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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?
‘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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
16 Aug 2005
Collectors have known this piece for more than a quarter of a century due to the MRF-pirate recording. Some have probably transferred these LP's unto CD-R and don't see a reason why they should buy this issue. Well, there is one and it's a compelling one. The MRF-sound was good mono, obviously culled from a radio broadcast. This Bongiovanni-issue however gives us the original brilliant stereo sound and it makes for a world of difference. I always liked the opera though I thought the first act somewhat lacking in inspiration; the performance only taking fire by Labo's first appearance. This set cured me of that impression while the choruses and brilliant orchestration (even somewhat too showy to prove Cilea had mastered his craft after Adriana where the violins are mostly doubling the vocal line) are now crystal clear and one quickly recognizes the inspired melodious ideas of the maestro.
Of course Cilea had moved on after the initial impact of Adriana which strangely enough disappeared after two years of initial successes on the boards only to re-emerge in the twenties, this time to stay forever. He too suffered under the attacks that he could only write a few tunes which he then consequently repeated endlessly. Therefore in Gloria he went for the uninterrupted flow of the music Puccini would use three years later in his Fanciulla. Nevertheless though the arias and duets are well hidden by orchestral postludes they still are clearly discernable and though they don't fall so easily on one's ears like " Poveri fiore " or " La dolcissima " they are still memorable after a few hearings; the final duet being especially worthwhile.
The recording has two exceptional singers in the title role. The American soprano Margherita Roberti shone ten years in dramatic coloratura roles in Italy and she is here caught at her very best : a supple rich sound which easily overcomes the many vocal hurdles. Labo (" probably one of the biggest voices in one of the smallest frames I ever saw ", was the definition a friend gave me who heard him frequently at the Met) is one of the tenors who are often talked about on opera forums with the epitaph " if he would be singing now etc ". This may be nostalgia but it nevertheless is true: the voice with the fine burnished sound is big, easily recognizable and even from bottom to the easy high notes. Maybe Villazon's sound comes nearest though the Mexican tenor has not quite the splendid top Labo had His role is not overlong (indeed the whole opera only lasts less than an hour and twenty minutes) but heavy with a lot of difficult intervals which he makes sound so easy. Baritone Lorenzo Testi is not completely in the same class as the two title main singers but he still brings with him a good and gruff voice well suited to the villain of the piece. Ferruccio Mazzoli on the other hand sings with splendid richness his few lines. In short this cast has nothing to fear from comparison with the 1907-creators Zenatello, Amato and Kruszelnicka; none of whom ever recorded a single note from this opera.
Personally I'd dearly wish to see a production of this opera (one of the many offspring's of the Romeo and Julia-theme, this time set in medieval Siena) but I fear neither the singers nor the right spirit to revive Gloria are available at this time. The bonus is an interesting one: some Cilea's songs sung by tenor Leonardo De Lisi (nice timbre; too much thickening of the tone above the staff) and soprano Anastasia Tomaszewska Schepis (a little too shrill under pressure). The songs are not particularly distinguished and sound a little bit too laboured; Francesco Tosti obviously had nothing to fear from Cilea who reserved his best tunes for his operas So I cannot say these songs are a warm recommendation for the CD with the complete chamber songs by these same artists (GB 2336-2) Still, the set is a must in every collector's cupboard.