Recently in Performances
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?
‘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.
28 Feb 2007
La Bohème – English National Opera
The death this month of director Stephen Pimlott could have cast a shadow over this revival of his 1993 production, but a hugely affectionate pre-show tribute by colleague Nicholas Hytner ensured that the performance only served to do great honour to the memory of a man who was clearly loved and cherished by many.
The first night of this revival, directed by Ian Rutherford, did the late director proud. Following a
triumph in the role on Glyndebourne’s 2005 tour, Peter Auty’s Rodolfo was physically and
vocally full of youthful ardour, while as Mimì, Mary Plazas combined the looks of a china doll
with the vocal warmth and personality of a flesh-and-blood young woman. Mark Stone’s
Marcello was masculine and glamorous, with every word projected clearly; there was real
passion in the ‘big moment’ when he takes up the melody in Musetta’s aria. Giselle Allen’s
portrayal of Musetta was quite remarkable, a young woman full of promise brought to her knees
by miserable poverty, and the exceptional bass Matthew Rose made much of his role as Colline,
creating a moment of stillness and awe with his Act 4 aria.
Musically the performance was not entirely successful. Conductor Xian Zhang had a mixed
evening with tempi which were at times so measured that they almost ground to a halt, but
seemed to have a particular affinity with Plazas in her arias, and as the tragedy reached its
conclusion, grew in expressive breadth. A balance problem between pit and stage in the first act
caused whole passages of solo singing to become inaudible, but this was seemingly addressed in
due course as the issue was no longer apparent after the interval.
However on stage there was diligent attention to detail; a piece of luxury casting found Robert
Poulton singing the dual roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, which he contrasted with two very
different styles of seediness. The crowded stage of Act 2 felt like a genuine public gathering,
with a particularly convincing children’s chorus; the simultaneous duets of Act 3 were
well-defined and audible alongside one another. A few minor anomalies in the production’s
updating to the mid-20th century can be forgiven in the overall scheme of a staging which
continues to feel immediate and ‘real’.
One would hope – and expect – that Pimlott would have been well pleased with this touching and
credible realisation of his enduringly popular production.
Ruth Elleson, February 26th 2007