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?
04 Dec 2007
Bolcom’s ”View” brilliant at WNO
The American Dream and the tragic vision of ancient Greece are miles and millennia apart; yet they merge seamlessly in William Bolcom’s “View from the Bridge,” on stage in November at the Washington National Opera.
The mythic dimension, of course, was already there in Arthur Miller’s 1957 drama, a true-to-life
story, in which the author detected “some re-enactment of Greek myth that was ringing a
long-buried bell in my subconscious mind.” In the play Bolcom too sensed the mythic horizon
behind life in the New York Sicilian community of which Eddie Carbone had long been a pillar.
And working with Miller and long-time collaborator Arnold Weinstein to “translate” the drama
into opera the composer amplified the mythic resonance of the story by adding a chorus that
functions as it did in classic tragedy: it comments on — rather than taking part in — the events
Commissioned by and premiered at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1999, “View” moved — with
the addition of two arias to the score — to the Metropolitan Opera in 2002 . And this third
staging of the original production — directed by Frank Galati with sets and costumes by Santo
Loquasto — by a major company confirms that this is indeed an American classic.
Three singers in the WNO cast who created their roles in Chicago and then repeated them at the
Met contribute greatly to the WNO success: Kim Josephson as stevedore Eddie Carbone,
Catherine Malfitano as his wife Beatrice and Gregory Turay as relative Rodolfo newly-arrived
It is a coincidence perhaps that this trio returns to “View” for a third time. Yet their presence in
the cast speaks of a commitment to the work that came across clearly in the performance at
Washington’s Kennedy Center on November 14. It is, of course, Malfitano, now looking back on
an international career spanning three decades, who amazes. The dramatic power and the beauty
of her voice remain undiminished. Her delivery of “When am I gonna be a wife again?” — one
of the added arias — expresses the pain she feels as she watches her husband’s growing
obsession with her orphaned niece, portrayed with all the innocence of the ‘50s by Christine
This illicit passion that turns this account of life in a community still committed to an Old-World
code of honor into tragedy defines Eddie as the central figure in “View,” and Josephson has fully
mastered the complexity of the role. He violates this code first in his passion for his niece and
then in reporting his wife’s illegal immigrant relatives in to authorities. But of far greater
consequence is the kiss that he gives his rival Rodolfo.
It is a violation of a taboo that determines the outcome of the drama. What makes the scene
doubly compelling is that up to this moment Eddie was not consciously aware of the sexual
attraction that Rodolfo held for him.
This kiss, comparable in its force to that embrace in the Garden of Gethsemane, is at the very
heart of “View,” and Bolcom has set it with a master’s hand. Backed by the black-white
bleakness of the photographs projected on the rear of the stage, it reaches beyond the story as a
violation of such dimensions that it demands action from the gods. Indeed, in its impact, it stands
beside Hagen’s murder of Siegfried in Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung.” It is one of the great
moments in opera.
An outstanding member of the supporting cast is Richard Bernstein as illegal immigrant —
“submarine” — Bruno. Bass Bernstein, one of America’s most agile singers, is superb in
everything he does, yet he remains among the unsung truly significant voices of his generation.
And he makes “A Ship Called Hunger,” the finest and most overpowering aria in the score, a
show stopper. Indeed, the bitterly sorrowful line “I do not understand you, America!” is the
supreme vocal moment in the opera.
Also impressive is veteran bass John Del Carlo as Lawyer Alfieri, a man intimately familiar with
the characters in the drama, but at the same time an objective observer who leads the chorus that
Bolcom has integrated so effectively into the score. And tenor Turay brings bel canto brilliance
to Bolcom’s recasting of the hit song “Paper Doll” as a Pucciniesque aria.
John DeMain, now in the senior ranks of American conductors, gives full power to Bolcom’s
score with the WNO orchestra. Amy Hutchison directed this re-staging of the Chicago
“View from the Bridge” tells a story as poignant as it is bleak of what opera scholar Thomas May
describes as “an era that combined lingering innocence with suspiciousness, unjaded faith in the
American dream with a shield of cynicism.” Arthur Miller was a major spokesman of that age;
with this opera William Bolcom lays bare its emotional heart.