Recently in Performances
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.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
26 Aug 2008
Prom 34 — Puccini's Il Tabarro; Rachmaninov's Symphony no. 1
In a nod to the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth, the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic Orchestra visited the Proms with their chief conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, for a performance of the first opera of Il trittico.
Although it's often labelled as a melodrama, Tabarro is more subtle than that – a study of unfulfilled, rootless people – and even besides the obvious orchestral sound-effects like the boats' horns and out-of-tune barrel-organ, the musical scene-setting has an impressionistic colour palette unmatched anywhere else in Puccini's canon. This strong and richly evocative raw material gives the opera an advantage in holding its own when scenery and costumes are stripped away and the piece is presented in concert form, as it was here.
Lado Ataneli's Michele was a bit stiff – the traditional concert dress of white tie and tails really doesn't encourage dramatic verisimilitude – but if anything this added to his portrayal of a man who has found himself the wrong side of an emotional barrier in his marriage. Barbara Frittoli conveyed youth more readily than the heavier lirico-spinto sopranos conventionally cast as Giorgetta, and she made a beautiful sound, remaining fully in character even when not singing. There was a warmth to her portrayal which gave a real sense of how out of place this young and passionate city girl is in her life of drudgery in the harsh world of the stevedores. Together, their vocal partnership was ideal; Ataneli's baritone had a dry darkness which only blossomed into warmer lyricism during his plea for Giorgetta to spend the evening with him as in days gone by, while at the same moment, Frittoli's expansive lyricism gave way to a colder, harsher delivery.
The Slovakian tenor Miroslav Dvorsky's full-force singing – sometimes to the extent that he cracked fortissimo high notes – had a brittleness which suited the embittered Luigi.
The smaller, 'character' roles were luxuriously cast, with Jane Henschel as Frugola, Barry Banks as Tinca (hamming up the waltz scene for all it was worth) and Alistair Miles as Talpa. The programme notes gave the names in their literal English translations – Ferret, Tench and Mole. Allan Clayton as the Ballad-Seller and Edgaras Montvidas and Katherine Broderick as the young lovers all gave good lyrical value.
Prior to the interval, the curtain-raiser – which, although it is perhaps unfair to refer to it so dismissively, is how it felt – was Rachmaninov's first symphony, a work which the 22-year-old composer considered a disaster at its premiere, and of which he remained deeply critical throughout his life. Here, after some fluffs and ensemble problems at the start of the opening movement, the BBC Philharmonic made a persuasive case for it; it had a propulsive energy and drive, and it is difficult to imagine any of the BBC's other orchestras producing such a forceful and rich brass sound in the cross-rhythmed fanfares of the last movement.
We had Gianni Schicchi at the Proms in 2004, also paired with a Rachmaninov piece – his opera The Miserly Knight (both performed by Glyndebourne Festival Opera). Is it too much to hope that Suor Angelica – which has never been performed at a Prom – might complete the triptych before too long? Perhaps, knowing the Proms' preoccupation with anniversaries, we will have to wait another ten years until its centenary.
Ruth Elleson © 2008