Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
13 Jul 2008
Grant Park Music Festival: “20th-Century Masters.”
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.
The first half of the
program was devoted to those very works new to this venue: The Fantasia
on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for Strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams was
followed by Les Illuminations by Benjamin Britten, here sung by
Karina Gauvin with accompanying string orchestra. Both works were given
thoughtful and well-focused performances under the direction of Carlos
Kalmar, Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival. After
intermission Béla Bártok’s Concerto for Orchestra added yet
another dimension to the variety encompassed in this program of innovative
works composed during the first five decades of the past century.
The soft beginning of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia indicated,
from the start, a controlled and sensitive performance by the string sections
under Kalmar’s leadership. The clarity of playing by individualized
segments emphasized the effect of groups within a larger composition. In the
first part of the piece the alternations between smaller string groups and
full orchestra were seamless. As an ensemble, the players succeeded in
emphasizing the harmonic complexity of Vaughan Williams’s own variations
balanced against the theme derived from Tallis. During the middle section of
the Fantasia the solo playing, especially by the lead violist and
principal violinist, achieved a thematic counterpoint and repetition as
echoed by other players with successive support from the whole orchestra.
Just as individual lines were varied leading into the final segment, one
could sense Kalmar’s shaping of the gradual descent into a distended
conclusion. A final flourish of melodic repeat by soloists as well as the
full orchestra moved with great effect toward the inexorable and fittingly
The following work in the program, Britten’s Les Illuminations,
was noteworthy for its committed performances by both vocal soloist and
accompanying players. From the first declaration of the repeated verse
“J’ai seul la clef de cette parade” (“I alone have the key to this
parade”) Karina Gauvin established a tone of authority and privileged
vision of the world about which she sang. Set to a selection of texts derived
from two poetic cycles by Arthur Rimbaud, Britten chose poems which move in
tone from that of an ecstatic visionary to a mood of dejected resignation.
Gauvin used her secure vocal range to stunning effect in order both to
comment with the ironic distance of an observer’s voice and to fill out
individual roles or types portrayed in the vision she narrated. After the
introductory “Fanfare,” distinguished by Gauvin’s memorable phrasing
and the violin’s solo, the extended section “Villes” (“Towns”)
depicted humanity caught up in both progress and decay as a symbol of the
contemporary city. As she intoned here the litany of contrasts between the
ancient and the modern, Gauvin accelerated in tempo to catch the near
breathless depiction of lyrical complexity. While hovering above society in
the poem “Phrase” (“Strophe”), the soprano’s quiet introductory
tones were capped by the impeccable high notes of the concluding “et je
danse” (“and now I dance”). Gauvin adapts her voice to the spirit of
each piece, so that she gave an, at times, bell-like rendition to the poem
“Antique” (“Antiquity”), whereas softer, more lyrical phrasing was
evident in “Royauté” (“Royalty”). The movements of a boat’s prow
rising and falling in “Marine” (“Seascape”) were effectively matched
by Gauvin’s effortless scales and runs, the piece ending with a single,
emphatic note on the last vowel of “tourbillons de lumière”
(“whirlpools of light”). The struggles between elemental nature and human
efforts, foolish and tawdry, come to a resolution in the final two poems,
“Parade” and “Départ” (“Departure”). In the first of these
pieces Gauvin’s communication of emotion through song was illustrated
repeatedly. Her skill at acting was also clear in a phrase such as “la
grimace enragée” (“the furious grimace”), in which rage seemed to
suffuse her glance. The song ended with Kalmar’s especially sensitive
direction of the strings supporting Gauvin in the last repetition of the
“key to this parade.” The concluding poem “Départ” gave the singer
yet further opportunity to display lyrical differentiation as tempos slowed
gradually toward a resigned statement of weariness in the phrase “Assez
connu” (“Enough known”). It should be noted here that Gauvin sang the
text of the entire work from memory.
The final piece of the evening, Bártok’s Concerto for
Orchestra, was given a masterful interpretation under Kalmar’s
direction. After a subdued start in the opening Andante, individual
sections of the orchestra blended effectively without sounding overly
controlled. The string section was brought to a shimmer before the dramatic
ending of the first movement. In the second movement, Allegretto
scherzando, the paired instruments played in skillful duets, the
bassoons standing out here especially. The final three movements, each shaped
in keeping with Bártoks’s markings, showcased individual groups of
instruments as punctuated by sweeping phrases from contrasting sections of
the orchestra. The intensification of the final movement was not only
credible, it also brought the individual sections back to a unified
orchestral force. The performance was a fitting conclusion to the evening as