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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
Renata Tebaldi: A Portrait
For those without videos or DVD's by the Italian soprano, this is a must. For all the others, better to read attentively the sleeve notes as there is nothing new to be found on these two DVD's. The Concerto Italiano can be purchased separately with the same firm. The Bell Telephone Hour selections are still available on the several Great Stars of Opera-DVD's brought out by VAI or on the video exclusively devoted to the soprano. And the selections from Tosca (Stuttgart 1961) are culled from a complete performance, also put on DVD by VAI and somewhat misleadingly called "The only available video of Renata Tebaldi in her signature role" on the firm's web; for convenience's sake forgetting the words "at this moment" as VAI once published another complete Tosca (with Poggi, Guelfi and the late soprano's lover at the time, conductor Arturo Basile).
That being said let's concentrate on what is offered here. It is abundantly clear that the very great Tebaldi is to be found in the first items on the first DVD. There the voice still has the unimpaired velvet that would somewhat disappear after her first vocal crisis in February 1963 to be supplanted with a more metallic though still clearly recognizable Tebaldian sound. The pieces from La Boheme with Bjoerling are well-known and VAI is so honest to note that the sound is a synched audio recording made in the studio during the telecast to suit the kinescope image. This is the correct procedure as picture recording was rather primitive in the fifties and often directly recorded sound (which could be more easily preserved) and images (which got blurred or sometimes even got lost for a second) don't quite match if one doesn't take this road. Luckily the synching is done expertly and once more one is struck how natural an actress Tebaldi is; surely when compared with Bjoerling's stiff attitude.
One of the surprises of the lively debates on several opera forums after she died was the remarkable opinion of many veterans who saw both ladies that she was a more believable actress than Callas who seemed to many still to be stuck in the grand guignol-style of the thirties. We don't have Callas as Cio-Cio-San but it's hardly believable she could improve on Tebaldi's magnificent interpretation of the two arias (and in full colour as well. As a bonus you get these scenes somewhat longer in black and white as well but this hardly deserves the "first release" cry). I'm wondering if the full colour "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" is still somewhere in the archives. The sound track for that item (I often saw on Flemish Public TV) is derived from her second complete Boheme as was clear from the audible "Si" by Carlo Bergonzi between the two parts of the aria. A picture of that video found its way to the cover of the London-(not the Decca) issue of the opera on LP.
The telecast of 1961 is less to recommend. The picture is somewhat murky and the soprano has to wear some things which could make an impression on the Family Circle at the Met but are very much overdressed, even ugly in close-up. The excerpts from her Stuttgart Tosca are more worthwhile, though it is not for the strangled sounds of tenor Eugene Tobin or the dry voice of George London. I remember well the excitement almost 45 years ago when the opera (followed or preceded by an Otello with the horrible Hans Beier) was broadcast by Eurovision in Western Europe. Most countries had only one channel (the big ones had two) and commercial television didn't exist. At that time opera singers were still household names and the fact that Tebaldi would sing directly was front page news. She is in good voice though somewhat husbanding her means at the start and one now notices how she cuts short her top notes.
The Concerto Italiano was recorded by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1965; so just in time before the decline from 1968 onwards when her top register became completely unhinged and she refused any engagement in a complete opera performance outside the US as there alone she was sure the fans would turn in a deaf ear to her vocal shortcomings. In this broadcast she is at her best in Rossini's Regata Veneziani which she sings (and acts) with love and a dose of humour and which moreover poses no vocal hurdles as she must go no higher than high A. The long Tosca selection of the second act is less successful: not as to singing per se though the voice is steelier than in her great years but she is far more convincing, far more natural in her two complete theatre Tosca's. The cameras follow her closely and she is clearly overacting, always doing things, throwing looks, moving hands one second longer than is necessary. I fear the TV director is the culprit as there were no subtitles at that time and there was so much fear the audiences wouldn't "capture" the story; but four decades later it almost looks like a parody on Tosca. This time the soprano is more than ably partnered by the young Louis Quilico and he too has to squirm in overdrive.