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.
31 May 2007
Death in Venice at ENO
Deborah Warner’s new production of Death in Venice is ravishingly beautiful, with stunning lighting designs by Jean Kalman who manages to capture the spirit of every facet of Venice and of the drama’s more general themes, from the misty eeriness of Aschenbach’s first gondola ride through to ominous darkening skies and blazing sunsets.
Against this backdrop, Ian Bostridge’s Aschenbach is vocally extraordinary, using his unique
other-worldly voice to its best sensual advantage in response to this man’s yearning for the ability
to be a part of the beauty of his surroundings.
But there is always a sense here that Aschenbach is not really experiencing Venice for himself:
the opera becomes almost a solo drama with the rest of the ensemble as a mere, if glorious,
backdrop. More worryingly, the staging’s overwhelming visual beauty and meticulous attention
to detail means that Aschenbach’s internal disintegration is almost an afterthought, instead of
being the drama’s principal theme. There is a proliferation of style over substance, a feast for the
senses but very little for the soul to hold on to or be moved by.
One big thing missing is any genuine sense of erotic allure in the portrayal of Tadzio. The role is
danced gracefully enough by Benjamin Paul Griffiths, but not enough thought has been given to
the need to place him on a pedestal, to enable the audience to experience whatever indefinable
quality it is which captivates Aschenbach. In the group of athletic boy dancers there are two or
three who look and move in very much the same way, so Tadzio is often lost in the crowd.
Indeed, when Iestyn Davies’s Apollo makes his first appearance the sudden presence of genuine
homoerotic allure is so revelatory that one wonders what the purpose of Tadzio has been during
the preceding hour or so.
There was a chance that cohesion could have been achieved through the multiple baritone roles,
sung here by Peter Coleman-Wright. However, rather than develop the roles as different
incarnations of the same sinister character, they are too cleanly defined and individually
characterised, and as a result become merely a set of character vignettes which contribute little to
the overall shape of the piece.
While Tom Pye’s set designs have a meticulous regard for atmospheric detail which is mirrored
in the ensemble direction and choreography, the same cannot be said either for the orchestra
(under Edward Gardner in the first production of his tenure as ENO Music Director) whose
first-night playing seemed harsh and detached from the action, or for the chorus, whose ensemble
singing was scrappy and well beneath their usual standard.
Though on the surface this production had everything, it was deeply frustrating in its failure to
amalgamate the internal downward spiral of Bostridge’s extraordinary Aschenbach with the
ensemble performance and ravishing surroundings. Ultimately, it failed to create a coherent
whole – even from a set of almost faultless ingredients.
Ruth Elleson © 2007