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.
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?
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