Recently in Performances
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.
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?
08 Oct 2008
Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci — English National Opera, London Coliseum
For the opening of the 2008/09 season at ENO, Richard Jones has teamed up with two separate theatrical writers, Sean O'Brien and Lee Hall, to create unique new versions of the repertoire's most famous double bill.
Cavalleria rusticana, or 'Sicilian Revenge' in Sean O'Brien's
translation, was psychologically insightful and dramatically compelling. The
whole piece took place sometime in the 1940s inside a tiny village hall, with
murky walls and an oppressive low ceiling, an uncomfortably intimate
microcosm of a community in which everybody knows each other's business. All
human life was here, from the illicit out-of-hours assignation between
Turiddu (Peter Auty) and Lola (Fiona Murphy) to the village women preparing
an Easter dinner. The importance of this central space was underlined by the
centre-stage presentation of the Siciliana at the start and Turiddu's
graphically brutal murder at the end, both of which Mascagni envisaged
occuring in the distance. Only Jane Dutton's rejected Santuzza, fidgety and
obsessive, remained on the periphery, coming into the central space for her
pivotal scene with Roland Wood's threateningly masculine Alfio.
Ed Gardner's punchy conducting complemented Auty's red-blooded ardent
tenor especially well, and brought out the opera's almost constant sense of
raw heightened emotion which the piety of the Easter Hymn and the calm
respite of the Intermezzo serve only to accentuate.
The addition of a mentally-disabled brother for Turiddu could so easily
have come across as a cheap theatrical cliché, but his one line announcing
Turiddu's murder, normally reserved for an offstage woman's voice, had
The English translation was somewhat hit-and-miss, but the only real
problem — and it was a big one — was the incongruity of the drab
indoor setting with Mascagni's lush Mediterranean score. Jones's production
was a riveting piece of theatre in its own right, but the music seemed almost
incidental to it.
After the interval, a surreal repeat of the 'Cav' curtain call heralded
the descent of a new, bright orange curtain. We were thrown into the environs
of a British provincial theatre sometime in the 1970s, about to welcome the
stars of a TV sitcom for a week-long run of a cheesy bedroom farce.
This ingenious production was The Comedians, a genuine and
coherent contemporary take on Leoncavallo's opera, a behind-the-scenes
portrait of a clutch of outdated entertainers whose popularity is based on a
façade of cheap laughs and in-jokes. With the exception of the bird aria,
which didn't make a lot of sense out of its natural context, the whole affair
worked extremely well and was in a completely different class from your
average half-hearted opera 'modernisation' which tends to be riddled with
inconsistencies. Lee Hall's English-language version was again more a
reinvention than a translation, designed specifically in conjunction with
this staging, renaming the characters to suit the context. These were
recognisable characters, in equally recognisable sordid liaisons and public
breakdowns against the backdrop of an impeccably-realised backstage
environment by the set designer Ultz.
Peter Auty as Turiddu
Although the characterisation was uniformly excellent, the singing, it has
to be said, was variable; Geraint Dodd's Kenny (Canio) had a softer-grained,
less focused tenor than is ideal in this role, while Christopher Purves's
Tony (Tonio) was put under some vocal strain in the Prologue. Mary Plazas's
Nelly (Nedda) and Mark Stone's Woody (Silvio) were far more vocally
consistent, with strong support from Christopher Turner as Brian (Beppe).
Trevor Goldstein as policeman, Mary Plazas as Nelly
In a stroke of genius the final scene was given on a split stage, as if
the on-stage theatre had been spliced at the proscenium arch and opened out
like a book. Thus we got to focus on the audience's reactions as much as the
on-stage action. The sense of unease and horror was expertly ratcheted up,
and when Kenny had killed Woody and Nelly and turned his gun towards the
audience, the onstage audience's collective dive for cover kept much of the
real audience laughing right up to the last moment, until Kenny delivered his
devastating closing line and turned the gun on himself. Suddenly, nobody was
laughing any more. Absolutely brilliant.
Ruth Elleson © 2008
Mary Plazas as Nelly, Christopher Purves as Tony