Recently in Performances
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.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
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.
05 Dec 2005
Billy Budd at ENO — Two Reviews
ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA: ‘Under no circumstances to be missed’ (The Guardian), Neil Armfield’s illuminating reading of Billy Budd receives its long-awaited London premiere. In the season in which Benjamin Britten becomes ENO’s House Composer, this engrossing WNO/Opera Australia production is the perfect salute to a great British masterpiece.
The all-male cast sees Timothy Robinson making his role debut as Captain Vere, while the charismatic Simon Keenlyside sings the title role and Sir John Tomlinson appears as Claggart. With a sense of motion created through a cleverly abstract set, this Billy Budd is gripping theatre from start to finish.
[Click here for additional details.]
Billy Budd - London Coliseum
By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 5 December 2005]
Once again the company has bailed out the board. As in January 2003, when Khovanshchina signalled English National Opera's highest artistic intent at a time of crisis, Saturday's performance of Billy Budd set its latest problems in perspective. In spite of last week's bloodless coup, which saw Sean Doran, ENO's inexperienced artistic director, replaced by two of his deputies, the show went on - brilliantly. No opera company deserves two defenestrations in three years: it's an outrageously expensive way of dealing with chief executives. Vernon Ellis, ENO's vice-chairman, says he actually admires Doran, that there is no financial black hole and that we have reason to feel positive about the company's prospects. Why then did the board fail to support Doran when he most needed it, just as he was getting his feet under the job?
[Click here for remainder of article.]
Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 5 December 2005]
It has taken seven years for Neil Armfield's production of Britten's Billy Budd to reach London. Premiered in 1998 by Welsh National Opera at Cardiff's New Theatre, it was deemed definitive by many at the time. It's still staggering, though anyone who remembers those first performances may well consider it less than ideally suited to the Coliseum stage, and also notice that it has undergone a significant shift in emphasis now that it has been reworked for a new cast.
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