Recently in Performances
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?
22 Oct 2007
Opera at the BBC Proms 2007
Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s guest appearance is an annual fixture at the Proms, and this year the work of choice was Verdi’s Macbeth, in a semi-staged performance on July 24th based on Richard Jones’s new production for this year’s Festival.
The opera was done in a hybrid edition in which the
familiar 1865 score gives way to the 1847 finale following ‘Pietà, rispetta,
amore’, thus keeping all the later version’s best music and gaining a more
theatrical, less ‘operatic’ ending.
Indeed, it had been a theatrically-compelling staging — at its
Glyndebourne home. However its bulky sets and large-scale choreography simply
wouldn’t have been viable in the limited dimensions and exposed nature of the
Royal Albert Hall platform. Consequently Geoffrey Dolton’s semi-staged
adaptation retained little of the original, and had it not been for the
tartan costumes which provided such a clear indication of family allegiances,
it might as well have been given in concert.
On its own terms, however, the musical performance was very strong, led by
Vladimir Jurowski whose conducting had rhythmic delicacy and dramatic sweep.
Voices which sound thrillingly huge in Glyndebourne’s intimate and forgiving
acoustic can struggle to make an impression in the cavernous Royal Albert
Hall, but as Lady Macbeth, Sylvie Valayre was notable here for her strength
and lyricism, and Stanislav Shvets for a portentous yet introverted account
of Banquo. Strong performances too came from Andrzej Dobber in the title
role, and Peter Auty as a young Macduff who is matured by his personal
On to August 12th and this season’s operatic highlight: a concert
performance of Götterdämmerung, the culmination of the first
“Ring cycle” in the Proms’ 113-year history - in reality, performances of
the four operas by four different companies over the space of four years.
After visits from Simon Rattle with the Orchestra of the Age of
Enlightenment, Antonio Pappano with a semi-staged adaptation from the Royal
Opera, and Christoph Eschenbach with the Orchestre de Paris, the baton was
handed to Donald Runnicles and the Proms “house band”, the BBC Symphony
Orchestra, for the final instalment in a concert performance.
It was a terrific ensemble effort by all concerned, speaking volumes about
Runnicles’ rapport with the orchestra. Christine Brewer (a regular guest
performer with the BBCSO) was a radiant, committed Brünnhilde. Stig Andersen
gave a muscular performance as Siegfried albeit with a couple of botched top
notes, and John Tomlinson’s Hagen was a triumph of characterisation and
malevolent stage presence. Of the supporting cast, the Scottish mezzo Karen
Cargill gave a notably excellent performance as Waltraute; her focused,
dramatic sound and expansive phrasing will surely stand her in good stead for
similar repertoire in the future. Only the Norns — Andrea Baker, Natascha
Petrinsky and Miranda Keys — sounded as though they had not been employed
with the success of the ensemble in mind, and even this is no reflection on
the individual singers.
This performance was a great achievement and, like all successful Wagner
performances, succeeded in making six hours go by in the blink of an eye.
August 20th brought a performance of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by
the Philharmonia Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi, in a concert whose
first half featured Webern’s orchestration of part of Bach’s ‘Musical
Offering’ and a recently-assembled concert suite from Thomas Adès’s 1995
opera Powder Her Face. Contemporary music, even going back as far as
Bartók, simply doesn’t seem to pull in the crowds at the Proms; the hall was
almost empty. This cannot have done much for the morale of the orchestra or
soloists, but this Bluebeard performance would surely have been
disappointing in any case. Charlotte Hellekant was miscast as Judit, her
glacial poise giving no indication of the warmth she promises to bring to her
chilly new home. Correspondingly there was scant evocation of this in the
orchestral playing, and little sense of the richly-drawn individual musical
worlds to be found behind each of the seven doors. The orchestral balance was
all wrong too, swamping Falk Struckmann’s intelligent, generous-voiced
In the final week of the season, James Levine and the Boston Symphony
Orchestra visited for two evenings — an orchestral concert as well as a
concert performance of Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust with the
Tanglewood Festival Chorus. This performance fell on September 6th, the day
Luciano Pavarotti died, and the performance was dedicated to his memory.
Vocally the highlight was Yvonne Naef’s glorious mezzo in her fevered,
introverted account of ‘D’amour l’ardente flamme’, but elsewhere there were a
few problems. As Faust, Marcello Giordani had a tendency to strain, while as
Méphistophélès, the veteran José van Dam sounded a touch threadbare. The
real strengths in the principal ensemble lay elsewhere; the dynamic between
Faust and Méphistophélès was well-developed, and the characters were
finely-drawn and well rounded. This was, after all, a late date in the
orchestra’s tour calendar, so the opera (or rather the ‘dramatic legend’)
came to London fully ripe. This experience was evident too in the disciplined
and vivid singing of the chorus, and in the wonderful orchestral playing
especially in some of the solo woodwind.
Ruth Elleson © 2007