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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.’
21 Oct 2005
Welsh songs worth discovering
SAIN (the Welsh word for 'sound', and pronounced like the English word 'sign') is Wales' leading recording company, founded in 1969 in Cardiff by Dafydd Iwan, Huw Jones and Brian Morgan Edwards. The label has a strong social and political message, and for the first few years, SAIN specialised in songs by young singers, many of them concerning the national and linguistic resurgence of Wales, which had begun in the 60's.
So it is not surprising that the first CD's of the world famous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel were produced by this label. His first CD was released in 1988, when Bryn Terfel was the winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship. This was before his opera debut, and the compilation on this CD seems like an unconnected collection of casting arias. Besides Welsh songs of Idris Lewis, R. Vaughan Williams, Eric Jones, Vincent Davies, W. Mathews Williams, Osborne Roberts, W. Bradwen Jones, and two traditional songs arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri, you will find Schubert’s "Fischermädchen", Mozart’s "Non più andrai", Gounod’s "Vous qui faites l'endormie", Händel’s "But who may abide the day of his coming?", Tosti’s "Ideale" and Franco Leoni’s "Tally-Ho!". This may be dramaturgically strange, but it shows the great variety of the young singer at the beginning of his career. Terfel’s wonderful voice is powerful and technically effortless, but sometimes sounds on this CD a little exhausted or not quite mature. This does, however, not reduce the listening enjoyment. The booklet is sparse with only short descriptions of the songs in English, and contains nothing about Welsh composers, some of whom are not well known.
In 1990 the second Bryn Terfel CD was released with the title "Cyfrol2-Volume2", again under the label SAIN. The booklet is even more meagre than that of the debut album: the publisher did not take the trouble to name the composers of some of the pieces. The collection seems similarly arbitrary as that of the first CD. Thus we find here the well known aria from "The Fiddler on the Roof" in Welsh, three beautiful Welsh songs by Meirion Williams, Schubert’s "Ständchen", an aria from the musical "South Pacific", an aria by Handel from "Judas Maccabäus" with piano accompaniment - marvelously sung by Bryn Terfel! -, songs by William Davies, W. Albert Williams, John Ireland, Mansel Treharne Thomas and Richard Samuel Hughes, a canzonet by Haydn, the Coat aria from "La Bohème", Don Giovanni's "Serenade" - all arias with piano accompaniment. Bryn Terfel's voice is beautiful, in his own language completely free and easy. But also listening to the opera arias one can anticipate the world career of this great singer. The Welsh songs are worth discovering. One wishes for a more detailed booklet about these unknown compositions.
A year later, 1991, SAIN recorded with Bryn Terfel singing Schubert's „Schwanengesang“ with the well known pianist Malcolm Martineau. The quality of the recording is technically and musically excellent. Bryn Terfel has a beautiful flowing voice with apparently infinite breath and easy height. However his pronounciation of the German vowels and consonants is shaped by the Italian vowel sound and thus sometimes irritating to a German ear. Through this strange vowel sound each German word has a great importance, and sometimes the intermediate tones are missing; perhaps only a native speaker can produce these. This is remarkably apparent in "Abschied", where the ambiguity which one knows from Fischer-Dieskau is missing and Bryn Terfel is suffering exclusively. Every "Ade" he sings with great importance. Also the "Taubenpost" he sings similarily ponderous and suffering. However, Bryn Terfel sings "Kriegers Ahnung", "Aufenthalt", "Der Atlas" and "Die Stadt" in a wonderful way. Here his powerful bass-baritone voice and his great strength is especially effective. The booklet is in Welsh, English and German and in more detail than the ones included in the first two CD's.
1993 SAIN released the CD "Un Canu Caneuon" with songs by the Welsh composer Meirion Williams, sung by Bryn Terfel, with Annette Bryn Parri at the piano. Meirion Williams lived from 1901-1976 and was one of the composers mainly responsible for transforming Welsh classical song-writing. He always took great care to make sure that the words he used were appropriate for the expression of feelings. This CD contains the compositions of 40 years, including well known Welsh songs that Meirion Williams composed as a young man, and at the end the cycle "Adlewych", which he composed for BBC Wales when he was almost 70 years old. Meirion Williams' style is influenced by late romanticism. Developments like the twelve-tone technique have passed him by. This by no means diminishes the compositions: they are wonderful and passionate, and should be known outside Wales! Williams’ songs are about the love of country and landscape, and Welsh is a very singable language. The songs have wonderful melodies for the language and voice. The combination Bryn Terfel / Meirion Williams is ideal! Bryn Terfel's vigorous voice flows with infinite breath, and it is a joy to listen to him. This time the booklet is very detailed in Welsh and English, and one hopes that many listeners will get to know the songs of Meirion Williams.
Besides the CD's of Bryn Terfel, SAIN released the second solo album of the young Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion in 2004. Rhys Meirion was member of the Frankfurter Opera and this year sings "Rodolfo" in Sydney and "Roméo" in Melbourne. The label compares him with Bryn Terfel, with whom he has also sung duets. Rhys Meirion - a bright light tenor - has not made a good choice with the selection of all the songs for this CD. The lyric Welsh songs by Bilys Elwyn Edwards, R Lowry and Meirion Williams with piano accompaniment are beautiful and appropiate for his voice. Also very musical and beautiful are his version of "Caro Mio Ben" by Guiseppe Giordini. Unfortunately, for some songs and arias keyboard instead of orchestra accompaniment was chosen, and the keyboard playing falsifies the total sound of the compositions. In addition, Rhys Meirion has chosen 3 compositions by a friend of his, the composer Robat Arwyn, with keyboard and choir accompaniment, which are indescribable trivial. In the Italian arias "Torna a Surriento" by Curtis and "Core 'Ngrato" by Cadillo the keyboard sound seems inconvenient to the extent that it is difficult to listen to the singer`s voice. When one gets accustomed to Rhys Meirion`s bright voice he sings very musically, but one is relieved as a listener when he manages to reach the high notes. In "Ave Maria" by Schubert - again with keyboard accompaniment - one wonders painfully whether Meiron’s breath will be enough for the long phrases. The final piece, "Ombra Mai Fu" by Handel was - for whatever reasons - arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri for keyboard, choir and tenor, which can seem banal. After listening to this CD I wish this young singer and the label more luck and a sensible ear in the compilation of the next program.