Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Carlos Kalmar
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.

Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago
Performance of 28 June 2008

Above: Carlos Kalmar, Principal Conductor

 

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 delicate ending.

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 titled.

Salvatore Calomino

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):