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.
06 Feb 2007
SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District (Kirov Opera)
The Kirov Opera and Orchestra concluded their annual residency at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC last week with a Sunday matinee concert performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1932 Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District.
Even unstaged, this powerful and disturbing work filled
with scenes of rape, humiliation, corruption, and murder felt almost too overwhelming to sit
through. Speculations of political pressure aside, it was not difficult to imagine, after being a
member of the audience, why the middle-aged composer would have felt compelled to rewrite
the work, curbing the raw violence of his X-rated early masterpiece down to at least a PG-13
rating (the new version, renamed Katerina Ismailova after the main character and premiered in
1963, was reportedly the composer’s favorite).
Conducted with savage intensity by maestro Gergiev, the Kirov Orchestra proved itself once
again one of the premiere ensembles in the world today, operatic or otherwise. Even the
premium-seat dwellers, well-schooled in the social etiquette that forbids applause until the end of
the piece (or in this case, until the intermission), erupted spontaneously into an ovation after the
breathtaking rendition of the 2nd tableau interlude. The conductor simply refused to hold his
orchestra back to accommodate the singers, and the power of volume alone was truly
earth-shattering – exactly the kind of effect Shostakovich’s uncompromising music demands. To
their credit, both the excellent chorus and most of the soloists withstood the competition
admirably. Unlike the previously reviewed Il Viaggio a Reims, which was a vehicle for the
relative novices at the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers, this production involved the
premiere forces of the venerable Kirov stage. Larisa Gogolevskaya was spectacular as Katerina
the kupchikha (merchant’s wife), the only character in a cartoonish parade of degenerates for
whom, despite three murders in a space of four acts, the composer allows his listener to feel any
sympathy. Her gut-wrenching rendition of the Act 4 arioso is worth a special mention, as are her
confrontation scenes with her bully of a father-in-law Boris Timofeevich. Unfortunately, Alexei
Tanovitski in the latter role was not perhaps the best partner for Gogolevskaya: despite an
attractive sound and some good acting that won him approval of the audience, his voice lacked
the sheer strength necessary to match (and often overpower) Katerina and, in this particular case,
also to hold his own against the orchestra. Among secondary characters, Liubov Sokolova was a
gorgeously trashy Sonyetka, while an operatic veteran Gennady Bezzubenkov deserved his
applause as both a thoughtful Old Convict, and as a lecherous Priest whose profundo register
drew gasps from the hall.
Indeed, quite a few characters created by the singers made one long to see the opera staged, but
none more so than the two leading tenors of the production, Evgeny Akimov as Katerina’s
husband, Zinovy Borisovich, and Viktor Lutsiuk as her lover, Sergei. At the beginning, it made
little sense to me that Lutsiuk would be given the role of Sergei, who as a mock operatic lover
does a lot of powerful singing throughout the opera, while Akimov, an obviously stronger singer,
would be cast as Zinovy, a weakling who barely gets two scenes in before being dispatched into
the next world (and down into the cellar) by his wife. As the production progressed, however, I
came to appreciate this brilliant piece of operatic casting. Lutsiuk’s Sergei was deliciously
disgusting; his voice, figure, gestures, and facial expressions virtually oozed slime. Meanwhile,
having Akimov, a powerhouse tenor with a ringing metallic timbre, portray an insecure,
impotent, pathetic little man brought forth an equally delicious irony of all style and no
The performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District closed a rather unusual tour for the Kirov
this year: the company eschewed heavy Russian drama for two Italian comedies, Rossini’s Il
Viaggio a Reims and Verdi’s Falstaff. While the Shostakovich provided a taste of the former, the
tour as a whole reminds us once again that the Kirov is capable of much more than the Philips
Russian opera recordings, great as they are. Indeed, Gergiev’s troupe seems determined lately to
defy any possibility of being viewed as an example of parochial exotica, and wants to be seen
instead as the first-class European opera theater that it is. Whether or not one loves their Italian
(or their German, for that matter – speaking of the Cardiff production of the Ring Cycle reviewed
recently on this site), the Kirov is no longer just a “Russian theater.” As a new resident of the
Washington DC area, I look forward to whatever the next five years of the company’s residency
here bring. And of course, I will keep you posted!