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?
28 Aug 2007
The Dream of Gerontius Opens Elora Summer Festival
Written in 1900, Elgar’s Gerontius expresses the universal and existentialist struggle of death and rebirth. The allegorical significance of the piece touches on a need for faith, self-discovery, and acceptance of the world around us.
The Elora Festival, noted for the collaborative efforts of
many great performers and organizations opened its 2007 festival with
Elgar’s magnificent creation. Noel Edison masterfully directed the Elora
Festival Singers, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the Elora Festival
Orchestra with brilliance, aesthetic dedication, and a tender yet strict
hand. The sensitivity he allotted the soloists is to be commended and his
understanding of the deeper meaning of this piece brilliantly shone in his
exquisite control of the orchestral fabric. The overture began with warm and
burnished hues, painfully weeping celli and well-balanced dark
ombra. The Elgarian timbres were specifically expressed by each
orchestral section, most specifically in the strings as they exemplified the
ethereal and transcendent space Elgar demanded in order to create the
vastness of his masterpiece. Edison paid intelligent heed to the dynamic
inflection and allowed the orchestra to create layered effects leading to
Gerontius’ beautiful entry cry of “Jesu, Maria—I am near to
Noel Edison, Artistic Director of the Elora Festival
Gerontius, sung with elegance and the purity of lyricism by Irish-Canadian
tenor, Michael Colvin, is a taxing role that requires an almost Verdian
thrust but also the most expansive sense of lyrical control. Colvin’s
diction was brilliant and his use of text was especially moving. A free and
impressive upper register, the squillo of his tenore bruciato added
to the dramatic presence of Gerontius. Although this is a concert work,
Colvin was continually in character and indeed most musically presented.
Tenor, Michael Colvin was a sensitive and believable Gerontius.
The combined choruses blended well, with precise diction. Each section
represented an individual unit that contributed to the larger whole and there
was never a sense of unbalance. Edison led them beautifully toward their
inflection of “Of all that makes me man….and crueler still, a fierce and
restless fright begins to fill the mansion of my soul,” where Elgar at once
transforms the music by imbuing atonal suggestions, with turbulent and
exciting orchestration leading into an ethereal moment of relaxation.
The entrance of the priest was significant and wonderfully approached by
bass-baritone, Tyler Duncan. Perhaps the most impressive performer of the
group, his voice spun almost impeccably and was never pushed but floated on
the breath with precision and musical inflection. Impressive indeed for a
lower voice type to exude this type of elegance, there was never any
heaviness and if so it was created by timbre, not pushing or sometimes, what
I call, “barking” baritones.
Tyler Duncan (bass-baritone) was the surprise of the evening.
A most memorable moment at the point where Gerontius’ words mimic those
of Christ in his last moments, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, into Thy
hands…” was so utterly moving that every hair on one’s head stood
completely erect. Duncan’s expression of the Priests, “Go forth in the
name…” was well-expressed as one of Elgar’s most majestic melodies.
Canadian mezzo, Kimberly Barber astonishingly represented God’s Angel.
Part II offered a most expressive response to Part I and much of that is
owed to the performance of the Angel by mezzo-soprano, Kimberly Barber. Her
presence on-stage was riveting and even though she was not in costume one saw
her presence as the Angel, purely and physically. Her eyes never wavered in
their expressive depth and she captivated. Her’s was the presence of calm
and salvation. Her voice blended liquidly with the chorus of Angelicals her
inflection and diction was precise. Her sound was never pushed and her rich
and luscious mezzo was used in a dramatic way, never singing just to project
but rather to express the meaning of the musical lines and the Angel’s
important message. Her “Softly and Gently,” was truly one of the most
compassionate and hair-raising moments of the entire performance. As she
sang, “In my most loving arms I now enfold thee, and o’er the penal
waters, as they roll, I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee,” she
moved many in the audience to tears. Barber enfolded us with her eloquence
and in the end one forgot that this was a singer performing a musical role,
but really Elgar’s Angel.
Mary-Lou P. Vetere, 2007