Recently in Performances
Eugenia Zukerman asked for a 10-minute chamber work — a piano quintet, perhaps — and she got Green Sneakers for Baritone, String Quartet and Empty Chair, which lasts exactly an hour.
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The Bayerische Staatsoper, based in three spectacular houses where Mozart, Wagner and many other composers premiered their works, presents over 300 annual performances to a discerning public.
Bernd Alois Zimmermann was a sensitive, none too healthy 21-year-old music prodigy in 1939, when he was drafted into the German army.
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The disastrous 1904 La Scala premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is one of those famous annals of opera which tend to leave today’s audiences perplexed about all the uproar.
The concert “20th-Century Masters,” presented by the Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago on 27 and 28 June 2008 featured several pieces performed for the first time under the auspices of the Festival.
David Gockley heard the cries of many an opera fan that Pamela Rosenberg had denied them their 'stars,' so for his summer season, 2008, he brought them Natalie Dessay, Susan Graham, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Stefan Margita.
My visit to two rarely mounted pieces at the Opera Festival of St. Louis brought to mind the little girl with the curl, for when it was good, it was very very good and when it was bad, it was, um. . .er. . .
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On the barren stage: a few chairs, a dark-gold hectoplasm projected on the wood panels of the acoustic chamber - nothing more.
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For Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” Paris Opera peopled its revival with plenty of star power.
When the Ringling Brothers folded their tents, opera took over. Aïda with elephants, and Walküre with real horses.
It is a bit hard to know what to make of Olivier Messiaen’s colossal piece “Saint François d’Assise,” beautifully mounted by Netherlands Opera.
If you are going to produce Jacques Fromental Halevy’s forgotten opera “Clari,” I urge you to first make sure you have a signature on the contact from a superstar with the firepower of Cecilia Bartoli.
At the curtain call for the first night of WNO’s new production of the infrequently performed Khovanshchina director David Pountney wore a simple Russian shirt.
23 Jul 2008
First Night of the Proms
It’s not so long ago that the opening night of the Proms was given over to a single major choral work, but in more recent times it has become more of an overt opener to the season, presenting a taster menu of the themes running through the season’s subsequent 70-plus concerts.
Under their director Jiří Bĕlohlávek, the BBC Symphony Orchestra (with reinforcements from Royal College of Music Brass) opened the concert with Richard Strauss’s Festliches Präludium, a fine choice of overture for such an occasion, grandiose but joyful.
In the Mozart Oboe Concerto (K.314), soloist Nicholas Daniel was bright, witty and full of personality, with some beautiful pianissimi in the slow movement. The orchestral ensemble fell apart at the seams a little on more than one occasion, but overall it was a delight, not spoiled by the half-hearted applause between movements from somewhere in the upper reaches of the hall (which went on to mar the Strauss which followed).
Next on the bill were Strauss’s Vier Letzte Lieder, with a change of soloist: an indisposed Karita Mattila replaced by Christine Brewer. Brewer sings with the BBC SO fairly regularly, and she was a radiant Brünnhilde (in Götterdämmerung) last year at the Proms under Runnicles. Unfortunately, this time something didn’t quite come together – there was no sweep to the phrasing and her top sounded shrill under pressure. Finally in “Beim Schlafengehen” she found some complexity and ‘centre’, and for a few moments she cast a rapt spell... before heading off into “Im Abendrot” in indifferent, fudged German.
Although the Proms offer an eclectic mix of music spanning the breadth of the Western art music repertoire, with the occasional foray into other genres such as jazz, ‘world’ and folk, there are generally some threads to tie much of the season together. In particular, there is usually an attempt to celebrate significant anniversaries of composers’ births and deaths, and one such occasion for 2008 is the centenary of the birth of Olivier Messiaen – indeed, the Frenchman is virtually omnipresent over the course of the season, featuring in twelve more concerts ranging from solo organ works to a visit from the Berlin Philharmonic with the Turangalîla Symphony and a concert performance of the operatic magnum opus Saint-François d’Assise by the Nederlandse Opera.
To introduce the upcoming Messiaen-fest, the second half of the first-night concert was introduced by Wayne Marshall on the Royal Albert Hall’s mighty Willis organ in a fairly earth-shaking account of “ Dieu parmi nous”, the final episode from La Nativité du Seigneur.
Born just one day after Messiaen, the American composer Elliot Carter is still alive and – as far as I know – still composing, in his hundredth year. The UK première of his Caténaires was perhaps the highlight of the concert, a four-minute virtuoso perpetuum mobile for solo piano showing off Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s extraordinary ability. Prior to this, Aimard and the orchestra gave a light-footed and fresh performance of Beethoven’s Rondo in B flat major.
First Night of the Proms 2008
The Scriabin The Poem of Ecstasy, which concluded the evening was a well-chosen counterbalance to the opening Strauss – full of rich grandeur in brass and tuned percussion.
Ruth Elleson © 2008