Recently in Performances
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
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