Recently in Performances
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.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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