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.
14 Nov 2007
Aida at ENO
After the marketing gimmickry of Sally Potter’s production of Carmen, and a dance-based Poppea set at the bottom of the sea, it did not bode well when the advertising for ENO’s latest
production included an interactive dress-up doll circulated by email.
The company currently
seems obsessed with ‘hooking’ a new audience, while giving little thought to delivering a
consistent standard of meaningful theatrical output which might encourage this audience to stay
and explore the operatic medium further.
The ‘hook’ for Jo Davies’s new production of Aida (in collaboration with the opera companies of
Houston and Oslo) was the prospect of sets and costumes by the iconic British designer Zandra
Rhodes – hence the dress-up doll – and it was Rhodes’s name which dominated the publicity
Rhodes’s creation is a riot of colour in stylised, exaggerated versions of authentic Ancient
Egyptian designs. The men’s chorus sport voluminous gold skirts and bald-caps painted with
turquoise zigzags; Amneris is entertained by orange-clad child dancers in a room with intricate
wing-patterned windows, and Radamès makes his Act 2 triumphal entrance on a fabulous
turquoise-and-gold elephant puppet amid a shower of gold. These are the garish ceremonial
colours of the Egyptian armies; the Ethiopians have earthier colours, browns and burnt reds and
yellows. Diagonally-hung scenic draperies slide back and forth to create pyramid-shaped spaces;
the final scene is highly effective as a triangular space closes in on Aida and Radamès.
Crucially, behind the zany turquoise headdresses and lavish visuals, Jo Davies has created a
straightforward, ultra-traditional reading of Verdi’s drama which focuses on the central love
triangle and Aida’s internal struggle. It is refreshingly gimmick-free and invites the audience to
care about the characters. Furthermore, the singing is terrific.
Two singers are particularly outstanding; Claire Rutter, who sings the title role for the first time
and does so with total commitment and unfailingly lovely tone, and Iain Paterson, also in his role
début as Amonasro, a former ENO Young Artist whose bass-baritone is now impressively
refined and compelling (his future engagements include Gunther at the Met).
Full stage with Jane Dutton (Amneris) and Gwynne Howell (The Pharaoh) centre
Tenor John Hudson may be short on vocal ‘edge’ but he sings Radamès with power in the big
moments at the end of Act 1 and the Nile Scene, and remarkable sensitivity in the quieter
passages, including a proper diminuendo on the final B-flat of ‘Celeste Aida’. Jane Dutton’s
Amneris is vocally capable, but it’s her characterisation that would really benefit from more
depth. For the first two acts at least, she comes across as little more than a smug,
two-dimensional cartoon villain; there’s little evidence of the personal pain behind her
victimisation of Aida. After the Nile Scene, suddenly there’s some depth and real drama. (One
weakness of the staging as a whole, in fact, is that it doesn’t really start to take itself seriously
until the second half.)
Add into the mix the two distinguished basses – Gwynne Howell as the King of Egypt and
Brindley Sherratt as Ramfis – and the cast is one of which any top-rank international house
would be proud. In the pit, conductor Edward Gardner makes delicate work of the score’s soft
opening and the calm reverence of the ‘Possente Ptha’ scene, but pulls the stops out for the
warmongering in Act 1 and the big stuff of Act 2.
For once, the formula seems to be right. Attract the punters with a well-known opera title and a
big-name designer, and keep them entertained with first-class music making, a visual spectacle,
and a production which acknowledges that the intimate stuff is most important of all. ENO
should treat this as a salutary lesson.
Ruth Elleson © 2007