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.
01 May 2007
In Barcelona, a Wagner debut without scandals for Àlex Rigola, the rising star in the Catalan school of direction
At Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, a sold-out house marked, for two nights in a row, the
weekend introducing la diada de Sant Jordi, the big fiesta celebrated on April 23 in honor of the city’s patron St George.
The Flying Dutchman is a frequent guest in this Mediterranean seaport
since it premiered here in 1885 as L’Holandès errant; not very surprisingly, since Barcelona is
also an early shrine of the Wagner cult in southern Europe. Sure, it’s a long way from Bayreuth:
patrons start clapping right after the overture and occasional breaches of etiquette take place after
favorite numbers, despite rebuking from connoisseurs. Yet the purest of Wagnerites had more
serious grounds for concern this time. The operatic debut of Àlex Rigola, born 1969, since 2003
artistic manager at the trend-making Teatre Liure, made them fear for the worst, as from that
seminary for avant-garde directors came both the talented innovator Lluís Pasqual and his former
assistant Calíxto Bieito (a notorious champion of deconstruction whom less friendly
commentators call “king of Eurotrash”).
However, those who were afraid of — or possibly hoped for — one more scandal found
themselves mystified. Rigola’s Dutchman is moderately postmodern, with a definite flavor of
cinema imagery from the 1970s-1990s, but without turning that into a shortcut to relevance. As
stipulated by Wagner the librettist, the action is set on the coast of Norway, where Captain
Daland NOW owns a small plant of canned fish. Thus chorus girls abstain from turning their spinning
wheels while waiting for their betrothed to come back from the sea with costly presents. Donning
aprons and plastic caps, they either sit in the firm canteen peeling bananas and digging into
yogurt tubs, or tarry on the verandah, smoking and flirting in front of an ever-impending seascape
much realistically displayed on laser projection. The Dutchman’s ship, no longer a clipper
mounting “blood-red sails and black masts”, towers as a rusty cargo of humongous dimensions.
Updating reaches a climax in Act 3, when happy preps with their navels fully exposed dance to
disco rhythms waving beer cans high in the air and cuddling a cute golden retriever. Nina was the
name of that blonde four-legged diva, embodying her (fortunately) dumb role with unshaken
All in all, the time-machine gimmick worked smoothly enough. Gloomy thrill and rural romance,
hurricanes and country dances mingled in the visuals as they actually do in the amphibious score
produced by the then young Wagner, still hesitating between French opéra-comique and seeds of
his Wort-Ton-Drama to come. First-bill Dutchman Alan Titus, still suffering from a recent
ailment, was not fully up to his signature role, since his beefy bass emerged a bit muddy in the
lower register and feeble in the higher. Skimming the cream from both casts, special honor is due
to Tómas Tómasson, a Dutchman perhaps insufficiently sinister but technically faultless in
managing his baritone-sounding, flexible and alluring instrument, as well as to Susan Anthony.
Her Senta sported girlish innocence and exquisite mezza-voce, though not matched by volume
and resolution in the juiciest dramatic spots. As Daland, Eric Halfvarson impersonated a dapper
sea captain-cum-industrialist, with his noble Sarastro-like utterances unspoiled by the slight
shade of cynicism that the role imposed on him. Both tenors Kurt Streit (Erik) and Norbert Ernst
(the Helmsman) contributed clarion tones and romantic passion to their born losers’ characters
— yet with some bittersweet vibrancy in it. Under the newly appointed principal conductor
Sebastian Weigle, the house ensembles — supplemented by the chamber choir of the Palau de la
Música — offered a forceful, clear-cut rendering throughout the two-and-a-half hour stretch
without any intervals.