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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..
19 Oct 2006
DONIZETTI: Alahor in Granata
A yellow banner in the lower right hand corner of the slip case cover (identical to that of the jewel box and booklet) proclaims this CD as the "first world recording" of Gaetano Donizetti's Alahor in Granata.
In today's market, a second will not be soon arriving, but not to worry. On the debit side, although the opera's score presents itself as the sturdy dramatic work of a talented craftsman, it lacks those glittering moments of genius that secured Lucia di Lammermoor a place in the core repertory, or even those flashes of inspiration that inspire occasional revivals of La Favorite or the "three queen" operas. To the recording's credit, however, a more enthusiastic or professional performance than this is hard to imagine.
Two excellent booklet essays detail the complex history of the opera's composition and the even more labyrinthine ongoings of the libretto, which passeth all understanding. Granada under Muslim rule provides the setting for betrayal, revenge, passion, and joy, all exhibited at the zenith of the range of human emotion. It is enough that there are plentiful opportunities for choral, ensemble, and solo vocal display. The Orchestra of the city of Granada may not be of world-renown, but they exhibit more than enough skill for Donizetti's score, and the seasoned leadership of Josep Pons supports the singers at every step.
When it came time to find singers, the opera really found luck on its side. The excellent Simone Alaimo has the title role, a baritone lead, and it perfectly suits this accomplished bel canto artist. As his sister, soprano Patricia Pace has a bright, dancing vocal timbre that sometimes falls a bit shy of the note, evoking a plaintive air (and a slight reminiscence of the great Edita Gruberova).
But the discoveries of this recording are two young singers, even younger in 1998, the time of the recording. Vivica Genaux now brings her quick, light mezzo to many of the world's best opera houses. Here she finds herself, if not for the first time (and far from the last) in pants. Her quickness and delineation have a heroic quality which make the cross-dressing entirely fitting. Juan Diego Florez now stars in the top opera houses, and here he is in his-mid-twenties. The tangy, sharp tone is unmistakable, as is his control and skill in fast, high music. Genaux and Florez have a long duet near the end of act one that alone makes this set a desirable acquisition for fans of contemporary singers.
So Alahor in Granata, after falling into many decades of obscurity, finds itself resurrected, and the living proof comes in a handsome recording in fine sound. Bel canto lovers and Donizetti worshipers, rejoice.