Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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?
28 Dec 2006
BARBATO: O Cientista (The Scientist)
Rio de Janeiro, as the capital of the Empire and later the Republic of Brazil, had an extensive history of opera during the 19th century, well-documented by newspapers and magazines of the day, which included the conducting debut of Arturo Toscanini in a local performance of Aida in 1888, described in the memoirs of Brazilian composer and entrepreneur Artur Napoleão.
The edifices hosting these performances
have succumbed to the ravages of time long since, though documents and
scores relating to operatic life in Rio from this period are still to
be found in local libraries.
The early years of the Republic (established by a military revolt
which sent the Imperial family into exile, as a reaction against the
abolition of slavery in 1888) saw an intense effort to modernize the
capital. The population had been growing considerably as a result of
the exodus of the freed slaves from the coffee plantations of the
state of Rio, who went to the capital in search of better economic
opportunities. They were joined by immigrants from abroad,
particularly from Portugal and Italy.
The first decade of the 20th century saw a number of large scale
efforts for modernization in Rio. These included improvements to the
infrastructure of the port (which would have 3.5 kilometers of docks),
the construction of broad avenues, particularly the Avenida Central
(now known as Avenida Rio Branco), and the consequent demolition of
large numbers of tenements in the center of the city. The opening of
Avenida Central would make possible the construction of an imposing
complex of public buildings in the area now known as Cinelandia,
including the National School for the Fine Arts (now the National
Museum for the Fine Arts), the National Library, and the Theatro
Municipal, modeled after the Paris Opéra, and built sparing no
expense, with the finest materials imported from Europe.
Rio's tropical location, and the extensive wetlands by the bay, had
negative implications for public health, with regular outbreaks of
yellow fever (transmitted by mosquitoes), bubonic plague (transmitted
by rates), smallpox, and tuberculosis. President Rodrigues Alves
(president, 1903-1906) entrusted to Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, who had studied
at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the task of dealing with these
problems. He began with campaigns to kill mosquitoes and exterminate
rats. In 1904, with Rio facing an epidemic of smallpox, Cruz proposed
obligatory vaccination, and it was approved by the government. Unlike
his previous campaigns, this one met widespread and often violent
resistance by a frightened population, known as the Vaccine Revolt,
and finally obligatory vaccination was suspended. Today, his work is
revered in Rio, with an avenue in the South Zone, and a suburb in the
North Zone, and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation for public health all
bearing his name.
Silvio Barbato's opera The Scientist is not so much a music drama as
a tableau vivant presenting representative scenes from the life of
this great Brazilian. Act I, Scene I reveals Cruz meditating alone on
his mission as doctor. Later he is joined by his wife Emilia and
friend Salles Guerra, and they sing (in French) of his departure for
Paris. Scene II presents Lapa, a center of bohemian life and
prostitution at the time. Scene III shows a religious procession
asking for relief from the plague.
Act II is notably less static and more dramatic. In Scene I, the
President, Rodrigues Alves, sings of the necessity of vaccination,
with mocking responses from a sort of Greek chorus, seated on stage.
In Scene II we see the effects of the revolt on the Cruz family. Scene
III presents a group of capoeiristas (capoeira is a Brazilian martial
art) in the favela of Providencia. The opera closes in Scene IV with
Cruz, alone once more, walking upstage into the ocean.
One might think that a country famed worldwide for the quality of its
televised dramas might likewise produce stageworthy sung dramas for
the opera house. The static quality of the libretto, choosing to
represent a life, rather than an episode in the life, is the chief
problem. Barbato's music mixes a restrained modernism (most effective
in the solo-chorus exchanges between President Rodrigues Alves and his
critics) with pastiches of Brazilian popular genres (it must be noted
that even if they were less artistically ambitious, they were warmly
welcomed by the audience, especially the capoeira). The least
effective moment for the work was the tedious on-stage solo saxophone
in Act I, Scene II, in which the orchestra is not heard for what seems
like an eternity (and worse, before it re-enters, the sax is joined on
the scene by an accordion). The excellent chorus of the Theatro
Municipal is generally heard offstage, muffling its impact, and
causing problems with its coordination with the orchestra.
Of the singers, those making the most impact were bass Sebastião
Teixeira as Cruz, and the excellent baritone Lício Bruno as Rodrigues
Alves (he had turned in a stellar Papageno earlier in the season). The
scenery and lighting were modern and effective (including
projections), and with the blue fabric waves of the ocean in the
closing scene making a memorable impression.