Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
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.