Recently in Performances
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
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Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
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Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
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The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
30 Jul 2008
Grant Park Music Festival: Sibelius, Szymanowski, Tchaikovsky
For its ninth program of the Summer 2008 season the Grant Park Music Festival offered a balance of vocal, choral, and orchestral works from the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.
The concert of
both familiar and lesser known works was led by guest conductor Hannu Lintu.
In the first half of the program the Grant Park Chorus was showcased in a
performance of The Captive Queen, a cantata for mixed chorus and
orchestra by Jean Sibelius. Also in this half of the evening the soloists
Jonita Lattimore, Susan Platts, and Quinn Kelsey were featured along with the
Chorus and Orchestra in a moving performance of Karol Szymanowski’s
Stabat Mater. The program continued after intermission with Lintu
conducting a sensitive and appropriately energetic reading of Tchaikovsky’s
Both vocal works during the first half of the concert were being performed
for the first time at the Grant Park Festival; indeed both are works that can
be described as worthy of further discovery, here or at other concert venues,
for they are featured infrequently in such programs. In Sibelius’s
Captive Queen the political or national is wedded to both the
dramatic and the lyrical through the media of text and music. Based on verses
by the Finnish poet Cajander, the queen of the title symbolizes the Finnish
language which had been suppressed under Russian domination. In the first of
three parts as set by Sibelius the queen is portrayed as prisoner in a dreary
and near lifeless castle. Ironically, only in the “calm of night,” when
no daylight is perceived, can the plaintive song of the queen be heard in
which she laments the loss of beauty and of freedom. Sibelius scored this
part of the ballad, as termed in the Fesitval’s program, for an intricate
sequence of full alternating with female chorus. Under Lintu’s direction
the orchestra and mixed chorus established a believable mood of sadness
punctuated by female voices recalling in somber tomes a happier past, when
freedom and hope predominated.
Here the interplay of dramatic and lyric effects by the Grant Park Chorus
was especially poignant, just as it set the tone for the narrative of the
following two parts. At the same time orchestral solos enhanced the message
of a yearning for earlier beauty, strings and flutes standing out especially.
The second and third poetic divisions of the work give details of a wandering
singer, a “prince of poets,” who heard the queen’s lament as he passed
by the castle; the minstrel is inspired to take up his singing again and to
create emotion through poetry. In the third part a hero, armed for action,
arrives to liberate the queen and to begin a new phase of freedom in the life
of the people. As possibilities of hope emerged in these latter two narrative
sections, the Grant Park Orchestra gave an appropriately lush accompaniment
to the chorus, night giving way to morning and to the future.
The evening’s second work, the Stabat Mater of Szymanowski, was
indeed based on the medieval Latin sequence but set by the composer to a
Polish adaptation by Josef Jankowski. Szymanowski worked on the setting
during 1925-26, the piece having its first public performance in 1929. The
soloists in the Grant Park performance stood out for their attention to
textual detail and skill at presenting a unified approach in this
twentieth-century adaptation of an ageless set of motifs. Each singer
fulfilled a demanding vocal part while blending with the others to
communicate a synthesis of religious dignity inherent in the text. After the
slow, almost eerie, beginning in the strings Jonita Lattimore used her voice
to great effect in order to establish the mood of the piece in the first
part. Ms. Lattimore’s voice softened tenderly at the words indicating
“where her Son was hanging,” while her expressive high notes stood out
against a choral background in the text equivalent to the verse “Mother of
the only-begotten Son.” In each of the six parts the soloists interacted
seamlessly both with the chorus and with each other in depicting the Virgin
Mother’s sorrow as well as the reaction of those in empathy with her grief.
In the second and fifth parts Quinn Kelsey’s flexible baritone described
the emotions of others who could not help but weep together with the Mother
at her loss. While making use of a declamatory effect, Mr. Kelsey maintained
a firm lyrical control, so that his lines remained both supple and highly
dramatic. The mezzo-soprano Susan Platts sang together in alternating parts
with Ms. Lattimore in the third and fourth divisions of the Stabat
Mater. The rich and burnished tones achieved by Ms. Platts lent an
appropriate contrast to the soprano part, and both voices merged effectively
when accompanied by the chorus. In much the same way, the sixth and
concluding part of the work allowed each soloist to give a final plea, upon
individual death, to reach the “glory of heaven.” Ms. Lattimore’s
heart-rending piano line was varied in equally moving performance by
Ms. Platts and Mr. Kelsey as the piece came to an end.
In contrast to the first half of the program, the Sixth Symphony of
Tchaikovsky has been part of this Festival’s repertoire for some seventy
odd years. In the performance under Hannu Lintu the transitions between
adagio and allegro in the first movement gave a natural and
convincing impression. The effect of small melodic units interweaving and
alternating with the full orchestra suggested a recurrent sense of
melancholy. The middle two movements were led by a light touch where
appropriate with sprightly rhythms punctuated by longer and carefully shaped
phrases. In approaching the well-known finale of the third movement Lintu
paced the orchestra with crisp tempos and growing intensity. The final
movement recalled effectively the melancholic mood of the first part, its
performance giving a sense of closure to both the Symphony and to the