Recently in Performances
Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
19 Sep 2006
Old Music In a New Home — WNO stages a brand new production of Monteverdi’s “Ulysses”
In his introduction to the Welsh National Opera’s celebratory 60th anniversary season programme Carlo Rizzi, their Music Director, declares that “we are bringing the best of Wales to the rest of the world — and the best of the world to Wales”.
And with this brand new production of
Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” (The
Return of Ulysses) in collaboration with the Royal Danish Opera, staged in
WNO’s stunning new theatre at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, both
sentiments are upheld. “In these stones horizons sing” is
blazoned in huge letters across the gleaming metal carapace of the new
building; words that Monteverdi himself might have set to music. It is an
exciting and challenging greeting to any visitor, and WNO did not
The genius of Monteverdi’s free-flowing music drama is powerfully
displayed and faithfully reincarnated by two of today’s most brilliant
exponents of baroque opera, director David Alden and conductor Rinaldo
Alessandrini. Alden’s trademark wit and visual quirkiness is certainly
present, yet his solid-seeming but softly-glowing sets always support, not
detract, from the epic story that unfolds of the wandering hero and his loyal
but beleaguered wife. Alden knows exactly when to interpolate the occasional
visual joke, or dramatic flourish, yet when the music demands he steps back
and gives it and the singers time and space. “Ulysses” is
essentially an ensemble opera, and Alden is quoted as saying that his joy in
working on it comes partly from the opportunity it gives him to work with,
and be integrated with, not only the singers but the musicians as well. If
there’s a caveat to his work here it is that he seems unable to resist
the almost-obligatory rather sleazy bit of simulated sex from time to time;
as with any stage business or comedy, there’s a fine line between joke
and boorishness and at times he oversteps it.
However, the integration he speaks of is there for all to see and hear,
for equally assured and committed to the brilliance of the old master’s
musical invention is Rinaldo Alessandrini in the pit (and on harpsichord
continuo) with the WNO’s own fleet-footed orchestra augmented for this
production by some six or seven period instrument performers, including the
now-essential theorbos. They, together with the baroque cello and harp
support much of the vocal story telling and it was obvious that an
intensely-felt rapport between director, musicians and singers had developed
over many days rehearsal. What is left of the original score of 1640 is of
course but bare bones - it is up to today’s directors and singers to
extrapolate, interpret, and ornament. Last night’s music was
spring-heeled and alert, subtle and elegantly attuned to the ever-changing
moods of the characters and the mainly youthful band of singers also showed
extraordinary command of the vocal idiom.
Although an ensemble opera, there are some characters whose place and
import are crucial and here the production was graced with two extremely
gifted and dramatically assured singers. The very experienced tenor Paul
Nilon took on the title role of the wandering hero, twenty years away from
his noble and loyal queen, Penelope, sung here by the richly voiced mezzo
soprano Sara Fulgoni. Nilon showed his usual attention to text and detail and
his great experience of the idiom, although he is far from being an early
music only specialist. His quite soft-grained tenor is so characterful and
expressive one sometimes forgets that he is singing, not speaking, yet when
needed in moments of high drama such as the hero’s fateful shipwreck or
final battle with his would-be usurpers, Nilon musters both thrilling power
and heroic tone to great effect. Matching him in dramatic tone, Fulgoni gives
us another sort of heroism: that of Penelope’s almost obsessive
fidelity to her long-lost husband. Her mix of physical cool regality and warm
dark passion simmering below was masterly.
The supporting 16 characters who weave their way in and out of the story,
each displaying an aspect of the human (or divine) condition, were sung well
and sometimes excellently so by this quite youthful cast - in fact the
standard of both vocal and stage technique was so high that it was
heart-warming to think that in the oft-maligned garden that is British opera
there are many good young voices pushing up through to the sunlight of
international success. Those that caught the eye on opening night included
Sarah Tynan, soprano, as Melanto, Iestyn Davies, countertenor, as Human
Frailty/Pisandro, and Ed Lyon, tenor, as Telemacho; the latter’s
beautifully sung contemplation on the beauty and tragedy of Helen of Troy
being particularly memorable.
For a first night, the production seemed to go extraordinarily smoothly,
despite some complicated special effects and “sets within sets”
whenever the divine but definitely lubricious gods and goddesses became
involved, and this was perhaps a direct result of WNO’s declared aim to
give its singers and musicians plenty of on-set rehearsal time. Peter
Bellingham, WNO’s Executive Director, told me during the single
interval that this was one of the greatest benefits of their move just 18
months ago from their old cramped premises to this beautiful, spacious new
building, as they now had not only three separate rehearsal spaces for
musicians, singers and chorus but also had access to all the sets and
practical devices throughout the rehearsal periods. This writer can confirm
that the audience is equally well served by an auditorium that frankly takes
the breath away upon entering - it was akin to entering some great warm cave
deep inside a mountain, its walls appearing carved from solid blocks of
purple hued slate, separated by gently curving horizontal strata of gleaming
wood that are the balconies and slips. What isn’t Welsh slate
(strangely silky to the touch) is honey-coloured wood (the seats, floors,
doors) or Welsh wool (traditional tweed upholstery to the seats). The overall
effect is a kind of natural sumptuousness, a Celtic chieftain’s palace
perhaps, far removed from the painted and gilded houses of London, Europe,
and the USA. And even more important, the acoustic has a clarity and
brilliance that, I’m told, singers and musicians appreciate and which
translates to all reaches of the building.
As Welsh National Opera enter their anniversary season, they have here a
new production, and a new house, that they can be proud to show the world.
The stones are truly singing, and their horizons can only become wider.
© Sue Loder 2006
“Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”, at the
Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 23rd September and then on tour to Oxford,
Llandudno, Birmingham, Bristol and Southampton.