Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
07 Sep 2008
Prom 64 — Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Messiaen’s Turangâlìla-symphonie
Because Turangâlìla is such a panorama, taking in Hollywood, Hindus and Peruvians, Wagner and Gurrelieder, it’s easy to assume it’s all surface Technicolor.
At its première a critic heard
only “a tune for Dorothy Lamour in a sarong, a dance for Hindu
hillbillies”. At this Prom, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic
proved conclusively how inventive it really is.
Rattle paired the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde with
the Liebestod. Often that’s a risk as it can leave you longing
for the singing, but Rattle had thought the two parts through in orchestral
terms. He makes a case for hearing the opera as "music", on its own terms.
Here, the surging waves of sound "are" the message, not background. He shows
how fundamental the flute part is, weaving throughout, commenting without
words. The transition was particularly well blended, one part fading
gradually into the next, like a fade in film gradually coming back into full
color focus. It is cinematic – how Wagner might have loved the movies
Wagner is an appropriate curtain raiser for Messiaen's
Turangâlìla. As a young boy, Messiaen studied Pelléas et
Mélisande, and also inherited the long standing French fascination for
the exotic and "oriental" - think Pierre Loti, Ravel, Maurice Delage and the
Impressionists studying Japanese painting. Wagner was by no means the
dominant influence on Messiaen, but his oceans swells and undercurrents live
on in Turângalìla, as Rattle so clearly demonstrated, stretching the
string lines with soaring, surging magnificence. Messiaen's "trajectory", to
use a favorite Boulez expression, comes not from conventional symphonic
development but from thematic ideas, so this oceanic surge is important.
For the first time, I really understood the sixth section, Le Jardin
du sommeil d'amour. It's slow, almost a relief after the hectic,
inventive fifth section, and has its longueurs. But maybe that's what
Messiaen was getting at. The lovers are together when they're asleep, in
dreams, when the moon pulls the tides that create the waves in the ocean.
It's not as spectacular as the glorious Joie du Sang des étoiles,
but as with so much Messiaen. he's at his most profound when he’s
The Tristan und Isolde concept had even more personal meaning for
Messiaen. He had fallen in love with Yvonne Loriod, but he was married, and,
as devout Catholics, they could not marry until released by his wife’s
death. He "was" Tristan and she Isolde, and Turângalìla is their
mystical union. Hence the significance of the “paganism” in
Turângalìla. Messiaen was fascinated by non-western music, adopting
ideas such as the Indian deçi-tâla rhythms which feature in this piece.
Anyone who’s seen Hindu erotic sculptures can appreciate the concept of
sex as a form of spiritual enhancement, that breaks past the restraint of
western moral convention. So Turângalìla isn’t meant to be
polite “Good Taste”. Those sassy brass passages and almost
Gershwin-like punchiness are essential keys to the spirit of the work. The
famous "statue" theme on brass and clarinet "Flower" themes are "male" and
"female". No wonder Rattle placed such emphasis on how they intertwine,
flirting with each other, so to speak. Pierre-Laurent Aimard's piano and
Tristan Murail's ondes Martenot form a second pair of relationships within
the whole, connecting to percussion and winds, picked up by harp and strings.
Aimard's long solo passages are the unspoken "heart", rather like the flute
in Tristan und Isolde.
The Berlin Philharmonic played with extraordinarily beautiful, transparent
textures – how the brass fanfares shone ! This orchestra can be relied
upon for superlative orchestral color, so what was even more impressive was
how the Berliners took to Messiaen, whose music is so very different to their
mainstream core repertoire. Somehow Rattle inspired them so they played with
free spirited exuberance, capturing the exhilarating intoxication so crucial
to this composer’s idiom. The “bad taste” of
Turângalìla may shock, but it’s the exaltation of spirit that
connects mortals to the divine.
Turângalìla was commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky and premiered
by Leonard Bernstein who hated the piece and refused ever to conduct it
again. Perhaps it’s fortunate as he probably didn’t understand
its internal architecture. Nagano and Salonen have a firm grasp of the
energetic muscularity that animates the piece, but Rattle and the Berlin
Philarmonic exceeded all expectations, marrying technical perfection to
electrifying verve. This performance truly expressed how original and radical
Messiaen really can be.