Recently in Performances
Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one
of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the
‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas
would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa,
Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely
hook most for life.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
09 May 2006
MONTEMEZZI: L’amore dei tre re
What happened to Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re? After the opera’s triumphant premiere at La Scala in 1913, Montemezzi was vaulted into the international limelight, and his creation enjoyed regular performances throughout the world until his death in 1952.
Since then, the opera’s popularity has eroded severely, and now it
lingers on the outermost fringes of the canon, emerging from time to time
like an elderly lion to remind us that it, too, once held audiences in thrall
with its roar. One of the surest signs of L’amore’s
near-obsolescence is the simple fact that the Opera Orchestra of New York
decided to conclude its 35th anniversary season at Carnegie Hall with a
performance of the work. Eve Queler’s organization has made its name
over the years by reviving neglected operatic scores, and its concert
presentation of L’amore on 4 May was no exception.
The reason for the opera’s fall from grace cannot have much to do
with its actual merits. By any standard, this is a powerful and well-crafted
work, both musically and dramatically. Sem Benelli’s libretto is a
naked melodrama of raw emotion elevated and concentrated by its archaic
setting in 10th-century Italy. The barbarian king Archibaldo is suspicious of
his son Manfredo’s new bride, Fiora. The suspicion is justified: Fiora
has been secretly trysting with fellow Italian Avito, the man she was
supposed to marry before the barbarians conquered their homeland.
Archibaldo’s blindness prevents him from discovering Fiora in
flagrante delicto, but when she finally admits her transgression to him
and refuses to reveal her lover’s identity, the king strangles her. In
the opera’s final act, Avito kisses Fiora’s corpse, but he dies
from the poison the barbarians have placed on her lips. Manfredo, unable to
master his grief, cannot restrain himself from kissing Fiora as well, and the
opera concludes with Archibaldo holding his dying son in his arms.
Montemezzi’s music fills out this tale of betrayal and passion with
all the high-stakes energy it can bear, yet the score never devolves into
hysterics. Although it clearly lives within the borders of verismo, the opera
owes more than a little to Wagner and Debussy. There is a distinctly
Wagnerian swagger to the end of Act One, for example, as Manfredo takes Fiora
to bed and Archibaldo laments his son’s ignorance. And when Fiora
defiantly confesses her guilt to Archibaldo at the heart of Act Two
(“Allora...Allora...Quello ch’io baciavo”), it is hard not
to think of the similarly electric moment in the second act of
Parsifal when Kundry drops her seductress routine and finally
confronts Parsifal with the truth about her identity. Meanwhile, the
evocative orchestral atmospherics of the opera call Pelléas to mind,
and certainly Benelli’s storyline and dramatis personae refer
back to Maeterlinck’s drama. Nevertheless, the opera is
quintessentially Italian in its approach. All the characters are fully aware
of their motivations, and as they maneuver toward their aims, their emotions
surge directly to the surface, finding expression in line after line of
wide-ranging, ardent melody. Today, with our predilection for late Wagner and
Pelléas, we expect a story like this to receive an elusive,
psychologically layered musical treatment. Perhaps this tacit assumption can
help to explain why Montemezzi’s opera has not managed to retain its
allure over the past half-century. In any case, it certainly deserves
attention on its own terms.
Even if the opera’s overall quality was in doubt, no greater excuse
could be proffered for its revival than to give Samuel Ramey the opportunity
to sing the role of Archibaldo. Ramey’s performance on Thursday night
was strong and self-assured, and yet there was room in his interpretation of
Archibaldo for hints of the self-pity and despair that sap the soul of this
blind and aging king. Ramey’s voice, on the other hand, seems not to
have aged much, at least not on this occasion. His bass sound, rich and
unforced, filled the hall throughout the evening, and the climax of his
first-act aria (“Italia! Italia!...è tutto il mio ricordo!”) was
thrilling. As Fiora, the soprano Fabiana Bravo seemed content at first to
indulge in histrionics rather than tap into the considerable resources of her
instrument. Her weak Callas impersonation, peppered with the usual gasps,
sobs and wails, was applied just as assiduously to her love duet with Avito
in Act One as it was to her dissimulating dialogue with Manfredo at the
beginning of Act Two. As the second act progressed, however, Bravo let her
voice do the work, and it soared. The iron core of her middle range
communicated Fiora’s resolute pride, while the glitter of her high
notes made us understand what attracted these men to her in the first place.
Fernando de la Mora (Avito) was the only principal who sang his role from
memory, and the deeper level of dramatic commitment on his part was evident
and much appreciated. Unfortunately, his quintessential lyric tenor voice,
naturally honeyed and supple, was pushed beyond its limits in many places,
and the result was diffuse and flat. Much the same could be said of baritone
Pavel Baransky in the role of Manfredo.
It’s hard to blame these singers for overexerting themselves,
however, since Maestro Queler never accommodated them by limiting the sound
of her orchestra. Concert presentations of opera always come up against the
problem of balance, but for this performance Queler seems to have ignored the
problem altogether. Still, the orchestra made its way through the score
without too much calamity, and some of the players memorably rose to the
occasion in featured moments (the flute solo in Act One, the viola solos in
Act Three, the offstage trumpets throughout). Let’s hope that this
performance inspires a few opera companies to assemble a fully-staged
production in the near future.