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.
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