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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..
27 Oct 2005
ROSSINI: La Cenerentola
Naxos is perhaps the only significant major label regularly releasing complete opera sets. A few have won widespread praise, and certainly the prices, at super-budget level, make them attractive to both first-time buyers and those whose collections scarcely justify an additional set.
Naxos recorded this Cenerentola in November 2004 at the Rossini in Wildbad festival. While not as punchy or pristine as a studio recording, the sound presents a good balance between vocalists and orchestra, and stage noise, often a significant detriment of live recordings, does not significantly mar the audio.
Right from the overture, however, an inexplicable dampness sets in – the electric charge which many live recordings boast remains stubbornly absent. Conductor Alberto Zedda, whose excellent booklet essay speaks to his commitment and authority, captures some fine detail, but the SWR Radio Orchestra seems to simply lack the flair and innate enthusiasm that brings out the best in Rossini’s charming score. Rossini specialists, however, will appreciate the opportunity to hear some alternative music that Zedda has identified and chosen to include in this performance
The CD cover photo suggests the primary attraction of this recording: rising star Joyce DiDonato’s sweet, agile voice. She delivers her act two canzone, Una volta c’era un re, with the grace and skill of a mature artist, all of which also characterizes her contribution to the sextet. She alone, however, can’t bring up the energy level to one that would make the whole performance take flight.
Juan Diego Florez reigns as Don Ramiro on the world’s stages now. Jose Manuel Zapata takes the role here, and though his voice doesn’t suggest he approaches Florez’s stature, he has a pleasant voice not strained at all by the role’s demands. Bruno Pratico’s Don Magnifico has some rough edges that might have been more effective as part of the theater experience; other than that, he inhabits the role with humorously gruff authority.
Naxos provides a link to an online libretto, with a note on the booklet informing us that this economy measure helps Naxos remain the “leader in the budget-priced market.”
All fine and good, but a Cenerentola that doesn’t sparkle and bounce makes for a less than appealing audio-only experience. Perhaps the staging, if captured for DVD, might have revealed more charm than this recording offers.
If Decca gets around to re-releasing at less than full price the Bartoli studio recording of a few years’ back, budget price alone won’t make this Naxos set competitive. Only as a record of Joyce DiDonato, still early in her career, can it be recommended. The more exciting prospect would be a DVD of DiDonato and Florez in a fine production of the opera. Perhaps the fairy Godmother, or Don Magnifico, of the opera world can make it come true, and soon.
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy