20 Mar 2007
Teseo — Handel by the Sea
Nice Opera, on the French Cote d’Azur, seemed a most suitable place for this early work by Handel.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
Nice Opera, on the French Cote d’Azur, seemed a most suitable place for this early work by Handel.
The opera house itself is a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean and, with the pale blue shallows merging into the proverbial “wine dark sea” of legend beyond, it didn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to envisage these waters carrying the ships of Theseus, Aegeus and Medea to their immortality. Helping this conceit along was the fact that this particular production designed by Gilbert Blin and conducted from the violin by Gilbert Bezzina pulled absolutely no punches in terms of the oft-maligned term “authentic”. If the great man himself had time-travelled from 1714 to 2007 and walked into the theatre as the curtain rose, he surely would have nodded approvingly at everything he saw beyond the footlights and, mostly, heard from the pit.
Make no mistake; this was very serious opera seria. From the painted clouds to the bewigged and silken-gowned protagonists, from the hand-shaken thunder machine to the monsters rolled on from the sides, this was as near to an authentic experience of baroque opera as might be achieved today. Its quaint charm - not to mention the gorgeous stuffs of the costumes - beguiled the eye at every turn. So much so in fact, that it was all too easy to almost ignore occasional vocal lapses that elsewhere in a starker, more real-politik, setting might have been more prominent.
These lapses were highlighted by the fact that in terms of even Handel’s soundscapes, Teseo is unusual. There is no bass or tenor role, and the characters are sung by sopranos (both male and female), mezzo-sopranos and, today, counter-tenors. When the mixed chorus including lower voices occasionally makes a vocal entrance it thus has a surprisingly sonorous effect. The mainly French speaking cast of principles are not widely known beyond western Europe: soprano Brigitte Hool as the heroine Agilea, who loves Teseo, the returning warrior to the court of King Egeo, was by far the most accomplished and appealing of voices on display with a nice line in delicate ornamentation, good diction and a charming stage personality. In contrast, the wicked-witch character of Medea, that epitome of woman-wronged and vengeful, sung by mezzo soprano Aurelia Legay, was anything but delicate – except in volume which was sadly lacking in the early Acts. By the fourth and fifth she seemed to have found her full voice, but a little late. Egeo, not a large role, was sung by the very experienced French counter-tenor Pascal Bertin who showed a real baroque feel for this music, if not exactly setting the stage alight with his vocalism. The “sub-plot” pair of lovers, so often used by Handel to fill out the stories and the score, were sung by soprano Valerie Gabail (Clitia) and young French counter-tenor Damien Guillon (Arcane). The latter was certainly the most exciting discovery of the performance with a firm vocal production, consistent through the range, and with true alto warmth with no hootiness or recourse to root voice. A young man to watch in this field. Of the principles, that leaves the title role, and here there was disappointment. Having heard male soprano Jacek Laszczowski sing this role in England last year, it was perturbing to hear his obvious vocal problems throughout this production. They seemed to centre on his inability to produce his male soprano effectively in the lower reaches of the recitatives and ariosi. The sounds produced then were not pleasant – in contrast to some of his arias where when he sang at the top of the staff and beyond and his voice produced both beautiful pianissimos and clarion fortes. Let us hope that this is a temporary situation.
Apart from the singers and costumes, much of the authentic feel of this production came from the musical support of the “Ensemble baroque de Nice” – one of the major baroque groups in southern France – ably if somewhat pedantically led from the violin by their Director, Gilbert Bezzina. One could not argue with his reading of the score, but his tempi sometimes dragged down an already-top-heavy (if only by the huge wigs) staging even more than was perhaps inevitable.
Sue Loder © 2007