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?
20 Jan 2008
Deborah Voigt in Concert with the San Francisco Symphony
With her performance of the “Four Last Songs,” ably partnered by Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony, Deborah Voigt emphatically confirmed her place as one of the glories of the current roster of Strauss interpreters.
We are perhaps familiar with a more usual “Liederabend” approach as
furthered by other celebrated sopranos -- you know, the often mewing, cooing,
hushed treatment of every fragile syllable
as-if-they-might-break-if-sung-too-operatically? Such studied wispiness was
little in evidence in Ms. Voigt’s renditions on January 10th. No wilting
violet she, Diva Debbie just flat out really sang ‘em all instead
of over-“interpreting” them. And oh, how she sang! With steady tone of
great presence in all registers and at all gradations of volume; with
generous, soaring, high-flying phrases; with delicate nuance and telling
detail; all of which was characterized by excellent diction and complete
Up against her seasoned Straussian standard then, the SFO was highly
competent if not quite equally successful in essaying this richly detailed
score. Oft times on past occasions I have wished this fine group of musicians
would coalesce into a single-minded band of thrilling music-makers, and often
as not I have found them a bit wanting in artistic vision and ensemble, no
more so than now as they confronted these lush, complex orchestral songs. If
history is a teacher, my past SFO experiences had perhaps taught me that
Maestro Thomas (or “MTT” as he is marketed locally) seems to draw
inspiration from superb soloists more than he appears to impart it routinely
to his players. That was certainly true of such past luminaries as Lang Lang
and Helene Grimaud, with whom he became a true collaborator, and with whom
the orchestra excelled. Here, MTT inexplicably seemed content to allow the
orchestra to be a somewhat aloof accompanist.
That said, there were some very fine orchestral moments to be sure, not
least of which was a peerless violin solo in “Beim Schlafengehen,”
matched by an equally superb horn solo in “Im Abendrot.” (Indeed, the
horns were remarkably wonderful throughout the evening.) Having heard the
Vienna Philharmonic take on this score, the bar was set very high for me,
since those guys absolutely inhabit this music as a seamless ensemble. That
SFO would not be so seamlessly involved was foretold by the concert opener,
Knussen’s Third Symphony. It was dispatched with cool skill, but little
overt joy or passion, the very talented individual musicians shining if
somewhat independent. The Strauss merely continued that semi-detached,
And then something happened. Barber’s seldom heard “Andromache’s
Farewell” knocked us right between the eyes with a well-judged and
committed dramatic reading from our soprano, matched thrill for thrill by
expansive, virtuosic orchestral playing elicited by MTT’s fiery conducting.
(What, did this guy knock back a couple of Red Bull’s at intermission?)
The wonderful, under-valued soprano Martina Arroyo premiered the piece in
1963 to open the new Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. How enjoyable to
already encounter the vibrant palette of orchestral sounds and effects
(especially the exciting brass fanfares) that the composer would further
refine and put to good use a bit later in his “Antony and Cleopatra”
which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House.
“Andromache’s” dynamic score certainly deserves to be heard more
often. That is, if a dramatic soprano of Ms. Voigt’s bountiful gifts can be
found. It is an interesting and varied scena with well-calculated dramatic
tension; featuring a pleasing balance of signature Barber melodiousness and
parlando passages; and with some sure-fire, slam-bang, full-Geschrei money
notes that stir the soul and tickle the eardrums. And man, does our Diva ever
have those money notes! Million Dollar Baby, baby! It was a singular treat to
hear such a wholly realized, successful undertaking of this rarity.
After the prolonged ovation died down for the Barber, MTT then jumped
right into a Puckish reading of Beethoven’s Fourth with equally pleasing
results. Though it may not have the grandeur or gravitas of the “bookend”
Third and Fifth Symphonies, it was delightful nonetheless, especially in this
playful, inspired interpretation. My persistence in returning to Davies Hall
for yet another concert after those several disappointing near-misses was
amply rewarded this night, for now SFO was indeed not just “playing” but
truly “inhabiting” the music with abandon.
MTT was in his element, inspiring and charismatic, enjoying himself (and
Beethoven) so much that at a couple of points I was thinking he may just
break into some spontaneous Schuhplatten. The orchestra responded in kind
with flawless ensemble playing and sparkling, intricate solo work. (As Ed
Sullivan might say: “How about a hand for that bassoon player? C’mon!”)
The last stinging chord brought a rain of rousing cheers down on the
assemblage, probably not a usual response for the Fourth, which says a lot
for the dazzling magic that MTT and the SFO imbued on a piece of such gentler
After this exciting second half, representing the very best I have ever
heard from this bunch and rivaling any other orchestra in the world, I wanted
to shout “Dude, drink the Red Bull before Act One next time!” And for all
I know, MTT did. . .