Recently in Performances
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.
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?
11 Jun 2007
Italiana restored: Rossini’s afterthougts staged in Vicenza
Vicenza’s Teatro Olimpico, a jewel of Renaissance architecture inaugurated in 1585 and seating around 500, hosted in early June a run of three performances of Rossini’s Italiana in Algeri.
the cognoscenti, a much anticipated experience, since the production was about the alternative
version staged, under Rossini’s direct control, in the local Teatro Eretenio just three months after
the world premiere in nearby Venice on May 22, 1813. Various period observers, including the
French novelist Stendhal, witness to the craze sparked by Rossini’s oriental fantasy, resulting in
many revivals during the mid-late 1810s. Extramusical circumstances may have played a role,
“Between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a
million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast”
[which extends from Morocco through modern Libya], reckons Prof. Robert C. Davis. Only in
Algiers there were six “bagnos” (baths) hosting the human prey caught by Barbary pirates during
their raids in the Mediterranean, and even as late in 1830, when the French took over Algiers,
there were still 120 white slaves in the bagno.
Such historical background may qualify L’Italiana in Algeri, loosely based on a real-life incident
involving a lady from Milan, as a conspicuous act of escapism from all-too-present horrors,
while to modern audiences the shadow of the impalement stake, repeatedly waved in front (well,
somewhere else) of poor Taddeo, only amounts to a bawdy phallic gimmick. Stage directors
rarely miss the chance, and Damiano Michieletto was no exception this time. Besides red tables
and modular cubic frames — variously recombined to conjure up Mustafa’s palace, gardens, a
ship etc. — black wooden poles sprouted everywhere. (True, the imposing presence of Palladio’s
three-dimensional sets is a hindrance to any stage designer, thus making minimalism an
unavoidable choice at the Olimpico).
On the other hand, the acid lighting, the ghoul-like makeup of the eunuchs’ choir, Haly’s fiendish
looks and Mustafa’s rabid behavior conveyed a disquieting atmosphere far from the stock
reading of Rossini’s buffo masterpiece. Only in the finale, with the fugitive Italian slaves
disguised as pizza cooks and green-white-red colors flying around in a reassuring happy end,
some tribute to commonplace was paid. If mildly modernistic and apparently low-budget, the
stage department thus contributed to boost the remarkable musical performance led by Giovanni
Battista Rigon with relentless pulse and unfailing tempo choices. The Orchestra Filarmonia
Veneta “G. F. Malipiero” sounded historically informed in its string section; so did the crisp
woodwinds led by virtuoso oboist and deputy conductor Stefano Romani. Brasses and
percussions (including a rarely-heard chapeau chinois or jingling-Johnny for Janissary local
color) added a brazen touch in the tutti passages, particularly in the finales.
In the singing company, the up-and-coming Albanian mezzo Enkelejda Shkosa (Isabella)
displayed buffo stamina alongside impressive coloratura, though her recent weight gain hardly
contributed to the seductive requirements stipulated by her role. Despite a cold start, Lorenzo
Regazzo was a mercurial and domineering Mustafà throughout. If only he could restrain from
cheap effects in the style of third-rate German Kabarett, leading him to unnecessarily tampering
with the pitch. Both Andrea Zaupa, a young and debonair Taddeo, and Chiara Fracasso as Zulma
deserved unconditional praise for their beautiful instruments, mature vocal technique and acting
skills. The same would apply to Luca dell’Amico’s Haly, were it not for a few campish poses
imposed on him by costume designer Manuel Pedretti. Anna Laura Martorana (Elvira) and
Nicola Amodio (Lindoro) took perhaps too many risks with belcanto passagework, but — given
their young age — they may have the potential for further growth.
The main variants in the score involved Isabella’s role. Her substitute cavatina “Cimentando i
venti e l’onde” is studded with exciting virtuoso intricacies right from the start, yet sounds less
effective if compared to the soaring profile of the usual “Cruda sorte”, where the coloratura
batteries are being gradually uncovered after a row of fiery quasi-spoken ejaculations.
Interestingly, both alternative versions were written for the same singer: the Florentine alto (and
Rossini’s mistress) Marietta Marcolini, then in her early thirties. In the aria “Per lui che adoro”,
the core difference was about the accompanying solo instrument — a cello instead of a flute, the
latter being introduced only after 1815. Actually, the lower texture seems to work better: it’s as
much warm, pensive and sexually teasing as the plot requires.