Recently in Performances
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
in the main, to Elijah Moshinsky’s perennial production at Covent Garden.
Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park, with libretto by his regular collaborator Alasdair Middleton, has the remarkable distinction of being the first completed operatic adaptation of any Jane Austen novel to be staged.
London’s two principal opera companies have offered a baffling
near-silence as their response to Wagner’s two-hundredth anniversary.
If a recent trio of musically superlative performances at Canadian Opera Company is indicative of their norm, the casting director should get a hefty bonus.
Just when you imagine you’ve got the operatic time-line fixed in your mind
in a clean sweep of what goes where and when and how, you hear another work
from another forgotten corner of the repertory that upends one’s conclusions.
Nothing inspires fable quite like defeat. The great riddle of Spanish
history is how the Christian Visigoths managed to lose the Iberian peninsula to
the Moors in one small battle in 711 and took eight hundred years to get it
Take a pair of peripatetic, sharp witted, libidinous dramatists with deeply
humanist hearts, add a brilliant, fun loving young composer, who believed in
forgiveness, and you end up with The Marriage of Figaro, a comic,
always relevant opera, which the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra presented
in Disney Hall, as part of its Mozart/DaPonte series.
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