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?
07 Jul 2007
Love and death among battlements
In 2003, at Cagli’s Accademia del Teatro, Elisabetta Courir directed a compelling Così fan tutte, minimalist, sophisticated and low-budget; quite unlike Daniele Abbado, whose Lohengrin for Bologna’s Teatro Comunale integrated “hard” scenery, video projections and historically informed costumes into a dream-like pageant.
Yet both stagings
had in common a deep respect for — and knowledge of — the original
dramatic concept and the underlying music, something increasingly rare
In fact, both young directors have one more common feature, since their
fathers Duilio Courir and Claudio Abbado rank among Italy’s shining stars
— in music criticism and in conducting, respectively. Being born into the
trade at such top levels may rather work as a hindrance, at least when a
budding professional is determined to build his/her own independent career
without relying on family connections. Ms Courir is one such case, having
debuted in opera direction relatively late in 1994 with an appreciated
staging of Vivaldi’s Tamerlano at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico,
at the age of 30 and after diverse experiences in spoken drama.
Actually, most of her educational curriculum pointed towards opera. The
10-year girl who used to sing in the children’s choir at La Scala grew up
to study music at the Scuola Civica di Milano, alongside humanities, theater
and musicology at the State University in the same town. For a period, she
even took singing lesson from the vocal scholar Rodolfo Celletti, also
attending the masterclasses held at Fiesole (Florence) by Walter Blazer, the
well-known teacher from the Manhattan School of Music. As to direction, she
apprenticed with such masters as Dario Fo and Luca Ronconi — but
particularly Egisto Marcucci, noted for his rigor, discrimination of, and
in-depth research on, texts, whether sung or spoken.
Courir’s latest opera staging, Verdi’s Il trovatore,
generally counts as popular fare; however, her reading thereof appears
unconventional, aristocratic and upstream — starting right from its
location: an outdoor arena at Vigoleno, soaring high on the green hills
between Parma and Piacenza in the Po Valley. The castle and hamlet of
Vigoleno, built in its present form during the 1390s, was a meeting point for
the culturati during the 1920-30s. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Max Ernst, Jean
Cocteau, Artur Rubinstein among Europeans, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks
and Elsa Maxwell from the USA; all were guests here at the duchesse
de Grammont’s, born princess Maria Ruspoli (incidentally: from the same
family who offered lavish hospitality to young Handel in Rome).
The castle itself, with its towers, battlemented walls and gates, provided
a hyperrealistic backdrop to a plot set in no less than two castles in Spain
during roughly the same age: Aljaferia and Castellor. Light years far from
the current trend of European opera direction, where the setting would be
typically a dilapidated industrial plant, a garage, a gay bar, a spacecraft
or whatever else. Tall wooden boards, all crooked and scorched, served as a
camouflage for covered bays were patrols were doing their rounds. A
drawdbridge suspended over a dark gulf was alternatively the springboard
whence Manrico was expected to launch his treacherous high Cs in “Di quella
pira” and the stairway plunging into the dungeon “where the State
prisoners languish”. Less blacksmiths than dyers, the Gypsies hanged out
the garish product of their industry from virtual battlements mirroring the
real ones, or celebrated and sung by torchlight while squatting down in
circles around certain disquieting cauldrons. Tribal and gloomy with a shade
of the Orient — such was the medieval Spain conjured up by Courir and her
team: set designer Guido Fiorato, costume designer Artemio Cabassi and
Fiammetta Baldiserri in charge of lighting.
Within that (basically reliable, yet never archaeologic) framework, bodies
shaped their passions in the mould of unavoidable melodrama. The lecherous
Count attained by bitter qualms of conscience in the end; Leonora a
compassionate Madonna in light-blue train; Manrico a greyish bachelor,
moonstruck by misfortune and clearly a noble born-looser. Azucena towered
throughout in her fiery red gowns, as young and sexy as possible. Rather than
Manrico’s mother, she looked like his paramour, while a manly Ferrando kept
jerking her with ill-conceived desire. Side characters, nuns, warriors,
courtiers and sundry extras navigated smoothly, then suddenly disappeared
behind the boards. Perfect clockwork and grand opera on a grand scale, though
with limited means.
The junior singing company was enough well-matched (a crucial requirement
for Il trovatore), with baritone Claudio Sgura getting the best
applause for both his vocal qualities and sensitive acting. Rachele Stanisci
(Leonora) has her strongpoint in agility, as Laura Brioli (Azucena) in sheer
power; yet a more restrained vibrato during their forte passages would not
spoil. As Manrico, the experienced tenor Renzo Zulian sounded strangely
fatigued and/or unhappy with his upper register, probably due to a
last-minute stand-in for an ailing colleague. Orchestra Filarmonica Toscanini
and Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, both emerging ensembles, were led
by Massimiliano Stefanelli with unrelenting pulse, despite a troublesome
acoustic environment. Outdoor venues have their pros and cons, particularly
during a windy early Summer as this is proving to be.