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.
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