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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
26 Oct 2005
Great Operatic Arias, Vol. 17 — Christine Brewer
Beethoven Shines Thru the Mix
In the best of all possible worlds this recording of arias and show tunes would have been done in the original languages, the language of composition, with the vocal sounds intended by Gluck, Mozart, Weber, Wagner and others who defined great singing.
The singer Christine Brewer and the music deserve that, and not the often awkward translations and occasionally sub-par conducting and recording supplied by producer Chandos for the Moores Foundation’s English series [Chandos 3127].
Let me get my own bias, if that’s the term, out of the way up front: I find it hard to enjoy German, French or other languages translated into English for operatic performance. I’ll never forget an English National Opera production in the 1970s, of the French Manon with Valerie Masterson and Alberto Remedios, which should have been stunning, but was reduced to near-Gilbert and Sullivan in the English vernacular. But, hark! All is not lost, for just as soon as Brewer has delivered an impressive, if Englished, “Ocean Thou Mighty Monster” (Weber) on this disc, than she turns to Arthur Sullivan’s cantata, The Golden Legend for the big soprano/choral scene, “The Night is Calm and Cloudless” – a big dramatic scene in best Victorian style – that proves quite effective in its native English. I rest my case. Native lingo is best, for the language is part of the music.
With that caveat, how does La Brewer do with her big dramatic pieces mixed in with a few show tunes in this new arias disc? Swimmingly in the classical numbers, a bit less idiomatically in the translated operetta pieces by Lehar and Kalman, but fine in tunes of Richard Rodgers and Bob Merrill. Where there are problems, they seem to come from David Parry and the Philharmonia Orchestra and a choir. The lead-in to Countess Maritza’s entrance aria is a real bog – not only slow, but dragged down tonally and out of synch between orchestra and a slightly rough chorus. Better rehearsed, put back into German and speeded up it would be just fine. Brewer’s mellow low and mid-voice rendition of Rodger’s immortal “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is big league; it may well be remembered as a touchstone performance. Rossini’s Stabat Mater is dropped into the middle of these light songs, and the “Inflammatus” rings with resounding soprano tones just in case we’ve forgotten Brewer is one of the most luxurious big voices of our time. Three out of a dozen selections are in their original English, and they are entirely comfortable. The juicy Kalman operetta aria “Meine lippen sie kussen so heiss,” here “On my lips ev’ry kiss is like wine” (see what I mean?), is sung elegantly, if without the lilt and flirt of the German text. Beethoven’s concert aria, “Ah Perfido,” to my ear the best performance on this CD, is sandwiched between Lehar and Bob Merrill (his lovely Lili’s song ‘Mira’ from Carnival) creating a peculiar ambience if one listens straight through the disc, which is not recommended. But the Beethoven is superb, sung with much feeling and poise, and with ravishing tone, Brewer at her best. But who set the order of these selections? It’s wiser to make one’s own.
Finally, I do have to carp a little about the sonics: Heaven knows Brewer needs no help with pitch or amplitude. But the engineers have fiddled with the position of the voice, often too close, and have added resonance, which can sometimes create a ragged release or blurred detail, as in the smudged, rushed orchestral opening in Elisabeth’s Act II aria from Tannhauser, and the occasional forte high note can blast. Brewer sings “Mira – Can you imagine that,” so sweetly and simply, it is one of her finest numbers; but here it is set in a resonance too big and imposing. Even so: yum!
Most of all I wish conductor David Parry had worked his musical forces into a better fused whole, and achieved more graceful and consistent tempos. At times he is too cautious and can seem to hold back the soloist.
In sum: a mixed blessing, but worth its price due to the many beauties of Christine Brewer and quality of the music she sings. This is a good documentation of her distinguished talents, caught in top form over three days in March 2005.
J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico