Recently in Performances
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.
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?
28 Sep 2008
Cool Cavalli at Covent Garden — La Calisto
Planet Earth laid waste by forces beyond our control, hunger and drought squeezing humanity out of existence whilst those in charge look on, laughing, lusting and concerned only with their own power struggles – does this sound familiar?
No, this is not Berg or Birtwistle, nor some contemporary operatic essay on The Crunch, but the cool, clever and calculating Mr Cavalli and his “La Calisto”, first shown to the discerning and politically savvy public of Venice in 1651. Without a doubt, this production at the Royal Opera (Cavalli’s somewhat overdue debut) is a sizzling success, and shows that Covent Garden could and should embrace the genre of early opera (not to mention “mainstream” baroque) more whole-heartedly in future. If opening night audiences were on the thin side, especially in the more expensive seats, this was no longer true come the second and third performances – word of mouth (and print) has seen to that.
Véronique Gens as Eternity
One of only two operas that Cavalli wrote with a mythological storyline, it is perhaps the best known today and has been revived several times, most notably by Raymond Leppard back in the 60’s at Glyndebourne. But since then early opera – or rather its interpreters – have galloped on, sometimes like a riderless horse, plunging on and off the track, but always seeking to find a permanent home in the stable of current repertoire. One of its greatest advocates on the stage is David Alden, director of many Handelian successes but new to Covent Garden, and with this “Calisto”, first shown in Munich, he has cemented his reputation for melding old music with modern sensibilities.
First and foremost, Alden is a collaborator. Not for him the roughshod riding of some European directors over text and musical line; rather, he works closely with his musical director (here the redoubtable Ivor Bolton renewing his acquaintance from Munich with the Torrente edition of the original threadbare score) , his long-time scenic associates Paul Steinberg (striking, colourful sets) and Buki Shiff (shimmering cat-walk quality costumes) and his rock-solid cast of experienced period performers led by Sally Matthews in the title role. This Calisto is sexy, cynical, funny and sad – you leave the theatre feeling both uplifted and a little wiser.
Ovid’s recounting of the story of innocent nymph Calisto’s seduction, abandonment, and final metamorphosis from a bear into a heavenly star system is well known, but Cavalli and his librettist Faustini brought in a whole raft of supporting mythic characters – mainly comic - and a secondary plot involving the apparently chaste goddess Diana and her earthly lover Endimione. The music is a roller-coaster of almost-speech, scatter-gun recitative alive with wit, tender ariosi and dramatic, textually replete song, all supported by and entwined with the artistry of the OAE and Monteverdi Continuo Ensemble, led by a visibly-involved Bolton on the podium. This is opera as complete team-work, from early rehearsal through to performance, and it shows.
The vocalists were period-perfect, all real actor-singers. Sally Matthews has an individual, robust yet light-footed soprano that was in wonderful form as Calisto. Her sparkling top was matched with a warm and agile middle voice, occasionally let loose in the second half with real depth of tone and volume to reflect her anguish and incomprehension – a totally human sound in contrast to her god-like tormentors. Chief of these is the eternally-lascivious super-god, Giove (Jove) sung by the very experienced baroque baritone Umberto Chiummo who uses his warm tone and natural agility to great effect. His long-suffering wife, Giunone (Juno) is a smaller part but sung with panache and aplomb by Veronique Gens, whilst the supposedly “chaste” Diana of Monica Bacelli is sung with a scampering delight in both text and music, shading her voice intelligently to reflect her inner conflicts. The only other human character besides Calisto is the rather dopey shepherd Endimione, love-lorn and languishing on various hillsides, and he is sung accurately but rather four-squarely by Lawrence Zazzo who doesn’t quite capture the elegiac elegance of what is Cavalli’s loveliest long-lined music.
Dominique Visse as Satirino & Guy De Mey as Linfea
Unlike the later Handel, Cavalli’s characters have strength in depth right down to the supporting minor roles and it is here that this production really rises above the merely good and becomes excellent – not to mention downright salacious and sexy. Marcus Werba as Giove’s oily side-kick Mercurio, Guy de Mey in hilarious drag as the sex-mad overweight nymph Linfea, Ed Lyon as a stomping Pane, and probably the delight of the evening, the ever-green Dominique Visse hilarious and repulsive as the randy half-goat Satirino, his athleticism and mellifluous braying (do goats bray? they certainly trill) a remarkable tour-de-force that had us in stitches. A whole raft of actor/dancers filled out the scenes, each beautifully and intriguingly costumed as mythological creatures – the eye was filled in a way that was matched by the interwoven magic of the words and music. If you’re tired of grey and empty sets, dark spaces lit by bare bulbs, come and enjoy opera as it should be – Messrs Alden and Bolton and their team will see to that.
Sue Loder © 2008
“La Calisto” at ROH, Covent Garden, continues on 1st, 3rd and 10th October.