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?
23 Jan 2007
OONY Gives Rare Performance of Rossini's Otello
There are three reasons often cited for the paucity of performances of Rossini’s Otello: the horrible hack job of the Shakespearean drama by librettist Francesco Maria Berio, the difficulties in casting an opera requiring at least three top-rate tenor voices, and comparisons with Verdi’s popular opera of the same title.
Though these arguments hold much weight, they also have little
to do with Rossini’s expressive and thoroughly enjoyable score, as was evident in the Opera
Orchestra of New York’s concert performance of the work on Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.
Shakespeare’s work was not as well-known in northern Italy at the time of the opera’s
composition, perhaps accounting for the free treatment that the story received. Berio’s retelling
of the classic tale makes such a mess of things that there is little left of the original drama but the
names of the characters. Lord Byron wrote of the opera in 1818: “They have been crucifying
Othello into an opera,” and in my mind he spoke the truth. Indeed, the story never leaves the
shores of Venice, the signal handkerchief becomes a furtive love letter, Desdemona is stabbed
rather than strangled, and Jago’s role in the drama is lessened while the peripheral Rodrigo
Regardless, the work was hugely successful in the nineteenth century, its popularity lasting until
Verdi’s Otello overtook it in the operatic canon. I would posit that the inevitable association of
the two works is the principal reason that Rossini’s now lesser-known interpretation has fallen
into obscurity as much as it has. Comparisons inevitably paint the earlier in a bad light by virtue
of its much-maligned libretto.
Seen as the product of Rossini, the work is well worth its weight in gold. There are some truly
beautiful moments, though it admittedly lags a bit in the middle. The opening, for instance,
features not one, not two, not even three. . . but FOUR solo tenors singing their hearts out in one
of the most exciting moments of tenor multiplicity in the repertoire. The Act Two confrontation
between Otello and Rodrigo is also a moment of high drama, and Desdemona’s Willow Song is
as hauntingly beautiful as is the more widely-known Verdi version.
The night also belonged to the performers that realized the impossible and sublimely beautiful
bel canto score, for the work cannot stand on its own without talented virtuosos. In fact, this
opera has always been at the mercy of willing and able singers; an abundance of virtuosic tenors
in Naples precipitated the composition of myriad vocal fireworks for the tenor voice. The cast
was led by veteran Rossini interpreter Bruce Ford, a last-minute stand-in for Ramon Vargas.
Ford sang a lot of notes on Wednesday night, all with confidence and ease. Equally impressive
was Kenneth Tarver as Roderigo, whose lyricism and light touch complemented the role. His
high-lying aria, Ah, come mai non senti, was one of the best moments of the night. Solid too was
Robert McPherson as the villainous Jago. His voice was that much louder, harsher than his
colleagues’— well-suited for the antagonist. In the men’s camp it would be remiss not also to
mention Gaston Rivero as the Doge (and later as the Gondolier), the fourth component in the
The preponderance of tenors on the stage precludes any solo female voices for the first half hour
of the work. Furthermore, in a seemingly concerted effort to keep the tessitura of the ensemble
in the human voice’s middle range, the role of Desdemona is written for a mezzo. When we
finally meet Desdemona, she remains a peripheral character — there is no entrance aria for her,
nor is there ever a love duet. Ruxandra Donose nevertheless sang the role beautifully, and the
impassioned Willow Song was the crown jewel of the concert.
If there was a drawback to the performance, it would be that the orchestra was not prepared, and
perhaps more to the point, unenthused about the performance. It is eternally difficult to create
cohesiveness in an opera orchestra, especially one that performs together only a few times per
year. Still, the group was sloppier than most: brass instruments fracked, there was at least one
blatant wrong note, and entrances were not together. On the other hand, the members of the
orchestra performed solos beautifully. The virtuosic instrumental passages typical of Rossini
were right on, and harpist Grance Paradise, Desdemona’s partner in the Willow Song, was as
stunning in the aria as the mezzo.
So hats off to Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, for performing such an
undervalued work. Queler has long been a champion of lesser-known opera, and her choice of
programming here was excellent. Carry on Ms. Queler!