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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.