je crois entendre encore ". The voice is a little too stiff, too unwieldy to lead us into the land of his dreams. There is no morbidezza in this song which can be found so abundantly in Alain Vanzo's interpretations. Moreover Kraus' attacks on the high notes are always fortissimo, then gradually declining into piano and this makes the aria more of a robust love song than a dream. Of course the moment determination has to be shown his approach works magnificently as in the duet " Ton coeur n'a compris le mien ".
Mariella Devia is a fine Leila — young sounding (and not old as Jeanine Micheau did on the historic set with Gedda) or too thin as with Ileana Cotrubas on the later EMI-set though that lady has a bit more charm than the Italian soprano. Devia's middle register is not very distinct but of course the voice takes flight from middle G on. Baritone Vicente Sardinero mixes up Bizet with Mascagni. There is no elegance in his delivery like Blanc or Massard gave us but there is no denying the fully rounded sound he brings with him. Bass Giovanni Foiani is a deluxe Nourabad in a role which is often weakly cast. Indeed I always wondered why he didn't have a bigger career.
As told, this is not an authentic performance of the score though I take the heretic view that hundred and fifty years of tradition cannot be wiped away as some seasoned performers probably recognized better the beauties of the opera than did 25-year old Bizet himself. The hit of the piece " Au fond du temple sain " is given the traditional reprise of the main theme after the short quarrel between Nadir and Zurga instead of the somewhat clumsy melody Bizet wrote. And I still think that Benjamin Godard's trio " O lumiere sainte " (magnificently sung here) is a more impressive way to conclude the opera than Bizet's own ideas.