Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
20 Feb 2008
Anna Christy Triumphs in Lucia di Lammermoor at ENO
ENO doesn’t really go in for bel canto opera. Other than a Maria Stuarda back in the mid 1990s, the only Donizetti opera in the company’s repertoire in the recent past has been the popular L’elisir d’amore.
Dramatically, Lucia di Lammermoor is perhaps the composer’s finest work, and one of the most obvious precursors to Verdi, but it’s also one of the most problematic to cast, not least because of its daunting historical association with some of the greatest sopranos and tenors of the twentieth century.
If any opera company can be relied upon to make a credible ensemble piece of an opera that’s known for being a star vehicle, it’s ENO, and this first new production of 2008 is a triumph. It may not be orchestrally thrilling — Paul Daniel’s conducting doesn’t really allow any rhythmic variation or space, at least for the first two acts — but the staging is dramatic, emotionally involving and coherent, and the principal casting is almost faultless. All did not go entirely to plan on opening night; singing the chaplain Raimondo, Clive Bayley succumbed to a chest infection part-way through the first act and he continued to mime the role to the voice of his cover, Paul Whelan, who is due to sing two scheduled performances of his own at the end of the run, but who on this occasion sang from one side of the proscenium.
In David Alden’s bleakly monochromatic production, with sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, emotion takes second place to practical and political considerations. A fixation with the past — particularly childhood, and images of dead ancestors — prevents anybody from influencing their own future or bringing anything interesting or new into their lives. It has turned Enrico into a bitter, almost emotionless shell, with a perverse obsession with his naïve young sister, whom he keeps trapped in childhood before brutally ’breaking her in’ and throwing her into her unwanted marriage to Dwayne Jones’s soulless pretty-boy Arturo. Mark Stone’s sense of bel canto legato leaves something to be desired, but the darkness in his voice makes his Enrico deeply nasty.
Edgardo is really no better. While Enrico’s reaction to his surroundings and the events of his past have turned him introverted and cruel, Edgardo has become careless, rash and impetuous, which ultimately makes him almost as responsible for Lucia’s fate as her brother. Barry Banks’s vocal and dramatic power belie his small stature; his presence is easily a match for Stone’s, and his final aria sequence is thrillingly, beautifully sung.
The Mad Scene (Anna Christy in foreground)
In the tile role, Anna Christy’s remarkable physical portrayal and crystalline soprano — not audibly marred by the bronchitis which had prevented her from completing the dress rehearsal — make her utterly convincing as this troubled, abused young girl. There is something other-worldly about her voice, and its partnership with the glass harmonica (restored to the Mad Scene as Donizetti intended) creates a chilling resonance. Although the libretto refers to her passionate nature, passion is lacking; she is more of a dreamer. We first see her perched at one side of a miniature stage, gazing obliquely at the closed curtain; she is discovered there again following Raimondo’s revelation that she has murdered Arturo, and during the mad scene, after the curtain is pulled back to reveal her husband’s bloodied body, she gradually retreats into the “stage” area as if it is the realisation of a long-held dream.
Tellingly, the blood which drenches Lucia’s and Arturo’s wedding-night garb is almost the first colour that’s been onstage all evening; it serves as both a coup de theatre and a symbol of Lucia’s release through madness from the bonds of her dead, grey, repressed surroundings.
Ruth Elleson © 2008