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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.’
03 Aug 2005
ROSSINI: Equivoco Stravagante
A DVD performance of an opera may deserve recommendation for a single memorable performance, or because a rare work has finally been recorded, or simply for nostalgia's sake. How many DVDs primarily offer the pleasures of a witty, imaginative staging, done on a minimal budget?
Francesco Esposito (director and designer) has created such a performance for this Kicco Music DVD. Some Rossiniites may have been praying for a chance to see the very early L'Equivoco Stravagante; one hopes to be forgiven for suggesting the clamor elsewhere could not have been so great. The libretto's one amusing feature, alluded to in the title, involves a scam meant to convince an older suitor that his intended bride is actually a male — a castrato. That plot point takes up most of the shorter act two; act one offers a more familiar set of scenes of young lovers struggling against the preemptory rights of age and money. In fact, that first act contains many eerie foreshadowing of Barbieri di Siviglia, including the tenor suitor's disguised entrance into the house of his beloved, aided by that home's servant.
The score cannot compete with that of the later masterpiece, but the music remains fresh and energetic throughout.
Esposito, working with a cast of no great distinction, manages to make the performance come to life, mainly through his clever design. No one would mistake this for a Metropolitan Opera production. Clearly the theater is small and the budget tight. Necessity has engendered much creativity, however. Three large frames, representing different rooms and/or locales, dominate the stage. Within each frame are carefully selected props that truly evoke the required milieu — the kitchen setting in act one, with realistic steam seeping through pot lids, serves as just one example.
Most importantly, Esposito has sought out ways to keep the stage picture as fresh as the energetic action. So that sometimes only one of the frames is used, or two at other times too. In some scenes the chorus appears behind a long row of smaller frames, making for am amusing row of portraits. Through a variety of approaches Esposito keeps the action moving and still manages to set the scene. It is very well done.
Viewers may differ on whether the occasional use of film deserves as much praise. The overture accompanies some mystifying antics involving a Rossini bust come to life. Later, as the buffoonish older suitor imagines with horror the supposed male he has been romancing, we see that character (mezzo-soprano Olga Voznessenskaia) with full beard, entertaining a bevy of nymphs. (this is before the "knife" — here scissors — but surely a bearded youth wouldn't have a voice worth preserving through such extreme measures!)
Similarly, including the audience seating area in the action smacks a bit of desperation for innovation. The general spirit of fun allows for a forgiving spirit, however.
If only that spirit could extend to the reaction to the singers. The older suitor, played by the youthful Luciano Miotto, is decent enough, both as actor and singer. The other two leads leave much to be desired. The tenor, Vito Martino, is the anti-Juan Diego Florez — having neither that great singer's charming appearance or sweet, fluid instrument. One can only imagine how much more rewarding this performance would be with a more effective tenor.
Voznessenskaia, the supposed castrato in love with the tenor and eager to escape the clutches of the "basso comico," possesses a dark, heavy contralto, which belies the supposed youthful femininity of the character in the first act. The second act masquerade might be more believable with such a voice. Suffice it to say, when this contralto and tenor get together, the resulting duet makes for some uncomfortable listening.
The DVD has one large demerit — the titles, at least in English, are even worse than usual. One may become accustomed to the typical DVD's odd spelling or wayward syntax. Here, however, the shoddy translation makes some of the story incomprehensible. Surely someone can do better than "A man without a head in his head" or "Life don't out of me!" On the other hand, sometimes the mangled English becomes quite poetic as the mezzo decries the "frenetic delirium of a pygmy thinker" and the basso worries that he is engaged to a cross-dresser with "a rock beneath the waves." Ouch!
A mixed bag, therefore. On a vocal level, this L'Equivoco Stravagante can't merit a recommendation. As an example of what a truly creative director can do under less than ideal circumstances, the DVD provides much to ponder, and even enjoy. And Francesco Esposito deserves credit for that.
Los Angeles Harbor College