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.
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