22 Sep 2005
DONIZETTI: Francesca di Foix
Among Gaetano Donizetti’s compositions are just over a dozen one-act operas. Save for his one
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.’
Among Gaetano Donizetti’s compositions are just over a dozen one-act operas. Save for his one
A case in point is the melodramma giocoso entitled Francesca di Foix (1831). For instance, William Ashbrook, perhaps the most noted interpreter of Donizetti’s career, deemed this score “largely inconsequential,” suggesting as well that it was “not the expected sequel to Anna Bolena” (1830) and that it must have been composed with “minimal exertion.” The current re-examination of opera’s narrative has compelled scholars to take a different approach. No longer is it protocol to separate out works that somehow seem apart from the norm; rather it is important, especially in light of slow but steady publication of sets of critical editions, to acknowledge each work as a step in a composer’s compositional development. Hence, a recording of Francesca di Foix, especially one as well-performed as this latest addition to Opera Rara’s CDs of the works of Donizetti, becomes as important as it is entertaining.
Francesca di Foix was written for performance at the San Carlo in Naples for the onomastico or name day of Ferdinando II. Jeremy Commons, author of the CD liner notes, seems surprised by the subject of the work: it revolves around jealousy rather than love. Given the importance and international vogue of French opéra comique, the libretto, based on a subject set by Henri-Montan Berton, hardly seems out of place at all. Furthermore, the history of Donizetti’s opera speaks to its popularity. The gala starred the most important baritone of the primo Ottocento stage: Antonio Tamburini (who, let it be noted, sang the role of the King, the character who not only sorts of Francesca’s problems with her husband but who would have symbolized Ferdinando). Given that there was no such thing as an operatic repertory, it is unfair to judge the quality of Francesca’s music on its seven-performance run. Moved to the Teatro Fondo from the massive venue in which it was premiered, it nonetheless was returned to the San Carlo, where it was sung three more times. Its future after that is predictable; since occasional pieces generally were associated with the celebrations for which they were commissioned, it is highly unlikely that Donizetti would have considered offering his name-day present to the ruler of the city in which he was employed to theaters outside of Naples. He may have gained nothing more than fame from the work, but the fact that he plumbed it later for self-borrowings suggests that he was confident about the score. The comment of music publisher Guglielmo Cottrau (“the music is very feeble”) can easily be explained away; it was par for the course, indeed obligatory for publishers to speak ill of the music of composers in whose works they did not deal (in fact, Cottrau would not publish Donizetti’s music until later).
Assuming that Patric Schmid and Robert Roberts’ performing edition, based on the holograph score at the Naples Conservatory, has preserved the work’s historical integrity, Opera Rara’s Francesco di Foix is a delight. The recording’s cast features a now-familiar set of performers who excell in this repertory. Among these regulars are Annick Massis, Bruce Ford, Pietro Spagnoli, and in another “breeches role,” Jennifer Larmore, all joined by Alfonso Antoniozzi. One comes to expect the highest quality from this core group and no one disappoints in this production. Particularly notable is Massis’ rendition of the cabaletta “Donzelle, si vi stimola,” a perfect example of the some of the inventive elements in this score. Massis and Ford offer a spectacular rendition of the stretta “Quante son delle civette” of Francesca and the Duke’s duet. As usual, Larmore’s performance is consistently excellent as is Spagnoli’s. If it is Opera Rara’s intent (and one must go by the liner notes in this case) to highlight Francesca di Foix as an opera semiseria, Antoniozzi’s interpretation, heard even in his entrance, “Che vita, della caccia” emphasizes the buffo elements of his role a bit too strongly. On the other hand, this interpretation may serve well for it allows listeners to link this score with roles like Dulcamara and Don Pasquale. Finally, the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir offers non-intrusive but substantive support that is right on the mark.
Francesca di Foix is no inconsequential work; rather it is a gem in miniature, featuring all of the stylistic elements of primo Ottocento opera in one single act. Kudos to Opera Rara for (re)introducing it to the world.