30 Jul 2008
Baroque Oratorio Premieres in New Jersey
For two years, the subdued rumble of anticipation had been building to a forte.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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.