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 Mar 2007
Camacho’s Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho)
UC Opera now have a half-century’s reputation to live up to; they were responsible for the UK premieres of such works as Das Liebesverbot, The Maid of Orleans, Alzira, Oberto and the 1847 version of Macbeth.
unquestionably a need for a company such as this on London’s operatic
scene; they continue to fly the flag for works which would not otherwise be
performed, and are almost unique in offering these obscure works in staged
performance rather than in concert.
The company exists independently of the academic functions of University
College London, which does not even have a music department; instead the
company draws its large and enthusiastic amateur chorus, orchestra and lesser
principals from the University College Union Music Society, and hires in
young professional artists for the leading roles – alumni include
Felicity Lott, Robert Lloyd and Jonathan Summers, and Charles Mackerras
served briefly as Musical Director during the 1950s.
Die Hochzeit des Camacho was written by Mendelssohn between the ages of
fourteen and sixteen. It is a lively, folksy comic opera based on an episode
from Don Quixote, about a conspiracy on the part of the young and amiable
Basilio to save his beloved Quiteria from a forced marriage to the wealthy
but unprepossessing Camacho. After many complications, some largely pointless
interventions by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and a faked suicide, Basilio
gets the girl; her father and Camacho accept their union and all live happily
The production, by Duncan McFarland, was set in the context of a bedtime
story being told to a young boy (Oliver Kirk) by his nurse (Liz Lea). This
gave the feel of a cosy Christmas family movie. Christopher Giles’s set
was simple but imaginative and versatile, with three brightly-coloured moving
wooden huts transforming the stage from the child’s nursery into all
manner of different locations. There were bright, attractive costumes for the
young cast too.
The opera was sung in English, and the best individual performances came
from two fine tenors – medical student Hal Brindley gave a strongly
sung and charming account of Basilio’s sidekick Vivaldo, while
postgraduate linguist James Crawford gave an excellent characterisation of
the eponymous Camacho (really quite a minor role). Stephen Brown’s
Basilio and James Harrison’s Carrasco (Quiteria’s father) also
sang well; Håkan Vramsmo’s Sancho Panza was likeable and smoothly sung.
But elsewhere there were problems; Margaret Cooper’s Quiteria was
strong in the upper register but weak in the middle; her conventionally
operatic soprano was inadequately balanced by Sarah Rea’s treble-like
Lucinde. The veteran professional bass Deryck Hamon was seriously stretched
in the role of Don Quixote. Projection of dialogue was problematic for
professional and amateur soloists alike; sometimes the singing was inaudible
too. The chorus was excellent, but the biggest problem was the orchestra, an
amateur ensemble, whose timing and tuning were simply painful at times
despite Charles Peebles’s poised and well-phrased direction.
This is the fifth UC Opera production I have seen, some with high musical
standards. This was far from the best. Perhaps they will fare better in 2008
with Lalo’s Fiesque.
Ruth Elleson © 2007