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
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