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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..
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