Recently in Performances
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.
06 Apr 2008
ANNA BOLENA – English Touring Opera
In a climate in which bel canto opera seems to be enjoying a steady and welcome revival, ETO opened their current season with a welcome production of Donizetti's historically dubious account of the latter days of Anne Boleyn. The company's...
In a climate in which bel canto opera seems to be enjoying a steady and
welcome revival, ETO opened their current season with a welcome production of
Donizetti's historically dubious account of the latter days of Anne Boleyn.
The company's fine Maria Stuarda three years ago is still fresh in the
memory, and one wonders whether the company might be brave enough to complete
the 'set' with a staging of Roberto Devereux before too long.
The basic framework of Soutra Gilmour's versatile set serves all three
productions on the current tour, and for this opera the set's skeleton had
tapestry panels mounted upon it which slid in and out of place to create
different spaces and enable characters to conceal themselves from one
In the title role, Julie Unwin grew in confidence and vocal security as
the evening progressed – at the start her tone, dynamics and vibrato
overpowered the musical line a little, but by the middle of the first act she
had settled into it and she gave a particularly convincing performance in the
lyrical moments of the later scenes.
She was, however, overshadowed by outstanding performances from two
colleagues: Julia Riley's Jane Seymour was rich-voiced, elegant, poised,
passionate and credible – and although Luciano Botelho's dryish tenor is
not quite beautiful, he made almost effortless work of Lord Percy's
stratospherically high-lying passages. I suspect that this is one of those
roles which, when sung even half-decently, is guaranteed to bring the house
down – however Botelho really did deliver it with style and panache.
In fact, while most ETO offerings boast one or two particularly strong
performances, I forget the last time they fielded such a strong all-round
cast. Former ENO principal Riccardo Simonetti was a commanding Henry VIII,
while Jonathan Pugsley's Lord Rochford and Serena Kay's Smeaton were also
Performing in an orchestration which suits the forces available (and with
several cuts to the score) the company has put together a fine orchestra this
time around, too, with some particularly good woodwind – Michael Lloyd
ETO's decision to perform in the original Italian – a rare exception to
their usual English-language policy – was perhaps a wise one, as this
repertoire benefits from the Italian vowel sounds combined with the bel canto
melodic lines. However the scrolling surtitles were laughable, full of
misspellings and oblivious to what might unintentionally cause amusement. But
overall this is a creditable account of an opera which has been unjustly
neglected in the country from which it takes its inspiration.
Ruth Elleson © 2008