Recently in Performances
Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one
of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the
‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas
would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa,
Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely
hook most for life.
It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
28 Oct 2007
The Magic Flute — English National Opera
Despite rumours to the contrary, English National Opera’s advertising material claims that this 12th revival of Nicholas Hytner’s popular production of ‘ The Magic Flute’ will be the last. Though it’s arguably better to get rid of a production in...
Despite rumours to the contrary, English National Opera’s advertising material
claims that this 12th revival of Nicholas Hytner’s popular production of ‘
The Magic Flute’ will be the last. Though it’s arguably better to get rid
of a production in its prime rather than when it’s been done to death, it will be a
sad loss. The staging has been popular with all sectors of ENO’s audience, as a
result of its balance, clarity, wit and visual beauty. This staging more than any other has
given me continual pause for thought over the years, leading me to better understanding of the
The ‘ serious’ characters are well-rounded and balanced; after all, they
are all supposed to be in some way human. The Queen of the Night is drawn in particularly fine
detail; she believes that she’s acting for the good, or why would she afford Tamino
the protection of the flute and the guidance of the three boys? Heather Buck’s
threatening coloratura was like an explosion of simmering anger and frustration on top of a
soft, warm-hued centre, not an all-guns-blazing outpouring of evil. Sarastro, too, has
something to learn; as he gets to know Pamina better, he loses arrogance that he never knew he
had, and comes to respect a woman as an equal.
Andrew Kennedy was a noble Tamino with lovely tone, though his oddly distorted vowel sounds
are becoming increasingly irritating. Sarah-Jane Davies matched him well as Pamina, singing a
beautifully poised ‘Ach, ich fühls’ (‘Now I know that love can
vanish’). Brindley Sherratt’s Sarastro was perhaps a little weak on the
bottom notes, but gave an imposing, centred performance, and Matthew Rose is such a fine
Speaker that I long to hear him as Sarastro.
Roderick Williams was a congenial Papageno with considerable charm, delivering Jeremy
Sams’s English dialogue in an approximation of a Yorkshire accent. Talking of
accents, his disguised Papagena is conventionally played in this production as an elderly
Irish tea-lady, which proved a verbal challenge too great for the Swedish soprano Susannah
Andersson. Once she was out of ‘ character’ and into the duet, her diction
was perfect and she sang very sweetly.
Sarah-Jane Davies (Pamina) / Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro) / Andrew Kennedy (Tamino)
The chorus were on form and Martin André conducted with delicacy and lyricism, but the
greatest joy of this production remains the staging. The live doves summoned by
Papageno’s pipes; the flood of green light when Tamino is wandering in the woodland;
the bears tamed by the flute; the majestic white pillars of the Temple of Wisdom and its
glorious interior golden screens with cut-out hieroglyphics; Papageno’s marital nest
full of baby birds. Given ENO’s tendency to replace serviceable and popular stagings
of core repertoire with misguided ‘concept’ productions, could they not
be persuaded to keep this lovely piece of musical theatre for a few seasons longer? I hope so.
Ruth Elleson © 2007