Recently in Performances
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.
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