Recently in Performances
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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.’
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.