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 May 2008
Punch & Judy at ENO
English National Opera’s production of Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Punch and Judy’ is the company’s second collaboration with the Young Vic Theatre — following the premiere of Neuwirth’s ‘Lost Highway’ a few weeks earlier — and remarkably, also the second London production of this early Birtwistle work within a month, the previous one having been at the Linbury Studio Theatre, a collaboration between Music Theatre Wales and the Royal Opera.
ENO has one particular coup up its sleeve. There can be few singers as
well-suited to the grotesque, tragic-comic figure of Mr Punch as the baritone
Andrew Shore, one of ENO’s most distinguished regular guests and a
first-rate singing actor. In full puppet costume, he is the cross between a
naughty child, a vicious murderous thug and a sinister nightmare figure
— a nightmare which eventually implodes on him with the full force of
half-a-dozen Punch clones and the ghosts of his victims.
Giles Cadle’s set and costume designs go all-out to replicate the iconic
‘Punch and Judy show’ look, in primary colours that look slightly shabby and
sun-bleached. The stage is a circus-ring with a canopy of brightly-coloured
fairy lights. But at the back, a freshly-dug grave is a reminder of the
macabre inevitability with which Punch’s serial murders will be carried
Ashley Holland strikes an imposing figure as the Choregos, a Greek
chorus-like figure who acts as a master of ceremonies, a narrator and moral
judge, but who falls victim to Punch just like all the others. It is the
Choregos and his murder that first blur the distinction between make-believe
and reality, an idea which Daniel Kramer’s staging takes further by stripping
away the puppet-costumes from the protagonists as events progress and the
moral themes of the piece are developed. Most — including the Doctor
and Lawyer, played by Graeme Broadbent and Graham Clark respectively —
reach this state of human nakedness at the point at which Punch kills them.
As for Punch himself, by the time he comes to feel remorse for the murder of
his baby — the first of his crimes — he is no more than a bald,
half-dressed, vulnerable human being. Only Gillian Keith’s ringletted,
hyperactive doll of a Pretty Polly remains in ‘character', a fantasy figure
to the last.
Birtwistle’s brutally uncompromising score — which supposedly upset
Benjamin Britten so much at the work’s premiere that he walked out of the
performance — is usually subtle and understated, atonal but far from
tuneless. It juxtaposes banal nursery-ditties with ‘Passion chorales’ and
tragic monologue. The insouciance of the little motif with which Punch shrugs
off each murder strikes a vivid contrast with the murdered Judy’s plea for
Punch’s reform, sung by the versatile American mezzo Lucy Schaufer.
Credit is due to the cast for managing to get the majority of Steven
Pruslin’s wordplay-filled libretto across, and to conductor Leo Hussain
(sharing the opera’s five-night run with ENO’s Music Director, Edward
Gardner) for maintaining such dramatic coherence in the music.
A scene from Punch and Judy
Ruth Elleson © 2008