Recently in Performances
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
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.