Recently in Performances
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
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