Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
28 Jan 2007
ROSSINI: Il Viaggio a Reims
Rossini’s last Italian opera, staged in 1825 as a part of Charles X’s coronation festivities, is a bizarre creation — a sassy little farce capped with a coronation cantata in the best traditions of staged court entertainment, from 16th-century Italian intermedi through their Baroque and Classic operatic progeny.
This production, a combined effort of the Kirov Opera and Théâtre du
Châtelet, was premiered in 2005, and has made its way to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC
as a part of the Kirov’s residency here, now in its fifth year.
Minimal staging (sets by Pierre-Alain Bertola) strips the “Golden Lily Hotel” to its scaffolding,
revealing the opera for what it truly is — a collection of sparkling vignettes with hardly a
semblance of a plot; a glorious divertimento; a concert in costumes — but what fabulous
costumes! Among costume designer Mireille Dessigy’s creations, not to be missed are the
Contessa de Folleville’s outrageous hats and Corinna’s ancient regime version of fuzzy slippers.
The Russian general’s garb complete with a sailor’s tunic and a white horse (yes, an actual —
and impressively well-behaved — animal) is hilarious. As for Corinna’s entrance costume,
capped with a fantastic feather turban and illuminated from within by flashing electric lights, it is
beyond description, and would surely land some Hollywood star enterprising enough to steal it a
place on the “worst dressed, yet most memorable” red carpet list. The “English golf dandy” outfit
of Chevalier Belfiore, on the other hand, was funny but not particularly convincing.
The Kirov’s performance started well before the opera began, with the orchestra players (with
their instruments) and singers (with their luggage) making their way to the “hotel” from the
auditorium, greeting the audience in two languages (none of them Italian), and then negotiating
stage space with the “cleaning crew,” mops and vacuums in hand. The conductor — maestro
Gergiev himself — did not carry a suitcase, was relieved of his coat by one of the choristers, but
would keep his hat on throughout the evening. Both the conductor and the orchestra (dressed in
white and reduced almost to a chamber group for the occasion) were positioned on stage, with a
harpsichordist placed on the proscenium and dressed up in full ancient regime regalia, complete
with high heels and a powdered wig. Similarly dressed was a harpist wheeled onto the stage on a
special platform whenever her services were required to accompany Corinna the poetess (the
lovely Irma Gigolashvili); and a fabulous flutist (unfortunately not identified in the program) who
performed her second act solo flawlessly, all the while engaged in a clever pantomimed “duet”
with Lord Sydney (Eduard Tsanga).
Throughout, the production (directed by Alain Maratrat) was filled with stage business — always
energetic, often clever, and occasionally detrimental to sound production: for instance, practically
nothing performed on the back section of the scaffolding (behind the orchestra) made it into the
hall. On the other hand, plenty of singing (and some very funny acting) occurred in the orchestra
— among the orchestra seats, that is. This clearly delighted the audience but presented a
significant challenge to ensemble performance — a challenge that the young troupe, to their
credit, met and triumphed over, even in the lightning-fast stretti. Overall, the vocal performance
of the young cast, including some tremendously difficult passagework, was almost uniformly
superior: Anastasia Kalagina as Madame Cortese impressed with the precision of her coloratura;
Larisa Yudina as the Contessa proved herself a comic talent, yet was ever ready with those
breathtaking E-flats. Dmitry Voropaev as Belfiore, Daniil Shtoda as Count di Libenskoff,
Vladislav Uspensky as Baron di Trombonoc, and particularly Nikolay Kamensky as basso buffo
Don Profondo were all excellent. Anna Kiknadze as Melibea was less impressive, but she did
occasionally enjoy her moments of glory (unfortunately, the final polonaise was not one of those
moments). Only Alexey Safiulin as Don Alvaro was truly disappointing: he did well in the
ensembles, but the solos — including the gorgeous “fake flamenco” song Rossini had smuggled
into the grand finale — were almost entirely lost. The chorus — members of the Mariinsky
Academy of Young Singers — acted lustily and sang well; the orchestra sound was clean, crisp,
and tastefully “classic” — in fact, barely recognizable as coming from an orchestra better known
for the sweeping romantic sound of its Tchaikovsky and Wagner productions.
Grand drama devotees might find Il Viaggio a Reims annoyingly fluffy. Opera purists could
object to the coloratura occasionally getting lost in the stage business or covered with the
audience’s laughter. Yet, to those who think of opera as primarily a theatrical spectacle, the
Kirov production proves deliciously watchable. It is just what King Charles X of France had
ordered from his favorite composer — a splendid and frivolous piece of entertainment for a very