Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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.
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