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.
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