Recently in Performances
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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