Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
18 Dec 2007
Belfast welcomes a first-rate Messiah
If Belfast in Northern Ireland isn’t a city that immediately springs to mind as a centre of musical excellence then it’s not for want of talent, initiative and professionalism within its cultural community.
It is also a
city busy re-inventing itself after decades of internecine strife and is now
buzzing with the optimism and investment that is part of the “peace
dividend”. At a time of year when many cities in the UK and USA are
churning out moderate and sometimes frankly embarrassing renditions of
Handel’s great work it was a delight to see last Saturday night that the
Ulster Orchestra, under the forward-thinking guidance of Chief Executive
David Byers, had invited a top flight international conductor with excellent
baroque credentials to meld the undoubted talents of its musicians and chorus
with some world class soloists.
Martin Haselböck holds the titles of Vienna Court Organist (shades of
Hapsburg splendour there) and Professor of Organ at the University of Vienna,
but it is his work throughout Europe and the USA (he’s recently been
appointed Music Director of the baroque “Musica Angelica” in Los Angeles)
as a conductor of baroque opera and orchestras that he is best known perhaps.
With just a couple of days of rehearsal with a slimmed-down Ulster Orchestra
and Belfast Philharmonic Choir under Christopher Bell, he obviously gelled
most satisfactorily with both, as on both nights before full houses there was
evidence of like minds working together to produce a nimble, but supremely
eloquent rendition of this iconic work. The modern instrument orchestra
played with great Handelian style and flourish without ever over-doing the
baroque gesture, whilst the choir was almost immaculate in both intonation
and ensemble, with special mention going to the alto section for a
particularly creamy tone. No fuzzy diction in the faster passages, crisp
enunciation throughout, and a sense of true pleasure in singing came though
loud and clear. Messiah is a wonderful platform for solo excellence, but it
stands or falls by the quality of its less starry musicians, and Ulster has
every reason to be proud of its achievements here – they stand comparison
with many higher-profile European ensembles.
With this sort of solid musicianship behind them, it was inevitable that
the soloists would have to shine and really live up to their individual
billings and we were not disappointed, although on the second night there was
perhaps a slightly less ebullient start to proceedings.
Young British tenor Benjamin Hulett is, like his colleagues Deborah York
and David DQ Lee, now based in Germany and his warm, agile voice has been
noticed there in a range of baroque and classical repertoire. At the
Waterfront Hall last night his ease of production was particularly noticeable
in the Part Two recitatives and arias such as “Behold and see if there be
any sorrow” with some lovely unforced high notes being balanced by darker
The one singer in the group who might be termed non-specialist in the
baroque was the American baritone Randall Scarlata. However, he had no
trouble in fitting into this sound world and indeed demonstrated a similar
degree of agility in the coloratura as his colleagues, plus showing some
impressive colouring and expression in the more passionate arias, “Why do
the nations so furiously rage together” being a prime example.
With the first alto aria “But who may abide” the Belfast crowd got
their first taste of the highly promising young countertenor David DQ Lee,
who made such an impression this year in the BBC’s Cardiff Singer of the
World competition. Just a couple of weeks previously they had enjoyed the
more mature talents of Germany’s Andreas Scholl, and in the young
Canadian-Korean’s voice local informed opinion found a fascinating
comparison to enjoy. Lee’s instrument is more in the modern American
tradition of countertenor vocal production, with a warmer, more full-blooded
sound than the English/Germanic one, and his operatic experience to date
appears to colour his interpretations of these classic alto/mezzo arias,
although always with good taste and refinement of line and ornament. Some
elegant phrasing and soft, exquisitely-held cadential notes in “He was
despised” were particularly impressive.
Deborah York’s Handelian credentials are well known and respected
worldwide and if we have heard her less frequently in the UK recently, it is
more due to her present residence in Berlin than any lack of demand within in
these shores. Her bell-like, almost vibrato-free, soprano is not particularly
large, but it has the ability to ping to the farthest corners of a big house,
and the 1800 seats of the Waterfront held no terrors for her. She sang “I
know that my redeemer liveth” with a particularly glistening tone and was
an intriguing contrast to Lee’s more vibrant one in the duet “He shall
feed his flock”.
With music and singing of this standard, Belfast and the Ulster Orchestra
are up there with the best in Europe and America and Handel was well-served
Sue Loder © December 2007