Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
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