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.
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.
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
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
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
The Theatre Royal, Nottingham on 27th Oct
The Lowry, Salford Quays, on 17th Nov
here for information on U.K. performances.]
and at Minnesota Opera from 1st March 2008
here for information on Minnesota performances.]