Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

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.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

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.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

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.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

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.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

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: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘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.

Nabucco at Orange

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.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

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.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

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.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

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.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

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.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘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.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tim Albery
28 Sep 2007

Dusting off a Masterpiece… “The Fortunes of King Croesus” by Reinhard Keiser, coming to Opera North, Leeds and Minnesota Opera soon.

Masterpiece? The term rather depends on whether the artist in question was indeed a master and it might come as a surprise to learn that this little-known composer of the brief, but significant, German Baroque Opera period is regarded by many as just that.

Above: Tim Albery

 

We can be forgiven today for not knowing much about either Keiser or his contemporaries in the jigsaw of small Germanic states of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Their work was very localised in terms of audiences, and specific to their towns and townspeople, and they more often than not composed for the German language, not the more widely accepted Italian or French. However, musically, they were perfectly aware of, and amenable to, some of the more southern influences of the times. They also occasionally included in their midst up and coming young composers on the way to greater things – Handel and Telemann to name but two. Indeed a young Handel absorbed many influences from Keiser, acknowledged in his day as the greatest living composer in Germany.

What makes Keiser (1674-1739) so special – and his “King Croesus” is a good example – is that he was a master of variety, expression and colour, and not only vocally. He liked nothing more than arranging the instrumental accompaniments in complex layers of sonority, giving his fast-paced vocal numbers a dizzying variety of effects. He wrote Croesus in 1711 when no longer in charge of the Hamburg opera house, but still writing for it, and returned to the piece revising it extensively (possibly for the better, although the original is lost) in 1730, making full use of the latest dramatic and musical ideas. He knew his audience. Not for them the epidemic sweeping the rest of Europe of strict Italian opera seria format, the rigid recitative-da capo aria-recitative sung by starry castrati and sopranos who could, literally, call the tune. The German tradition was much more eclectic and country-based, full of traditional dance rhythms and structures. The townspeople of Keiser’s time liked to hear tunes and see characters that reminded them of their folk traditions (even if they had long left the fields for more lucrative merchandising), they liked a bit of broad comedy, and wanted to know that all would come good in the end. On top of that, their rather grim Lutheran Church elders also required morality and ethics, for without that they could make big trouble for the local opera houses of the time.

The story of King Croesus as told by Keiser is typical of its period: that is to say, convoluted. The mighty Croesus of Lydia is proud but soon humbled by his enemy King Cyrus, as predicted by the sage Solon. His son, Atis, is dumb (at least in Act 1) but is in love with Elmira, Princess of Media. She is loved by the treacherous Orsanes, who is pursued in turn by Princess Clerida…who is loved by Croesus’ son Eliates. Only Atis’s servant Elcius (the comic character) is immune to these eternal triangles, and prefers the pleasures of the table. After war, imprisonment, concealed identities, betrayal and lessons learnt, we emerge at the end into the light of a wiser and more content court, with joy and happiness apparently unconfined.

By the time Keiser revised the version of King Croesus we will see in Leeds and Minnesota, both his career and the German Opera as a working entity were soon to disappear beneath the flood of Italian works, so it’s a good choice on the part of director Tim Albery, who originally convinced Opera North’s General Director Richard Mantle to stage it, to show off Reinhard Keiser’s brilliance as a master of musical invention.

And it’s that very brilliance of fecund invention – layer upon layer of musical and dramatic ideas pouring forth with an almost indecent profligacy – that Tim Albery has had to both tame and barber to fit our modern sensibilities, and expectations. Asking him to describe his attraction to this piece brought forth an equally profligate flow of enthusiasm: “It’s a wonderful, anarchic, hugely varied piece, suddenly irreverential, suddenly serenely heroic – it’s a gift, and a challenge, to present to today’s audience.”

So how has he done it? He says that they have made some cuts, especially in the recitative that didn’t progress the story to any effect, and a few arias for the same reason – but also moved around a couple of arias that just didn’t feel comfortable where they were and seemed to work better elsewhere – and he hopes that the audience will find it works too. They have cut some of the peasant and children’s dancing scenes and relocated the “country bumpkin” character from the village street to become more of a courtly old roué attached to the palace. Albery also feels that the downside of Keiser’s fecundity – so many ideas, tumbling over each other it seems – is that the opera can provoke a feeling of almost breathlessness as we the audience try to keep up. So when Keiser does slow the pace, and gives a beautiful melody space to expand and evolve, it’s almost as if we feel “oh, thank heavens, yes, let’s just enjoy this a bit”. So to that end, he and Harry Bicket, the musical director, have, on occasion, just repeated a particularly lovely line of song – to give people the chance to appreciate it before it disappears and the story’s off again. At Opera North, we will hear the work sung in English, the work of Albery himself, although in Minnesota it will be sung in the original German.

Helping Albery achieve this alchemy of adaptation and clarification in Leeds is an impressive musical line-up. As well as “Mr Baroque Opera” himself, Harry Bicket, there is a top flight cast of actor-singers including British tenor Paul Nilon in the title role, young Canadian soprano Gillian Keith, the extraordinary, exciting American male soprano Michael Maniaci in the role of Prince Atis, and Henry Waddington as Cyrus.

Will this production finally bring Keiser back to popularity? Albery certainly hopes so and he’s sure that once people get to hear the wonderful richness of melody and orchestration in “King Croesus” they too will want the dust-sheets left off for ever.

Sue Loder © 2007

“King Croesus” can be seen at:

The Grand Theatre, Leeds on 17th & 20th Oct and 7th &10th Nov 2007
The Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 27th Oct
The Lowry, Salford Quays, on 17th Nov

[Click here for information on U.K. performances.]

and at Minnesota Opera from 1st March 2008

[Click here for information on Minnesota performances.]

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):