Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
12 Nov 2007
Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera
Le Nozze di Figaro, in 1786, was the longest and most elaborate opera buffa ever composed and (though it is seldom given complete) is still the longest you are likely to see in the regular repertory.
There are so many
variables that a critic can easily find something to object to. A Countess
short of breath in “Porgi amor,” with which (no warm-up) she opens Act
II; a Cherubino too feminine for adolescent male outpourings; a Count
insufficiently virile for his masculine vanity (the engine that drives the
plot) to be credible; a Marcellina too young to be Figaro’s mother
(Beaumarchais turns Oedipus into farce here, showing how close
tragedy and comedy really are); a lackluster conductor; a “concept”
staging that ignores half the plot; an ugly set; an incompetent fandango or
leap from the window – there is always (as Gilda Radner would say)
something. Attending the Met’s Figaro in a year when few
world-famous names have signed on for it, the manipulator of the poison pen
whets his fangs in malicious anticipation.
At the matinee of November 10, the Met fooled me: until the last two
minutes of the staging (and then it was Jonathan Miller’s unaltered
original direction that let me down, not anything the performers did), Le
Nozze was as near perfect as you are likely to get, and none of those
obvious lapses occurred. Anja Harteros sang both the Countess’s arias
flawlessly and was, in addition, a radiant beauty whose neglect by any
husband puzzled everyone and made him look an oaf. She won the
ovation of the afternoon – even for one who missed the angelic quality Kiri
Te Kanawa brought to the Countess’s final lines of forgiveness. (The opera
– and buffo in general – is primarily about forgiveness for everybody’s
human imperfections – which is why the original, imperial audience found it
easy to overlook the revolutionary subtext.) Ekaterina Siurina, a plump
Russian tidbit, as Susanna sang a radiant “Deh vieni non tardar” and a
“Venite, inginocchiatevi” with the proper giggly bounce. Kate Lindsey is
a real find – her Cherubino looked like an adolescent boy, a very pretty
one to be sure but with an arrogant chin and a “street” sort of strut
that made this cocksure kid a credible threat to the older males. She sang
gloriously too. Marie McLaughlin made an ardent but not preposterous
Marcellina – for once one regretted the omission of her aria – and
Anne-Carolyn Bird, though a bit tall, sang a sweet Barberina.
Anja Harteros as the Countess
Among the men, Bryn Terfel naturally stood out in the title role. I did
not like his Figaro when the production was brand new – he seemed so
anxious to show what an actor he was that he huffed and puffed and groaned
and grimaced instead of singing; Mozart took a back seat to Beaumarchais. He
has calmed down considerably over the years, and though still a bouncing
buffo-man with plenty of time for comedy (if his pretence of jumping off the
balcony is not quite believable), he now sings the arias at a less frenetic
pace, with more of the elegance they require and reward. Simon Keenlyside
played the Count as an elegant fop, forever tossing his curls and pratfalling
on the polished floors, but this never interfered with his musical authority.
Maurizio Murano’s blowhard Bartolo, Greg Fedderly’s slithy Basilio, and
Patrick Carfizzi’s lumpish Antonio earned most of the day’s laughs.
Philippe Jordan is a young Swiss who conducts with zest and delight, as if
he wanted to grab you by the ears and prove this is a masterpiece with charms
you never suspected – hardly necessary with Figaro, but what I
mean is, he takes none of it for granted, he is thrilled by the music and
eager to share.
Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna), Bryn Terfel (Figaro) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)
And what did I object to about the conclusion? In the Met’s rush to get
the Countess into a new and glittery gown for the finale, no one has thought
(and Mr. Miller years ago did not think) to have her show the ring to the
Count, revealing to him that she is the mysterious lady he made love to in
the dark. The audience knows this, and Figaro and Susanna know it, but the
Count does not, and his heartfelt, aristocratic apology is inexplicable if he
doesn’t. The laws of farce are immutable: If you do not tie all the knots,
the machine unravels. It’s such an easy piece of business to fix – and so
satisfying when it’s fixed. Patch it up, Met.