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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?
07 Aug 2005
LORTZING: Der Waffenschmied
Nineteenth-century German opera before Wagner is rarely performed in the United States, although it is still quite popular in Germany. While works by Spohr, Marschner, and Lortzing, among others, are very much a part of the repertory in many German houses, they are virtually unknown in America, and none of the above-mentioned composers is even mentioned in the index of the new seventh edition of the Burkholder-Grout-Palisca A History of Western Music. This new recording of Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied (The Armorer [of Worms]) suggests not only why this work is still performed. It also suggests that American audiences are missing out on a delightful body of work for the lyric stage. From Lortzing's relatively better-known works, such as Zar und Zimmermann or Der Wildschuetz, to works by Marschner, such as Der Vampyr, nineteenth-century German opera with spoken dialogue is often highly entertaining and musically satisfying, if one is not anticipating work of great gravitas. And who is always in the mood for Tristan und Isolde, masterpiece that it is?
Lortzing was, as John Warrack has noted, "the most inventive composer of opera with spoken dialogue in mid-19th-century Germany," and his skills are evident in this wonderful performance. While Lortzing knew well the masters who preceded him - we can frequently hear traces of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and others, as well as French opera-comique and Italian buffa, in this and other scores - his approach and results were individual. Perhaps guided by a theatrical instinct cultivated by years spent acting, singing, and conducting for the stage, Lortzing was a fine craftsman and, by Der Waffenschmied, excellent orchestrator whose entertainments continue to please a wide range of German audiences.
The accompanying essay by Juergen Schlaeder — Marie Praeder provided the sometimes awkward translation — addresses Lortzing's praise of middle-class values in the work. While Count von Liebenau is of the elite class, for instance, it is under the disguise of an apprentice armorer that he wins the love of Marie, the daughter of Stadinger, the master armorer of the title. Stadinger is the character who embodies the steady middle-class values upheld in the work, and when, near the opera's end, he sings of what Schlaeder refers to as "the restoration of traditional ideas of morality," it is in a strophic folk-like song that would have appealed to the middle-class audience for the whom the work was intended. (The work premiered in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1846, however, and, as Warrack points out, the Viennese audience was less taken with the "homely and very German humor" than subsequent German audiences have been.) Sir John Tomlinson, a very highly regarded Wagnerian specialist, brings a remarkable vocal presence to this folk-like Lied, as Lortzing calls it, as well as a fine sense of character and style throughout. It's rather like Hans Sachs lite, and it's more than rather nice.
The other standout vocal performance is by soprano Ruth Ziesak as Marie. While she may fall short of the exceptional insight and warmth that the late Lucia Popp brought to this kind of role (and everything else she sang), she comes close to it. The voice is rich and expressive, and Ziesak's performance of the aria that closes the Act 1 finale is a highlight of the recording. She also scores with the opening of Act 3, another extended aria for Marie, as she does in her duets with the Count (Boje Skovhus) and in the ensembles.
It is in the ensembles that Lortzing shines. The second act sextet is quite well written. It begins with an extended unison passage that blossoms into a passage reminiscent of Mozart; after this, its comic sensibility grows as the ensemble begins to sound more and more like refugees from Rossini. After the sextet, a duet for Stadinger and Georg, the Count's squire disguised as another apprentice, further demonstrates Lortzing's familiarity with the Italian buffa style: under Georg's lilting melody, Stadinger, the bass, sings a patter section, and the whole segment recalls Rossini's Figaro and Almaviva's Act 1 duet at the end of The Barber of Seville. The chorus is exceptionally good throughout, providing a subtlety and richness that at times surpasses the material. Its performance of "Wie herrlich ist's im Gruenen," a delightful chorus in Act 2, is particularly satisfying, both in how it's written and in how it's performed. The finales to each act are also especially effective.
The CD's sound is above average, although the louder ensemble passages suffer a bit. Overall, however, the engineering serves the work well. The booklet, in German and English, provides the essay mentioned above, an exploration of Lortzing's life and the work in terms of their demonstration of middle class values and perspectives. It provides next to nothing in terms of plot synopsis, however, although it does provide a breakdown of the tracks by title, character, and classification (aria, chorus, sextet, etc.).
I probably should have mentioned at the beginning of this review that I am a bit of a fan of this genre - my CD collection includes several works by each of the composers mentioned above, and while I have never seen any of them performed, I have no problem imagining why they remain popular in Germany. They are delightful, stage-worthy, and, at times, exuberant, works with much to offer. This recording would serve as a fine introduction to nineteenth-century German opera after von Weber and before Wagner. It is certainly a welcome addition to my collection.
Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University