Recently in Performances
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?
‘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.
28 Mar 2006
"Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess" at NYC Opera
Having missed the first 10 minutes of Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess, I foolishly crept into my seat where I saw what appeared to be four raging Lainie Kazan’s protesting war by Athenian ruins.
Truncating this newly refurbished edition of Aristophane’s play, it turns out, had not ruined my understanding or appreciation of the performance. Luckily this production, which was completely stripped of its traditional Greek chorus and all but three scenes, was not a complicated affair. Lyricist and composer, Mark Adamo had presented us with a Lysistrata 2.0 that cut to the humorous core of the original play while inserting myriads of anachronistic expressions, quips, and one-liners, as well as the occasional jab at Greek mythology into the opera. This was a valiant effort and a remarkable opera that has provided a necessary shock of life into an ever predictable routine.
Following the women (which at times reminded me of some wonderfully deranged Sixties girl group, notably the Spartans), the next item that came to my attention was Lysistrata’s set. This was severely uncomplicated and lacked many of the ornate and over-the-top pieces that often clutter the stage. The simplicity of Lysistrata’s set guaranteed that the talent would not up upstaged by it. The only misguidance was the backdrop displaying Athenian ruins. Clearly, in their golden age, the acropolis had not yet crumbled. Whether intentional or not, this elicited laughter from the reviewer and if anything served as one of the many visual jokes present. A rotating centerpiece served as a utilitarian device as each scene shifted almost effortlessly into the next. Several unit structures and steps proved to be useful places for the cast to perform. At one point, the performers were aligned as if perfect Greek figurines on the stage. This was just as pleasing to the eye as had been all of the blocking: the performers covered the stage at various times in a variety of poses, gestures and movements.
The beauty of Mr. Adamo’s adaptation was that the audience lived for the next song, or off-kilter one liner that resulted in uproarious laughter. In this play, where the plot merely consists of Athenian and Spartan wives conspiring to end war by refusing sex to their husbands and lovers one is not concerned with depth of the characters or storyline. The slapstick and overall fatuous spectacle earned the audience’s attention whereas with many operas one is galvanized purely through song. Though, this did not diminish one from respecting the vocal prowess and sublime craft that this stellar cast exuded.
Musically, the first act caught my attention as it sprouted hyper rhythms and percussion that burst and popped almost magically into the theatre. The room was full of colorful and rich palette of sounds that was not merely sodden with strings or conglomeration of masculine horns. In the exuberance of quick trills and rushes on the temple blocks I was reminded of the music of Frank Zappa. They ushered in a playful mood and atmosphere which brilliantly accompanied the performers. There was a refreshing nature to the music as its cheerful poignancy sometimes almost intermingled with the actors but never upstaged them. There were also cherished moments where the singers and orchestra performed in syncopation. It was a shame that this urgency was not sustained throughout the entire performance though.
Strangely, halfway through Lysistrata, we were confronted with a change of pace. The songs slowed as the author focused our attention to Lysia’s (played by a fiery Emily Pulley) soul searching or the confounded love of Nico and Lysia. In comparison to the first half, the music seemed slurred. Where irreverent humor and quick rhythms once ran amok in unison now was followed by character development and heartfelt songs. The audience, having been engaged in a certain fashion for the first half, possibly wasn’t ready for this change of pace. This loss of momentum was truly the only downer of Lysistrata.
Similarly, like Zappa, Mr. Adamo created a simulacrum of a language that was perverse to the ear. The Spartan women sang with additional w’s and z’s inserted into words, e.g., ‘cwotches’. It sounded slightly deranged and not unlike a bad impersonation that yielded raucous laughter many times over. Like Zappa, I can imagine that Mr. Adamo was aiming purely for entertainment value and neither for intellectual or scatological purposes. The crowd, thankfully, found this comical device funny too.
Despite the slackening of the second act, Lysistrata pulled gallantly through to the approval of the audience. Refreshing and creative, bold and energetic, this was a performance and show to remember. Lysistrata peeled away at that gossamer veil between what some consider high and low art forms. In the end, those engaged could decide whether they wanted to take home with them more than just a night of comedy.