30 Jul 2008
Baroque Oratorio Premieres in New Jersey
For two years, the subdued rumble of anticipation had been building to a forte.
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.
For two years, the subdued rumble of anticipation had been building to a forte.
Finally, on June 22, at the College of St Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey presented the modern day premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti’s brilliantly operatic oratorio La Giuditta, here in its earliest and most complete form. Maestro Robert W. Butts edited Scarlatti’s masterpiece from the original 1693 manuscript which is currently in the collection of the National Park Service in Morristown, New Jersey.
Scarlatti’s La Giuditta exists in at least two other versions and has been performed and recorded based on a later abridged manuscript. The more extensive March 1693 manuscript used for Sunday’s performance, was brought to the attention of Maestro Butts by Dr. Jude Phister, Chief of Cultural Resources at the Washington’s Headquarters offices.
Maestro Butts brought the score he edited to life, conducting with sensuality and passion while directing the fluid sounding orchestra through the magical ritornelli which concluded each aria. Soloists from within the orchestra were, in places, almost as memorable as the vocal stars. Most notable was concertmaster Michael Avagliano who played a duet with soprano Marjorie Berg on the work’s most extensive aria ma so ben. He performed several other solo parts in collaboration with other musicians of the ensemble.
Providing poignant and moving melodic interest was Nancy Vanderslice who soloed on oboe and English Horn. Bassoonist Andrew Pecota was also solid both in continuo parts and his few solo moments. Harpsichordist John Pivarnik, too, added much to the success of the performance, constantly on deck and supporting the singers perfectly.
Baritone Mark Hewitt filled in at the last minute after two previous singers pulled out. While it is true that Mr. Hewitt had some problems in voice projection of the lowest tones required of his role as Oloferne, he still delivered a performance of notable dramatic intensity. His interaction with Marjorie Berg (Giuditta) was passionate and believeable. The result was something to be genuinely greatly appreciated.
Marjorie Berg gripped the audience with an emotionally involved portrayal of the title role. Have memorized her entire part, she sang with authority and character, conveying equally well the seductive nature and determination inherent in the part.
Bass John Lamb is a familiar face to early music audiences in the area. He executed the relatively small role of Sacerdote in solid vocal form, displaying an even tone appropriate to the gravity that infuses the character. Both arias and recitatives were sung with conviction and style.
Mezzo Teresa Giardina made her debut with the orchestra as Ozia, the beleaguered prince of Bettulia. Recently graduated from Ithica, Ms. Giardina sang with clarity and emotional beauty in arias of great depth. She was especially memorable in the moving addio libertai of the second act.
Tenor Daniel Foran sang the role of the Captain. His voice produced grace and an elegant warm beauty which was especially winning. Mr Foran has been a frequent performer with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey and this performance showed how he’s blossomed in his art. His rendition of dalla patria at the end of Act I was truly unforgettable. Hopefully, he will make the aria a part of his concert and recital repertoire!
Harmonium Choral Society, directed by Anne Matlack, joined in for the final celebratory choruses, adding luster and power to create a rousing finale.
Hearing this deeply moving performance, one can only hope that other singers and ensembles will take this marvelous work into their concert repertoire. The work is filled with beautiful music and is deeply dramatic, practically crying out for a staged interpretation. It was presented here for the first time complete in the modern era. One can only hope it won’t take another three hundred years to hear it completely performed again.