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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
From the start of its lively and distinctive overture Carl Nielsen's 1906 comic masterpiece Maskarade calls for a light and ironic approach, yet one which brings the ensemble forward with sufficient directorial force.
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra's recording of Maskarade succeeds admirably in striking a careful balance between these ideals. The present DaCapo SACD is an enhanced reissue of a 1977 presentation of Nielsen's opera. In addition to the model recording the essays and performance data in the generous booklet invite further study and appreciation of this acknowledged favorite among Danish operas. Performances of Maskarade during the 2005 Bregenz festival suggest a renewed interest and reappraisal of this work for the musical stage. Despite a perceived unevenness by some of music supporting the dramatic action, the current performances have emphasized the strengths of Nielsen's work.
The three acts of Maskarade are joined by a dramatic unity underscored through temporal designations in the text. On a single day in 1723 Leander, the son of Copenhagen's citizen Jeronimus, tells of his adventures at the masquerade ball on the previous night. Contrary to his father's wishes that he marry the daughter of Leonard, Leander declares his love for a young woman whom he met at the masquerade. He balks at his father's insistence and resents both the diatribe and proscription of future participation. Those taking sides for and against the masquerade are divided into two camps, with most at least secretly yearning to attend. The next two acts take place later on the same evening (II) and then during the masquerade that night (III). After its resolution of plots and disguises for the ball, it is finally revealed that Leander's love is actually the daughter of Leonard, and that he simply had not earlier apprehended her identity.
The integration of music and plot in Maskarade is especially evident in the present recording. Under John Frandsen the Danish National Symphony Orchestra emphasizes carefully Nielsen's striking compositional patterns for orchestra and for accompanied voice. In the overture, the modulation between larger repeating themes and lighter dance rhythms is attentively observed as here played. The repeated themes are then - in part - identified with emotions and characters' situations, whereas dance motifs are associated with the integration of the masquerade into human lives. The overture closes on an increasing diminuendo, ending thus on the softest chords. Such a subdued conclusion highlights at the opening of this drama the sleepy pair of Leander and his servant Henrik, who had both spent the previous night until all hours at the ball. The roles of young gentleman and manservant are given convincing portrayals here by Tonny Landy and Mogens Schmidt Johansen respectively. In their singing and acting, especially in interchanges during all three acts, both men create the character-types of the love-struck young hero and his clever valet who manipulates from behind the scene. Johansen, the baritone servant, holds forth convincingly by imitating the voices of those who would complicate his master's life, while Landy basks in a moody reverie of nascent infatuation. Neither singer relies on cliche to achieve characterization but rather preserves a distinct individuality of portrayal. This same approach can be appreciated in other members of the ensemble as well. Leander's mother Magdelone, aware of his nocturnal escapades, enters the room early and begs to know if she might still attend the masquerade as she had in her youth. In the role of Magdelone the contralto Gurli Plesner delivers a lesson in singing and dramatic representation, as she courses through various melodic styles to describe what had been her adolescent skill at dance. Frivolity in this small group ends abruptly with the stark appearance of Leander's father, Jeronimus, sung in this recording with appropriate bluster and irritability by the established baritone Ib Hansen. Arguments, counter-plots, and denial figure among the characters who alternate in duets and larger ensembles. In response to a condemnation of the masquerade as morally tainted, Henrik defends the entertainment as benevolent and having socially egalitarian properties. As Jeronimus gives orders for his son to be guarded at home so that he might marry Leonard's daughter on the following day, we sense that Henrik will devise a ruse to spirit him out of the house and off to the alternate world of the masquerade.
In contrast to the appropriately lively and harried tone of the overture to Act I, the orchestral prelude to the second act is taken as softly lyrical under Frandsen's direction. Here the emphasis on romantic and dreamy nocturnal sentiments functions as a transition to the later excitement of the dance and masquerade that will dominate much of Act III. In that final part of the opera the Danish National Symphony Orchestra resumes its concisely spirited playing in its approach to the well-known "Dance of the Cockerels." Between these orchestral pieces the interplay of romance and humor follows a tight pattern: when Leander and Leonora meet again, they declare their love alongside numerous comical attempts to enhance or to thwart their relationship. The role of Leonora, appearing first in Act II, is given a clear lyrical focus by Edith Brodersen, whose mutual song of romance with Tonny Landy recurs melodically with haunting polish later in the scene. In keeping with Henrik's assertion of social equality in the masquerade, he too is paired in the ensemble with Leonora's maid Pernille, here performed with soubrette brilliance by Tove Hyldgaard. By the close of the opera the misunderstandings and mistaken identities caused by disguise are resolved to the good of those involved, just as the lead romance is allowed to prosper outside the masquerade. Henrik's claim for the benevolence of the institution remains untouched.
The predominantly Scandinavian and German cast in this recording performs the declaimed and spoken parts of the text with natural idiomatic clarity. It is to be hoped that the re-issue of this performance will contribute to a greater familiarity in the operatic community with Nielsen's masterpiece.