28 Oct 2007
“Apollo e Dafne” — the English Concert at St. Georges, Bristol.
Someone once called Handel’s Italian cantata Apollo e Dafne a “proto-opera” and it’s easy to see why.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Someone once called Handel’s Italian cantata Apollo e Dafne a “proto-opera” and it’s easy to see why.
He wrote it at roughly the same time as his first full-blown opera seria were starting to roll off that amazingly fruitful production line which was to dominate the English opera scene for decades, and it has music and drama of the same high quality, even if the quantity is more limited.
It is a delightful, if sobering, tale of out-of-control sexual desire which leads to loss and regret; an everyday tale of country folk set in the misty mythological past where nymphs, shepherds and passing gods wreak havoc in the Arcadian calm. The amorous god Apollo spots a nubile young wood nymph called Dafne. He becomes entranced and then besotted with her and in the end his unwanted advances force her to reject him in the only way left open to her: she turns herself into a sweet-smelling laurel bush, (forever after known to gardeners as “Daphne”) and Apollo is left to rue his heavy-handed technique, singing a heartbroken tribute to his lost love.
Although this cantata can be viewed as a simple morality tale — and most probably was in 1710 — Handel has lavished the full panoply of his skills upon it, though in miniature form compared to his greater vocal works. He actually started writing it, we think, whilst still in Venice where he was both working and networking among the nobility of that great musical centre of the time. The manuscript had to travel with him when he left for a brief sojourn in Hanover which was where it was completed. This break in the compositional timeframe is not noticeable — the arias and recitatives flow smoothly one to the other with all of the young German’s trademark felicity.
A recent national tour by the renowned baroque ensemble The English Concert has put the spotlight back on to Apollo e Dafne and a recent Friday evening saw them performing it as the semi-staged centre piece of an all-Handel programme for an appreciative audience at St. George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol. This elegant and acoustically-blessed baroque ex-church was the perfect setting for the English Concert’s stylish and alert playing, where both spirit and refinement were found in equal measure. It was particularly interesting to see the band directed not from the violin, but from the fine baroque oboe of Alfredo Bernardini, who has both worked with some of the best period ensembles in the world, and he brought a touch of Italian musical fire to proceedings as he stood and played his instrument with astounding virtuosity in both the two concerti grossi (No 2 in B flat, and No 3 in G) and a shorter cantata for solo soprano “Ah crudel nel pianto mio”.
This lament was plangently sung by visiting Spanish soprano Nuria Rial, who has an ideal voice for this kind of work — clear, limpid and quite white in tone — and she gave a polished if perhaps musically unadventurous reading of it. What was needed was an injection of Italian brio — and we got it with the entrance of Fulvio Bettini as the importuning god Apollo in the main vocal work of the evening. Bettini is an experienced singer of not only Handel’s meaty baritone roles, but also of the earlier Italian masters such as Monteverdi, and his stage credits go from that period right through to Ravel, Weill and Glass. This kind of theatrical experience showed in his robust performance — his characterisation had a 360 degree aspect and his rich middle and lower range was used to the full, expressing not only the god’s passion, but also his frustration and almost comic exasperation with his unwilling beloved. His final aria, when he mourns his vanished love, “Cara pianta, co'miei pianti” revealed a matching ability with legato line. Nuria Rial was a most believable young wood nymph and her desperation and unease was effectively captured by some stylish and elegant singing with neat ornamentation, most noticeably in the lovely aria “Felicissima quest’alma” where her tone was entrancing. The two singers combined gracefully in the final duetto “Deh, lascia addolcire”.
Sue Loder © 2007