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?
16 Jan 2008
A New Hansel und Gretel at the Met
Wagner’s all-conquering chic made apocalyptic music-dramas drawn from folklore the ideal of the nationalistic era; every serious opera composer of the time felt obliged to attempt something in that line.
Ironically, the only
one of these faux-Wagnerian epics that became (and remained) a popular hit
was Humperdinck’s 1893 setting of a Grimm fairy tale, which achieved the
perfect union of tunes kids could appreciate (and even sing themselves — he
wrote them for his sister’s children) and orchestral method that savors of
Meistersinger. Hansel und Gretel makes use of Wagnerian
counterpoint without all those embarrassing Wagnerian emotions, both immoral
and illegal — Hansel and Gretel do not go running joyously into an amorous
Gertrude (Rosalind Plowright) and Peter (Alan Held)
In the present era, when children imagine themselves too sophisticated for
fairy-tale kitsch (though they still love it in the right circumstances, and
the old Met production was perfect of its kind), when they are raised on
sarcastic cartoon banter and an After-School Special level of squalor, it
seems that the presentation of Hansel und Gretel must modernize too.
Hence the new Met staging, borrowed from the Welsh National Opera with a
number of Brit trappings, such as a Witch in drag out of panto. The titular
children, when we meet them, resemble shell-shocked raggedy dolls, listless
and starving on oversized chairs in a low-rent kitchen. Later they fall
asleep in a forest that resembles a very large dining room (terrific
scary-forest wallpaper out of a Maurice Sendak tale and nightmarish waiters
with branches for heads), dreaming not of angels but of Pillsbury doughboy
chefs. The Witch lives in an industrial kitchen suitable to a summer camp and
appears (in Adam Klein’s delicious performance) to be doing Julia Child and
Dame Edna in tandem. Papa probably drinks and Mama is haggard from overwork
(we are plainly dealing with latchkey kids here), and the dreams are not of
Godly salvation but of gaudy desserts.
Hansel (Alice Coote), Gretel (Christine Schaefer) and Chefs/Angels
There’s a lot of good fun on the stage — what kid won’t snicker at a
grown man in drag? — but will this do for holiday resurrection year upon
year, as the fairy tale staging did? Or will once or twice do it? And will
the kids have nightmares from those tree-waiters? I did. A friend of mine
encountered a subway car full of kids after one of the special matinees of
this production, and much as they’d loved the witch, the enormous
machine-propelled Mouth that invites our heroes into her house was not their
idea of fun.
The Witch (Adam Klein)
There is a lot of good Wagnerian melody coming from the orchestra under
Vladimir Jurowski and a lot of good singing from the soloists, and the
staging ideas, if they don’t all make sense, pass the time entertainingly.
The Sandman (Sasha Cooke), Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)
The piece is performed in an updated translation that sometimes fights with
the old-fashioned music, and Christine Schaeffer as Gretel, the only singer
in the cast who was not a native English-speaker, had some problems getting
her words across — but that’s what subtitles are for. She and Alice Coote
(a fine Sesto and Octavian — will I ever see the charming Ms. Coote in a
girl’s role?) produce clear, reliably sexless vocal lines — these two
proto-Wagnerian characters must carry over a Wagnerian orchestra with
apparent childish ease — and they had fun mingling the demands of the
libretto with moves borrowed from modern video. Rosalind Plowright looked
like a harried denizen of Coronation Street, but the mother’s role is by no
means a simple one, and she sang it effectively. Alan Held filled the theater
with impressive vigor as the father — it was no surprise after this
performance to learn he is preparing Wotan for the D.C. Ring
The Dew Fairy (Lisette Oropesa)
Lisette Oropesa sang the Dew Fairy sweetly in hotel chambermaid drag. In
short, the piece came off, the Witch got her madcap laughs (we all liked the
paper sleeves she placed on Hansel’s wrists and ankles before baking), and
there was joy to share. What more does one ask of this opera? Magic?
Of genuine magic there was only one moment all night: the aria of the
Sandman, as sung by Sasha Cooke of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists
Program: a light, clear voice, seemingly tiny but produced so that it easily
filled the house and fell on each ear like fairy dust, a subtle staging that
was, for once, not an intrusion but a rare visit from the atmosphere of Grimm
to a corrupted world.