Recently in Reviews
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.
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.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.