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.
“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.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
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