Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
16 Aug 2007
Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo”, Glimmerglass 2007 — Slattery rises to Alden’s challenging concept
The first masterpiece in the history of opera. That’s a tall order to live up to for any company and for any band of singers, especially those at the beginning of their careers.
But that’s what Glimmerglass Opera is all
about — pushing young singers on the cusp of international careers into the
limelight with challenges of this sort of calibre. Luckily for them, this is
an opera that has enjoyed a wealth of thought-provoking productions all
around the world in the past two decades, and an audience now much more at
ease with early 17th century musical forms than at any time since
L’Orfeo’s first performance 400 years ago.
To quote Gustav Leonhardt, Monteverdi “turned a page of musical history
and started to write a new chapter full of daring harmonies and (previously)
unheard human passions.” Unfortunately there is a dearth of instructions from the composer and so
nothing is writ in stone — yet, down through the years and certainly in the
many 20th and 21st century recordings of L’Orfeo, all
sorts of ideas as to how this juxtaposition of instrument and voice might be
realised have been attempted. However, one thing is certain: he demanded the
supremacy of the individual human voice in its eternal quest for
psychological and dramatic truth. So that too has to be a priority of any
staging: the voices and the story they tell must shine clear and unobstructed
by any misguided directorial conceits.
On that subject, this production directed by one of opera’s current
enfant terribles, Chris Alden, certainly tried the patience of many in the
audience. Having attended its premier at Opera North in England last year, I
was intrigued to see how Alden’s conceits had travelled to this very
different house, and different singers. I wrote then: “You don’t get very
much more classic than the opera that virtually invented the art-form, and
Christopher Alden has most decidedly set out to challenge a few well-worn
notions of this favola in musica.” Indeed he does, and on second
acquaintance, I can’t say that I’m any more enamoured than I was first
time around. It’s patchy; and although the idea of Orfeo as a troubled
artist/singer in some sort of faux ducal palace works very well, the eliding
of certain essential parts of the story — such as Eurydice’s rescue and
second death — just jar the sensibilities too much, as do many of the bits
of rather tired post-modernistic little “business” that the singers have
to carry. Endless yards of sticky tape (to confine Eurydice to Hades and also
to represent the Styx and now played more for laughs) and dozens of un-lit
cigarettes get boring so quickly. Having said that, as this is the
Glimmerglass Orpheus festival, in celebration of the great story’s many
transmogrifications, perhaps the challenging Alden approach is what’s
needed to keep the adrenaline running?
The pivotal and dominating role is of course that of Orfeo himself, where
muse and myth fuse into the legendary singer who descended into the
underworld to bring back his dead wife Eurydice, yet failed in the final
moments. The essential difference between first run in Leeds, and here was
the Orfeo. Paul Nilon in England concentrated on projecting a quite limpid,
gentle, musical soul whose journey and eventual failure seemed oh-so-human
and sympathetic. Here, Michael Slattery, a young American tenor and Juilliard
graduate, was a very different kettle of fish. Resembling more a wild, wilful
and wasted rock star of the 80's or 90's, his lithe body often seeming to
project emotion and nervous energy as clearly as his admirably coloured
tenor. His second act vocal climax, the virtuosic "Possente spirto", where
the singer has to “audition” his way past Caronte at the gates of Hell,
is 10 minutes of some of the most difficult vocal writing that Monteverdi (or
his contemporaries) ever committed to paper. Slattery’s performance was a
lesson in dramatic singing - the young poet/singer grew more desperate, more
anxious, as his words seemed to fail him in his quest. If some tonal beauty
was lost in the service of the drama, then it was a risk worth taking.
He was well supported by some spirited and effective singing from the rest
of the cast, who doubled as the Chorus, although some were more committed to
(and comfortable with) early music performance practice than others. Of note
were Megan Monaghan as Eurydice/Speranza and bass Christopher Temporelli as
Matching them and Slattery in musical commitment was the orchestra under
Antony Walker whose strong musical sense and understanding of idiom enabled
the period instrument-augmented Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra to sound
remarkably “authentic”. At this sort of festival with five widely varying
works in repertory through the summer, one cannot expect scholarly exactitude
from the players or the instruments they use — but with some clever
adjustments (such as substituting the original cornetti with muted piccolo
trumpets) and additions (three theorbos to augment the continuo
accompaniment) Walker and his players gave a most satisfactory approximation
to the real thing.
© Sue Loder 2007
Performances continue August 14th, 17th, 20th, 23rd, and 25th.
For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office
(607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org