Recently in Performances
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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