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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..
28 Sep 2005
SCHNEITZHOEFFER: La Sylphide
This is one of the most enchanting and lovely ballet performances that I have ever seen, and believe me I have seen quite a few! First performed in Paris on May 12, 1832, La Sylphide marks the advent of Romanticism in ballet.
The fairy tale aspect of the ballet helped to make it a resounding success all over Europe in the nineteenth century. There are many opportunities in the ballet to focus on this “otherworld” aspect: the village wedding, the sylvan setting, the eerie gaslights to mark the passage of the fairies, the costumes and the ballerina’s variations on pointes. But what made it even more enchanting to nineteenth-century onlookers was the fusion by the ballet master Filippo Taglioni of artistic dance and mime, that gave birth to the first acte blanc in the history of ballet; and the fact that Taglioni’s daughter, Marie, enchanted and fascinated her audiences in the lead role. This infatuation spread throughout France: newspapers began calling themselves La Sylphide, words such as sylphide and taglioniser were added to the French language, and fashions saw diaphanous blouses and turbans sylphide. With this ballet, tutus became the standard “uniform” of ballet dancers. In spite of its huge success, La Sylphide disappeared from the Paris Opera’s repertoire for over a century, reconstituted in a version by Pierre Lacotte in 1971 that was based on Taglioni’s dance style, and the basis for this performance.
Set in Scotland, the story recounts the love of a mortal for a supernatural creature. James prepares for his marriage to Effie, a peasant girl. Secretly, though, his thoughts are possessed by a nocturnal vision of the beautiful Sylph. When the Sylph appears to him in real life, he follows her into the aerial realm inhabited by winged beings. His love for her is doomed, however, as the Sylph is no more than a frail and faint ghost, and the evil spells of the witch Madge eventually transform James into a hapless assassin.
The performance is rich and colorful, with numerous individual and group dance performances, lavish costumes, and spectacular scenery. Various levels of staging allow many of the dancers to observe and fly through the scenery throughout Act 2, when the drama takes place in the fairy realm. All the performers, including the witch, are magnificent in this recreation of one of the important ballets of the Romantic period.
Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas