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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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
16 Sep 2006
150 Years of Opera in Chicago
This is a very attractive book, which, in addition to the expected text, has many striking photos, a list of the operas performed in Chicago, indicating all the seasons in which each work was given, and a season by season chronology, limited to professional companies.
Usually, in looking at a book on an opera house, theater, or the history of opera in a given city, I find the appendices (especially the chronology or cast lists) to be the highlight of the book. This is not the case here, mainly because of the unusually high quality of the text, which comprises the greater part of the book, and partly because of the gaps in the chronology. As I started to read the text, I became more and more impressed with the unusual stylishness of the writing and its fascinating subject. It is the sort of writing where every line that you read demands that you keep going, and makes you read on and on. Robert Marsh also draws a wonderful self portrait, including an abiding love for Richard Wagner, apparently his favorite composer.
He later implies that he is an operatic Darwinist and a believer in the survival of the fittest. But, it has been my experience that operatic Darwinists tend to look at operas that were once popular but were eventually forced out of the repertory by newer works, through the prism of their own preferences, and this is what happens here. Marsh expresses no regrets at the fact that Meyerbeer was forced out by Wagner and Verismo, but fails to draw the logical parallel with many of Mozart’s operas having been forced out by Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi 100 years earlier.
Knowing from my own researches that Pacini’s Saffo was widely toured in the U.S. during the 1865-66 season, with performances in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis, this is one of the first things I checked. Yet, when Marsh encountered Pacini’s Saffo in the 1865 season, he jumped to the conclusion that it was Gounod’s. He drew the same conclusion for the local premiere of Massenet’s Sapho in 1918, but identifies it correctly when it was given later.
The chronology has no casts, and is also missing a number of professional seasons reported in the local press. These include at least one that I know of by the New Orleans company which made frequent tours of the Northern and Eastern States. There also are several by Emma Abbott, and some by various other touring companies including Antonio Scotti, Fortune Gallo’s San Carlo Opera company, and the Boston National Opera Company. These overlooked seasons also impact the list of operas given in Chicago.
All considered, this title is a fine book as far as the text is concerned, but also one that could have benefited by having more effort spent on the appendices.