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.
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