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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
07 Aug 2005
The director of this production, Robert Herzl, composed an impressively thoughtful and serious essay for the DVD booklet. He considers the historical context of both the opera-story and the opera's premiere, taking into consideration Verdi's staging demands as well as the composer's willingness to compromise for the greater benefit of the production.
Eventually, this statement appears:
In my view, those who plan to put a work on the stage should first of all take a look at it from the viewpoint of the age in which it was written, in order to be able to present it in a manner that meets the aesthetic requirements of our own time.
Herzl goes on to explain how that principle guided the creation of this production at this "open-air event" (basically, a quarry) at the Festival St. Margarethen festival.
Viewers of the lamentable result will have to reconcile Herzl's essay with his show. Your reviewer cannot do so.
Working in conjunction with Manfred Waba (stage design and special effects), Herzl has devised an Aida with over-the-top stage action which frequently swamps the story and dwarfs the characters. Examples: At the end of her confrontation with Aida, Amneris hops into a chariot, grabs a shield and sword, and goes flying off the stage, like a Valkyrie. For the victory procession, Radames (probably a double, as the singer's face is masked) laboriously rides an elephant down a hillside onto the stage area. In the final scene, each of the three principals is placed in vertically aligned openings carved high into the quarry wall, with visible restraining ropes to keep the singers from accidentally falling forward and down to a doom more certain that suffocation in such a "tomb" (why Amneris is placed in the same location goes unexplained).
One might also wish for an explanation as to how a Nordic blonde youth ended up in Egypt for the requisite farce of a dance sequence. And what would Verdi have thought of the lovingly filmed fireworks show at intermission? Perhaps best not to know.
Even when such outlandish malarkey isn't provoking either groans or guffaws (or both), Herzl has failed to get satisfactory performances from his singers, with the Aida of Eszter Sumegi being a notable exception. Cornelia Helfricht's Amneris needs a good slap, as she struts arrogantly round the stage, frequently displaying a tendency to throws cups and articles of clothing to the ground in a hissy fit. The voice is no fresher than her matronly appearance would suggest.
As for Kostadin Andreev's Radames, here is a plump, not especially masculine Egyptian war hero given to pouting and "dramatic" arm waving. Andreev doesn't have a satisfactory voice to compensate for his unfortunate acting, with most of the voice no more than a mezzo forte bleat, although he can reach the high notes.
Eszter Sumegi retains her dignity for most of the evening. The tight vibrato will evoke varying responses in listeners, but she has it in fair control, and most miraculously, manages to create and hold onto a believable character. The best scene of the evening takes place on a bare stage, as Amonasro (a decent Igor Morosow) confronts his daughter. Here Herzl shows what he can do when quarry-sized antics don't come first.
At the start and after intermission, the orchestra is glimpsed, but their exact location in relation to the stage remains a mystery, as the quarry setting allows for no pit. The sound throughout, unsurprisingly, comes from a generic source, and all the singers sport small microphones, tastefully taped to the center of their foreheads. The cast resembles an alien race of a Star Trek episode where the budget only allowed for a brow ridge to indicate their extra-terrestrial origins.
Almost any other Aida on DVD earns preference over this one, but if a viewer wants more of the intimacy of the opera captured, the Zefferelli-produced Busetto production deserves mention. For high-powered singing and stage excess, perhaps the La Scala production with a quarry-sized Pavarotti would fit the bill.
Just anything, anything, other than this Festival St. Margarethen production. The fireworks are nice though.
Los Angeles Harbor College