16 Mar 2008
Tristan und Isolde — The Metropolitan Opera
I bet this doesn't happen at the movies:
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
I bet this doesn't happen at the movies:
As the flick begins, they announce that Matt Damon has a virus and had to leave; he's being replaced by someone who's never done the part before. But it's okay. Then, halfway through, Gwyneth Paltrow (the star) goes running off-screen, leaving the guy hanging in mid love scene. After a moment, the screen goes dark (but not before you saw the panic in his eyes). Pause. Then they announce Miss Paltrow is ill, and will be replaced by (name you never heard of). She wears the same dress and wig but doesn't look anything like her. She takes a while to warm up, but hey, Daniel Day-Lewis walks off with the character part anyway. (As you expected.) Somehow the kid gets through the big final scene, and the girl takes the climax. Thundering ovation. You never had that happen to you at the movies, did you? (Low class bastards.)
At the Met tonight, Tristan und Isolde. Rumors of doom had been circulating since the disastrous prima on Monday. Ben Heppner, virused up, has run back to Canada. (He's been cracking on all his high notes anyway.) The tenor who replaced him Monday was so bad, he was booed off the stage. (Ugly too, they tell me.) So tonight they found some kid who'd never sung Tristan before. Gary Lehman (this is a heldentenor?) We're all very hopeful. (Besides, Matti Salminen is King Marke, and bound to be a hit.) Peter Gelb, announcing the change, looks like he has veins of ice water and this happens all the time. The kid is tall, well built, looks like Errol Flynn, sings okay, acts okay, keeps an eye fixed on Jimmy. Then, halfway through the love duet in Act II, Debbie Voigt runs off stage. To get a drink of water I presumed. The tenor just sort of stands there, singing ardently to a blank stage, Jimmy keeps conducting ... the curtain comes down. Pause. Someone (not Gelb) comes out to say: Don't leave the room, Debbie's sick, some soprano no one has heard of (Janice Baird, and she IS on the roster) is getting dressed and will take over.
Of course she hasn't had time (much less a whole act) to warm up, but anyway: At last we get the duet again (which means the poor Tristan will be singing more of the opera in one night than ANYONE EVER HAS). Isolde finally warms up by the climax. Matti Salminen walks off with it, as I knew he would. In the intermission, my friend La Cieca (opera columnist a l'outrance, see www.parterre.com) says, "I'm speechless." I said, "Don't tell me we'll have to replace you too!" Well, Lehman sings Act III, the toughest workout for tenor ever composed. Doesn't sound fabulous, but he's okay. No cracked high notes. Isolde rushes in clumsily (she's never rehearsed), sings Liebestod. She's okay. Silence to the last chord.
Chaos: Standing ovation for the pair, then for the whole cast, then for Jimmy. It's 1 a.m. and nobody wants to leave without screaming. Nobody wanted to have been, for those six hours, anywhere else in the world.
I bet you've never been at a movie where this happened.