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.
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