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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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
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.