Recently in Performances
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
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.