Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
07 Sep 2008
Prom 68 — Russian Fairy Tales from Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky
Kashchey is a gnarled old ogre who imprisons a beautiful young princess in his gloomy underworld. It’s classic psychodrama. Kashchey has supernatural powers, so how can the Princess be saved ?
This Prom paired Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchey The Immortal with Stravinsky’s The Firebird, contrasting two resolutions to the fairy tale that’s captured Russian imaginations for centuries.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s short opera focuses on relationships. Kashchey is
immortal, but he has a daughter, Kashcheyevna, who holds the secret to his
death. She’s just as cold and conniving as he is but she falls in love
with the Prince. The Storm Knight brings all four of them together, and the
Princess’s love triumphs. Kashcheyevna weeps, and her tears break the
spell that makes Kashchey invincible. Love conquers all, yet again.
It’s simple but affords opportunities for lushly Romantic musical
effects. Music as pictorial as this illustrates so well that meaning can be
visualised even if you don’t speak Russian. Kashchey’s music is
shrilly angular, evoking his harsh personality as well as the traditional way
he’s portrayed, as a skeleton, the symbol of death who cannot actually
die. The Storm Knight is defined by wild ostinatos, even though he’s
more of a plot device than a character. Some of the most interesting music,
though, surrounds Kashcheyevna. When she sings, there are echoes of Kundry,
or even Brünnhilde. Harps and woodwinds seem to caress her voice, so when her
iciness melts, we sympathise. While the other roles verge on stereotype,
Kashcheyevna is more complex, and Manistina impressed.
Stravinsky’s The Firebird, written a mere four years after Kashchey
The Immortal, inhabits an altogether different plane. While
Rimsky-Korsakov’s music embellishes the vocal line, Stravinsky’s
floats free. It “is” the drama. The ballet evolves from the music
rather than the other way round. Music for dance has to respect certain
restraints, so it’s necessarily quite episodic, but Stravinsky
integrates the 21 segments so seamlessly that the piece has lived on,
immortal, as an orchestral masterpiece. Vladimir Jurowski is still only in
his mid 30’s but has established a reputation for intelligence and
sensitivity. Watching him conduct this piece was instructive : he moves with
the grace off someone who understands how this music connects to dance. His
gestures were understated, yet elegant, his left hand fluttering to restrain
the sweep of the strings and keep the tone transparent. This pinpointed how
Stravinky wrote cues for physical movement into the music itself. Circular
woodwind figures translate into shapes of curved arms, flurries of pizzicato
into rapid en pointe. Dancers must hear levels in this music closed to the
rest of us, but Jurowski’s intuitive approach helps us appreciate its
The Firebird is a magical figure which materialises out of the air,
leading te Prince to Kashchey’s secret garden. Unlike the ogre, the
Prince is kind and sets the bird free. He’s rewarded with a magic
feather. This time the Princess and other captives are liberated by
altruistic love. It’s purer and more esoteric, and Stravinsky’s
music is altogether more abstract, imaginative and inventive. Jurowski gets
great refinement from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he’s
forged a very close relationship in only a year of being their Chief
Conductor. The solo part for horn, for example, plays a role in the music
like that of a solo dancer. Textures around it need to be clean as they were
here, so its beauty is revealed with poignant dignity. The rest of the
orchestra plays barely above the point of audibility, until the flute enters
carrying the horn’s melody. Later there’s more magic, when the
double basses and cellos are plucked quietly, building up towards the
crescendos which sound for all the world like the joyous tolling of great
bells. In the finale, trombones and trumpets hail the moment of liberation.
The trumpeters stand upright, so their music soars above the orchestra,
projected into the auditorium with superb, dramatic effect.
Kashchey the Immortal by Viktor Vasnetsov