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.
04 Sep 2008
Although performances of Handel’s more obscure large-scale works are relatively common in London, it is far less common that they are given in a venue as large and high-profile as the Royal Albert Hall, with a line-up of conductor and soloists that will attract a full house for a lengthy and static work on a hot summer evening.
And yet it happened, and Handel’s 1744
oratorio Belshazzar with libretto by Charles Jennens was brought to
vivid and entertaining life by the veteran Handelian maestro, Sir Charles
The real highlight was the singing of the Choir of the Enlightenment,
which could hardly have been better. Unlike many of London’s high-profile
professional choirs, they are selected on a concert-by-concert basis,
allowing casting decisions to be made with regard to which singers will be
right for the work in hand. The bright forwardness of the sound in their
opening chorus, ‘Behold, by Persia’s hero made’, was refreshing indeed,
setting the tone for the rest of the evening, and they performed with
impeccable ensemble throughout, with clear dramatic definition between their
various guises as the Babylonians, Persians or Jews. The chorus bass William
Gaunt delivered a particularly fine solo recitative in the tiny role of
Arioch. Only in the feast scene did the sound from the chorus sound too clean
and English, rather short on Babylonian debauchery.
Paul Groves sang the title role with a pleasant enough tone, but it was
rather monochromatic, and being primarily a Mozartian, he did not seem nearly
as comfortable or well-versed in the Handel idiom as his fellow soloists. He
was also the only one of the five soloists not to make any attempt at facial
and physical acting to complement his vocal performance; Belshazzar is, after
all, supposed to be a king, and a strong-willed one at that.
At the emotional heart of the oratorio is the struggle of Nitocris,
Belshazzar’s mother, to oppose the son she loves and allow him to be
conquered and killed by the invading Persians. Here we had the luxury of the
lovely, unaffected sound, intelligent characterisation and expressive vocal
colour of soprano Rosemary Joshua.
The countertenor Bejun Mehta was very strong but a touch strident as
Cyrus, the leader of the Persian army, while fellow countertenor Iestyn
Davies exuded calm and noble piety as Daniel, making a beautiful sound in the
process. Although Gobrias is only a small role, it was given maximum value by
the young bass Robert Gleadow, a graduate of the Royal Opera’s young artists’
programme, who delivered the almost pictorial falling scales of ‘Behold the
monstrous human beast/Wallowing in excessive feast’ with dramatic relish.
King Belshazzar of Babylon by
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Mackerras conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in an
account of the score which was robust, energetic and taut. There were several
cuts — some, evidenced by gaps in the numbering in the concert programme,
scheduled well in advance; others seemingly trimmed later in the day as there
were several numbers and parts of numbers printed in the programme but absent
from the performed version. In any case, it wasn’t only Mackerras’s brisk
tempi which made the concert fly by in a full half hour less than the
scheduled running time.
Ruth Elleson © 2008