Recently in Performances
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
25 Mar 2007
Eugene Onegin — English Touring Opera
London is fortunate to have played host to several productions of Tchaikovsky’s best-known opera in the last three years alone, most recently British Youth Opera’s heartbreakingly fresh account last September – so it was a risky decision on ETO’s part to stage yet another.
Director James Conway chose to focus on the opera’s themes of lost opportunity and the contrast between dreams and shattering reality. Joanna Parker’s very simple reflective set gave a wistful, faded beauty to the stage, while the ‘snow’ for the duel scene was formed of a devastated mass of pages torn from Tatiana’s romantic novels. As Tatiana, Amanda Echalaz provided, rightfully, the opera’s emotional core. She knew how the cripplingly shy provincial Tatiana should walk and move; she knew how to update the character by seven years and several steps up the social ladder without losing her original identity. In recent years, Echalaz’s ETO appearances alone have earned her an exciting reputation; from a slightly one-dimensional performer with a hugely promising dramatic voice, she has developed into a versatile artist with impressive depth of interpretation.
Roland Wood, in the title role, gave a more sympathetic interpretation than most; it was clear that his stiffness and propriety were rooted in self-awareness. His tenderness towards Tatiana was obvious from the start; for once I found myself ‘knowing’ Onegin as well as I always feel I ‘know’ Tatiana.
Michael Bracegirdle’s Lensky didn’t seem at ease on stage, and his singing was monochrome and somewhat forced; as Olga, Marie Elliott was also a little stiff without the necessary weight in her lower register. Gremin’s aria should be the centrepiece of the final act, but Geoffrey Moses failed to bring it to life.
At the start there seemed to be a difference of opinion between the musical and dramatic moods; Michael Rosewell’s tempi were brisk from the outset, while the opening scene was dramatically almost over-restrained. This turned out to be a perfect piece of dramaturgical planning; emotion and passion burst into vivid life at the start of the Letter Scene. The chorus, a good size by ETO’s standards, sang and danced stylishly so it was a great shame that they were the chief victims of a catalogue of unnecessary musical cuts.
Ruth Elleson © 2007