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.
16 Sep 2008
Prom 51 — St. John Passion
Sunday 24th August at the Proms promised a day dedicated to the music of Bach, beginning with an organ recital in the afternoon by Simon Preston and ending with a late-night performance of the first three of the six Cello Suites by Chinese cellist Jian Wang by way of a palate-cleanser.
The centrepiece of the homage was a performance of the St John Passion,
the shorter, tauter and more uplifting of Bach’s two extant Passion
Sir John Eliot Gardiner was at the helm of this one, delivering a
performance that was both exactingly schooled and dramatically compelling.
Admittedly his firm-set ideas on historically-informed performance are a
trifle predictable, and can be irritating after a while: the over-stressing
of the first beat in every bar of the opening chorus was somewhat bothersome,
as was the exaggerated running-through of the ends of phrases of the chorales
wherever the text contains no comma.
The soloists were led by the experienced Evangelist of Mark Padmore, who
always manages to convey a stark emotional connection with the music while
still retaining a refined delivery. Other than Padmore, the singers were
variable; Peter Harvey’s Christus was more than adequate, but the most
interesting and dramatically compelling was the bass-baritone Matthew Brook
as Pontius Pilate, whose role in John’s gospel is so much more prominent than
in Matthew’s more detailed account.
Soprano Katharine Fuge sang with limpid tone, but her phrasing was
short-breathed, and her voice is such a small sound that I wonder if she was
audible at all in the further reaches of the Hall. I take issue with whoever
came up with the idea for the ‘sobbing’ ornamentation in the B section of
‘Zerfließe, mein Herze’; it was the one really tasteless moment of the
concert. Alto Robin Blaze was very uneven in his first aria, which is perhaps
a little high-lying for him, but much more satisfying in his second, ‘Es ist
vollbracht’ which comes at the moment of Christ’s death. Nicholas Mulroy and
Jeremy Budd shared the tenor arias, Mulroy acquitting himself with more
The Monteverdi Choir, in which the soloists also participated, performed
with vocal colouring and facial expression appropriate to each of the
dramatic choruses. The choir were radiantly uplifting in the closing chorus
and chorale, affirming Man’s confidence in the presence of a hitherto
non-existent gateway to Paradise.
Ruth Elleson © 2008