Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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