Recently in Performances
In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.
With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past
Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.
Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.
The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.
Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of
the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to
say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for
the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.
Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.
Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found
myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.
This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been
supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th
birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to
England aged 12.
Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.
Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in
return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if
anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look
Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of
‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do
we see it, though.
Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus
Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb
Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his
There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for
double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player
which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the
relaxed mood of the summer evening.
George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of
Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely
have delighted Liberace.
Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.
Distinguished theatre director Michael
Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of
Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse
in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.
Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of
Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.
Having been privileged already to see in little over two months two great productions of Die Meistersinger, one in Paris (Stefan Herheim) and one in Munich (David Bösch), I was unable to resist the prospect of a third staging, at Glyndebourne.
‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory
Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a
short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s
production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny
Opera at the Olivier Theatre.
30 Jul 2008
The Pilgrim's Progress at Sader's Wells
The Philharmonia Orchestra has made a far more comprehensive effort than any other British ensemble to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams, with concerts taking place over the course of seven months in London, Leicester and Bedford including a complete symphony cycle.
The centrepiece of this season, entitled 'Vaughan Williams: The Pioneering
Pilgrim' were two semi-staged performances of the composer's Bunyan opera
'The Pilgrim's Progress' at London's Sadler's Wells Theatre, dedicated to the
memory of the composer's wife Ursula who died last year. Conductor Richard
Hickox has a real passion for English music, particularly opera, and it was
heartening to see him championing such a rarely-performed stage work.
Devised as a depiction of a generic spiritual journey towards
enlightenment rather than a specifically Christian one (the composer was an
agnostic), the opera (or rather, as it's labelled, the 'morality') is
nonetheless rooted in Biblical texts and Christian hymn-tunes. In fact it is
reminiscent of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius' in its tableaux of the
progression of a soul through trials and tests to its ultimate goal, and thus
seems closer to oratorio or cantata than opera, with elements of the pageant
and the mystery-play thrown in. In David Edwards' simple semi-staging,
movement was kept to a minimum, with most of the more abstract characters
moving in a slow, flowing manner as if the motion could be stopped at any
moment to create a freeze-frame of an 'event' in the Pilgrim's travels. On
the one hand, it is a shame that a full staging was not on offer; on the
other, it is a naturally static piece and thus well-suited to this kind of
The ostensible narrator is John Bunyan, sung here by baritone Neal Davies:
though he only in fact appears to frame the piece with a Prologue and
Epilogue, it gives the impression that we are seeing everything through his
own eyes and imagination. The staging had him discovered onstage as if
asleep, ready for his opening line, 'So I awoke, and behold it was a
The cast was made up of a distinguished inventory of mainly British vocal
talent, including most of Hickox's regular collaborators, led by Roderick
Williams as the eponymous Pilgrim, and even extending to Hickox's son Adam as
the (poorly amplified) Woodcutter's Boy. There were some welcome additions
from guest artists in multiple roles, especially the menacing Gidon Saks as
Lord Hate-Good (a disembodied voice over a speaker system from offstage). The
single scene of sardonic comic relief was delivered with aplomb by Richard
Coxon and Andrea Baker as Mr and Madam By-Ends.
Williams's central performance was remarkable; something about his stage
persona is both innocent and timeless, and his singing was always assured
– despite all the obstacles in his path, the Pilgrim never outwardly
falters. His unfailingly beautiful singing was especially impressive in the
role's emotional heart – the monologue based around a passage from
Psalm 22, when the Pilgrim is in prison expecting death. Part-soliloquy,
part-prayer, it is the only time we ever see the turmoil within the Pilgrim's
soul before he realises that his means of escape has been within reach all
Hickox's conducting had a majesty and beauty which made as persuasive a
case for the score as it is ever likely to get, while Philharmonia Voices
– the orchestra's ad-hoc professional choral outfit – managed to
go from being properly lively and vociferous (in the Vanity Fair scene) to
radiantly angelic (in the heavenly passages).
Ruth Elleson © 2008