Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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. 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.
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