Recently in Performances
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.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
25 Apr 2007
Handel Singing Competition Final – London April 23rd
Once again, George Frederick Handel’s old stamping ground of St. George’s Hanover Square, London, resounded last night to the sound of his music as aspiring young singers from all over
the world fought out the Final of the London Handel Singing Competition.
Year on year the
competition’s status has grown and this was reflected last night in both the quality of the singing,
and the quantity of audience there to listen – the place was packed with keen Handelians of all
ages, music agents, directors and critics. Some sixty original young performers had started out
on the audition and knock-out rounds, so the final six singing last night had made it through
against considerable opposition and it showed. What was perhaps most interesting of all was
perusing the contestant’s resumés and noting that two came from Australia, one from South
Africa, one from Portugal and one from Eire.
As with all competitions, what the judges are looking for is not always what is appreciated most
by the audience, but at least the London Handel one acknowledges this with both 1st and 2nd
prizes and also an Audience Prize, given to the singer who gains the most votes in a quick-fire
ballot taken immediately after the singing stops. Last night overall victory went to the only
baritone singing, Derek Welton, the possessor of a fine, robust instrument who concentrated his
fire on shorter oratorio and anthem pieces, with only one excerpt from an opera. His singing was
focused and exact and technically very secure, his wider experience showing, even if he was
rather wooden in his character portrayals. At the other end of the male vocal scale, and
receiving the 2nd prize, was the countertenor Christopher Ainslie who conversely concentrated
on Handel’s great arias for castrato from Serse, Orlando and Tamerlano. His rather elegantly
“English” voice, although slightly covered at times, was complemented by a pleasing stage
presence and flair for interpretation. For the ladies, it came as no surprise when the Audience
Prize was bestowed on the charming Irish soprano, Anna Devin. Her strong interpretive skills
were matched by a strong, secure technique and beautiful vocal tone and she shone in her two
arias from Alcina and Giulio Cesare.
The losing competitors had nothing to be ashamed of – they all sang with credit and commitment
and with great promise for the future: Gilliam Ramm, Joana Seara, sopranos and Julia Riley,
mezzo-soprano. The first named had a big voice, perhaps lacking a little in Handelian style but
impressive nevertheless, Seara from Portugal sang with delightful delicacy and precision, without
too much power however, and Riley seemed to suffer a little from nerves and a rather odd choice
of repertoire in her first items which hardly showed her voice off as they might. Her final aria
from Ariodante showed glimpses of what she may be capable of in time.
As usual all the young singers were accompanied by the very supportive and elegant London
Handel Orchestra, guided by Laurence Cummings.
© Sue Loder 2007