Recently in Performances
‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.
‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.
Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.
Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.
A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at
the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.
Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.
Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece
With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.
J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.
The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.
Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.
What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?
Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.
What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.
In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.
The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.
Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.
This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.
The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.
Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.
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