Recently in Performances
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
19 Aug 2008
Prom 18 — L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s annual appearance at the Proms is always an eagerly-awaited event, but there is a varying degree of success with which the productions adapt from a full staging at Glyndebourne to a semi-staging suitable for the small platform and cavernous space of the Royal Albert Hall.
Richard Jones’s production of Macbeth last year,
whose big blocks of set and full-chorus choreography didn’t made it to
the Proms, ended up a shell of its former self, and the voices that had
sounded impressively powerful in the intimate Sussex theatre were, if not
lost, then at least diminished in effect when transferred to the Hall.
The fact that Robert Carsen’s production of
L’incoronazione di Poppea was relatively austere to begin
with, starting off at Glyndebourne with little more on stage than a big red
curtain, meant that it was destined from the start to transfer successfully
to the Proms, in a semi-staging by Bruno Ravella.
Alice Coote as Nerone
The central relationship between Nerone and the upwardly-mobile sex kitten
Poppea was portrayed quite unconventionally. The two began the opera drunk
with lust and longing for one another, but as the drama progressed, it was
clear that Nerone was gradually becoming aware that Poppea’s lust for
power and position had overtaken any genuine love towards him. His resentment
grows to the point that as he promises to make her Empress, he barely stops
himself from striking her – and though he still cannot resist her, most
of the final duet was sung from opposite sides of the stage, with the two
hardly looking at one another. Poppea gets what she wanted, but for Nerone
it’s an empty celebration.
As thought-provoking as it was to see their relationship from that angle
it isn’t a concept that’s borne out by the music. From the very
beginning, we are told in no uncertain terms that it is going to be a victory
for Love over both Virtue and Fortune, and at the end the sinuous
intertwining lines of ‘Pur ti miro’ are clearly a musical
evocation of a couple united in erotic love. Though historical sources relate
that Nero later killed Poppaea by kicking her in the stomach while pregnant,
this is not something that casts a premonitionary shadow over
Monteverdi’s score. It is not even an idea which sits well within this
staging, given the constant presence of Cupid (Amy Freston) as a sort of
master of ceremonies.
In other respects it was a lively performance, with the comic episodes
brought off really sharply. The two Nurses were both sung by men in drag
– Poppea’s nurse Arnalta was the larger-than-life tenor Wolfgang
Ablinger-Sperrhacke, while Ottavia’s nurse, sung by counter-tenor
Dominique Visse, was a more subtle creation, all pursed lips and disdaining
looks. The interchange between the Page (Lucia Cirillo) and the Damigella
(Claire Ormshaw) was brought vividly to life.
Scene from L’Incoronazione di Poppea
Musically, Emmanuelle Haïm and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
never let the lengthy score drag, and the cast was very strong, with Alice
Coote’s smoky-voiced Nerone particularly striking. Besides Coote, the
other vocal highlight was Tamara Mumford’s warm-voiced, impassioned
Ottavia, even if Nerone’s complaint about her ‘barren
frigidity’ raised a laugh thanks to Mumford’s advanced stage of
pregnancy. The role of Poppea seems to lie well for Danielle de Niese’s
soft-grained soprano, and she looks wonderful although she does have a
tendency to overact. Only Paolo Battaglia, as Seneca, sounded dry and uneven,
though I did find myself wondering, given the forces – a chamber
orchestra and smallish voices – quite how successful I would have found
the performance if I’d been sitting up in the rear of the Circle or
standing in the Gallery.
Ruth Elleson © 2008