Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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.
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.