Recently in Performances
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.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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?
30 Mar 2006
Darkling by American Opera Projects
The East Thirteenth Street Theatre is so unprepossessing that it would be easy to miss it altogether. From the street the entrance looks like an ice cream shop more so than a theatre. The crowded foyer has chairs around little tables and a food service counter.
Behind this façade and through sets of double doors is a dark, intimate theatre with seating on three sides of an open performance area. The stage, which is really just the space in the center of the room, is completely surrounded by translucent screens onto which Hardy’s poem is projected. In this dim, almost secret space, American Opera Projects, Inc. is doing great things. Recently at the East Thirteenth Street Theatre AOP presented Darkling, a new opera that is so multi-layered it defies description.
Anna Rabinowitz’s response to coming into possession of some family letters and postcards dating from the Holocaust was to write the long poem Darkling (2001). Rabinowitz used Thomas Hardy’s poem of 1 January 1900 “The Darkling Thrush” to guide her in the writing of her own poem—specifically, Rabinowitz’s Darkling is a loose acrostic based on Hardy’s poem. In addition to the acrostic, the Hardy poem also inspired the somber mood of Darkling, as well as its moments of brightness.
Director Michael Comlish adapted Darkling to the opera stage, creating a new, multi-media work based completely on Rabinowitz’s poem. At an after-performance Q and A panel with the creators of Darkling, Comlish emphasized that every word was Rabinowitz’s including the aria-like sections, the words spoken by the actor-singers, the texts projected onto the walls of the theatre, and the texts performed on the taped “soundscape.” Through these media, nearly all the lines of the poem Darkling were expressed somewhere in the opera. Comlish worked closely with composer Stefan Weisman and a host of designers to realize his vision for this multi-media event.
Weisman looked to the setting of Hardy’s poem by Lee Hoiby, a song that has been popularized by such luminaries as Leontyne Price and Jean Stapleton. The entire work was concluded with a straightforward performance the Hoiby setting, allowing the audience to access both the musical and poetic works that inspired the various creators of Darkling.
The thirteen performers of Darkling had the difficult task of capturing the audience’s imaginations and hearts without the safeguard of a plot, and they succeed in this admirably. Neither the poem nor the opera has clear narrative thread; rather, according to Rabinowitz, the fragmented nature of the opera reflects the fragmented nature of her poem, which in turn points toward the history told by the letters, postcards, photos, and other documents from her family’s experiences in the Holocaust. The opera, like the letters, allows us to glimpse a small piece of history—the histories of particular individuals and of a war.
In 80 minutes of intense visual and aural stimulation, Darkling achieves moments of powerful emotion. At times I felt moved to tears, though I cannot quite explain all the details that contributed to that because so much was happening simultaneously.
A postcard advertising Darkling features a line from Rabinowitz’s poem, asking “who will acknowledge things of darkness as their own?” Indeed, the work places the onus of understanding and acknowledging on the audience. Through lighting, projection, stage effects, and choreography, the creators of Darkling make the audience a part of the performance, demanding one’s attention at all times.
At the Q and A session, one of the creators on the panel mentioned that Darkling makes abstract ideas and music accessible, to which an audience member replied, and I paraphrase, ‘not really.’ I don’t think this gentleman was criticizing the opera—indeed, it seemed that everyone who stayed to hear the panel really enjoyed it—I think that he was pointing out that the unfamiliarity of the form of the work was disconcerting or disorienting. I suspect that this disorientation was planned all along because by not presenting the story in a linear fashion or filling in any pragmatic details, Darkling requires the listener to engage in some contemplation. The listener gets out of the opera what she or he put into engaging with the material.
There is an optimistic message to be found Darkling. Rabinowitz pointed out at the Q and A that in the Hardy poem the darkling thrush of the title chooses to sing despite the bleakness all around. In Darkling, the Jewish couple whose fate we are following survives the Holocaust almost by accident when they come to America. There is gloom all around them in the form of their loveless marriage and poverty in the United States, but I sense that in a way, this very production is possible only because they struggled on.
Clearly, this is only one reading of an intensely complicated work of art. Bravo to AOP for supporting such controversial and ultimately important work, and to the creative minds that fitted it all together in a thought-provoking way.
The Graduate Center – CUNY