Recently in Performances
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
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