Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
16 Aug 2007
Haydn’s L’Anima del Filosofo (Orfeo ed Eurydice) — A rare performance at Glimmerglass this summer, as part of their “Orpheus” 2007 Festival Season
On a cold winter’s day in Vienna, just before Christmas 1790, Mr. Haydn dined with Mr. Mozart for the last time.
Within a year the younger man would
be dead, and the older would be in London putting the finishing touches to an
opera that never saw the light of day in full public performance until, in
1951 it was staged in Florence with Maria Callas, Boris Christoff and Tygge
Tyggeson in the leading roles. This is just part of the strange story of an
opera that nearly never was, because although Haydn was fully paid in advance
for his version of the Orfeo and Eurydice legend by the London-based
impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, it became the victim of
politics and critical machinations that finally prevented it from opening at
Haydn was happy enough with the project (being paid in advance must have
helped) and described the libretto, by Carlo Badini, as “entirely different
from that of Glück’s”. What he didn’t say was that said Badini was
also famed for his destructive gossip and very influential critical writings
which could literally make or break a theatre’s reputation at that time. In
this writing of the famous tale, the story starts with Eurydice fleeing the
unwanted attentions of her father’s favoured suitor for her, and becoming
the focus of Orfeo’s love; however, by the end of Act One she is dead from
a snake-bite. The rest of the four acts concern Orfeo’s struggle to
retrieve her from Hades, his famous error, and in this version of the tale,
his eventual destruction by the Bacchae women, enraged by his avowed shunning
of women’s love following his final loss of Eurydice.
There were only 3 main roles in the opera that Haydn wrote — Orfeo,
written for leading tenor of the time Giacomo Davide who was described later
as possessing “a clear and flexible voice, with an extensive
falsetto”, Eurydice, sung by soprano Rosa Lops and the Genio (an
oracle/soothsayer figure) who was apparently to be sung by a not-very-good
castrato of the time, possibly one Signor Dorelli. Confusingly, by the time
the opera came to rehearsal, there was another role included in the MS —
that of Creonte, father of Eurydice. Sadly, despite getting to
dress-rehearsal, local politics prevented the King’s Theatre from opening
on time and Haydn never saw his opera open to the public.
It is no wonder then that this particular operatic version of the famous
myth fell into that huge abyss of “forgotten” works as the
late18th century geared itself up for the immense musical
developments on the horizon. Yet, it is a jewel of its time, with some
stunning music as well as dramatic vigour and this 2007 Glimmerglass concert
performance has been looked forward to for some time by those who remember or
have heard, either Callas in ’51, the 1967 live recording by Dame Joan
Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda at the Edinburgh Festival, or of course the more
recent revival by Cecilia Bartoli.
However, it was rather a disappointment to find that circumstances and
time constraints had yielded some pretty savage cuts here on the shores of
Lake Otsego. Michael Macleod, the new General and Artistic Director,
explained that he had been anxious to do something meaningful on the
traditional Sunday morning slot on Gala Weekend in this his first year at the
helm of the Festival Opera. What better than to maintain the ethic of
Glimmerglass and make more good music with a little known take on the myth,
and better still, a work by one of his great loves, Haydn? Sadly, the time
available between the 11 am start and the afternoon matinee at 3 pm of the
staged L'Orfeo by Monteverdi meant that the concert performance was
truncated with huge swathes of recitative removed. The story was moved on
succinctly but prosaically by an on-stage Narrator, and several arias also
What was left seemed more a showcase for soprano Sarah Coburn, an
opportunity this technically elegant singer took full advantage of. She sang
the arias of Eurydice and the Genio (the latter's big number “Al tuo
seno fortunate” being eerily reminiscent of Mozart's Queen of the
Night’s) with precision (mostly) and vocal poise. Not exciting, but
obviously well-read and produced with only fleeting glances at the score
before her. Equally effective was the baritone of young Corey Crider as
Creonte. Much less successful was the Orfeo of tenor Norman Shankle, who
appeared both nervous and under-prepared, his hands (and eyes) never far from
the printed music, and his production sounding unsure and tentative, at best.
This curate’s egg of a production was held together by some nice idiomatic
playing by the Opera Orchestra, with special mention going to the flutes,
under the shared batons of Antony Walker and Anne Manson.
Mr. MacLeod explained afterwards that the reason for the split duties for
the conductors was part of a process of selection for vacant post of the
Festival’s next Music Director. Whatever the reason, it was a rather novel
experience for the audience as the two conductors had two very different
styles, although it was hard to split them on the resultant sound.
The performance is repeated on the 19th August.
© Sue Loder 2007
For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office
(607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org/Haydn.html