Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
04 Jun 2008
Handel's Rodrigo — Ensemble San Felice, St John’s Smith Square, London
Handel’s Rodrigo, subtitled ‘Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria’ (Self-conquest is the greater victory) is one of the composer’s earliest operatic works, and rarely heard.
It was extensively revised between
the completion of the autograph score and its 1707 première in Florence, and
large sections of both versions were subsequently lost. It would appear that
the revisions for the Florence production were to the detriment of the piece,
and thanks to the discovery in 1983 of a substantial amount of lost material
from the autograph (as well as a certain amount of editorial license to
recreate missing recitatives, and the loan of a couple of numbers from
Handel’s other operas) Alan Curtis’s performing edition — given here in
London by a Florentine ensemble as part of the Lufthansa Baroque Festival —
is based on Handel’s original intentions.
The story is loosely based on that of an actual 8th-century Spanish king
and conqueror, whose political victories were complicated by his apparent
inability to be faithful to his wife. In the libretto (by Silvani, and
originally set a few years earlier by Marc’Antonio Ziani) Rodrigo has
seduced the impressionable young Florinda with the promise of a throne,
consequently fathered her a child, and then reneged on his offer. She is left
furious, disgraced and bent on revenge, while Rodrigo goes back to his
rightful queen, the saintly but childless Esilena, who understandably is
deeply distressed by the whole situation. Esilena’s constancy in the face
of marital wrongdoing is, in the end, the salvation of all concerned (along
with a convenient eleventh-hour plot development whereby Florinda gets a
better offer and gives Rodrigo up for good).
Acts 2 and 3 contain some interesting and original numbers — a lovely
lute serenade for the soprano secondo uomo, Evanco, and a fragment of a tenor
aria (for Giuliano, Florinda’s brother) with a quirky bassoon obbligato,
which is cut off by an advance in the plot just as it reaches the B section.
The same cannot be said for the first act, where nearly every aria is one of
anger, vengeance or war — each individual aria certainly gives the singer
scope to demonstrate mettlesome coloratura technique, but an entire act full
of identical numbers is rather tiresome, especially when there’s little
variety in tessitura (the lowest voice in the cast being a tenor) and when
only a couple of the voices were really worth such extended display.
The finest vocal performer by a long way was the soprano Laura Cherici who
sang Esilena; her soft-grained tone had a liquid beauty which portrayed the
wronged queen ideally, and her one fast aria was sung with exceptional flare.
In the title role, the mezzo Gloria Banditelli was disappointing — her
singing was accurate and attractive, but it was not a heroic voice. Here in
London we are so blessed with regular access to good heroic Handelian mezzos
that I fear we take them for granted.
Other than that, not a great deal of the singing was to be recommended;
Annamaria dell’Oste’s Florinda was impressive in her agility and force of
delivery, but she had a tendency to go sharp. In fact, there were intonation
problems from the majority, and the contralto Caterina Calvi (in the
virtually unnecessary role of Fernando) sounded as though she should have
been at home with laryngitis, though no announcement was made to this effect.
There was some exceptionally fine instrumental playing, however —
especially from the continuo cellist and lutenist. Federico Bardazzi was the
Though Luciano Alberti’s semi-staging — against a backdrop of
projected line-drawings of the original 1707 production — was fairly
rudimentary, a fair amount of (dare I say somewhat misplaced) effort had
obviously been made with Enrico Coveri Maison’s costume designs, which
attempted to replicate the styles and shapes shown in the projected images.
They were a typically early-18th-century take on costumes for an opera set in
the 8th century, but coloured in a lurid array of much more modern cerises,
turquoises and oranges.
Ruth Elleson © 2008