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.
03 Oct 2008
Die tote Stadt at San Francisco Opera
Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited about new works.
Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in
Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living
art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited
about new works. The Met, not wanting to miss out on any of the excitement,
immediately grabbed this odd piece for its American premiere only a year
later. Korngold’s next opera Das Wunder der Heliane premiered
in Hamburg in 1927 but its generic musicality and moralistic satire failed to
ignite enthusiasm on either side of the Atlantic. Never mind though, it was
time to write movie music.
After its initial Met performances, Die tote Stadt had to wait
more than fifty years to again seduce American audiences with the heavy
nostalgia that permeates Korngold’s score. This time it was a brave
excursion into rare but revered repertory by America’s only adventurous
company of the time, the New York City Opera, where the 1975 Frank Corsaro
staging remained in its repertory until 2006. San Franciscans had to wait
even longer for Korngold’s enigmatic work.
Die tote Stadt is a masterpiece, at least in the hands of a stage
director able to superimpose the real and the imaginary, of an indulgent
conductor able to sustain its unending waltzes and revivals of a single tune,
of a tenor able to sing loud and long and high, and of a soprano able to do
the same as well as impersonate a cabaret dancer. All this the San Francisco
Opera brought over to us from the Salzburg Festival where it originated in
2004, with a brief stop in Vienna to pick up soprano Emily Magee.
Die tote Stadt is a tour de force for everyone involved.
The formidable role of Paul, the bereaved husband of the dead Marie, belongs
these days to Torsten Kerl, who continues on to London with this superb Willy
Decker production. Frank, Paul’s friend and finally rival for the
attentions of the dancer Marietta, is the third of the opera’s
formidable roles, particularly as it is tied to the Pierrot song and antics
of Fritz who taunts Paul in Marietta’s cruel commedia
dell’arte improvisation on death and resurrection. The staging of
this complicated scene (as well with the entire opera) was entrusted to and
effectively realized by Meisje Hummel, an assistant for the Salzburg
Emily Magee (Marietta)
There is no doubt that the piece casts its spell from the first note. The
San Francisco audience gave its immediate and full attention to
Korngold’s rich sound, conductor Donald Runnicles lovingly pulling
forth its thick and weighty sonorities from San Francisco Opera orchestra.
The big tune from the opera, “Marietta’s Lied” comes fairly
early but it is really a duet for Paul and Marietta (though it is far better
known as a stand alone concert aria for soprano), and this tune comes back
many, many times, finally as Paul’s wrenching farewell to his dead
The message of Die tote Stadt is simple – there is no
resurrection. It is a plain statement, unadorned with philosophic and
religious implications, forcefully presented with the full resources of the
post Romantic orchestra with expanded percussion. The Willy Decker production
assumes equal proportion in a conception that sometimes juxtaposes and other
times superimposes Paul’s present upon Paul’s past, resulting in
a confusion of life with dream that brings a whirling corporealness to what
is cold and dead. These are the brilliant designs of Wolfgang Gussmann whose
black boxes and shadowy abysses inhabited by Decker’s real people and
by their shadows. The production means are both enormous and delicately
Paul and troupe
Donald Runncles resonated mightily with Korngold’s over-the-top
sonorities. Torsten Kerl is justifiably famous for the role of Paul. Emily
Magee brought impeccable musical taste and character dimensionality as the
nemesis of the dead wife. San Francisco Opera’s particular
contributions to its performances of the Decker production were adequate. The
Frank of Lucas Meachem fulfilled the formidable needs of this role, though it
lacked the weight as antagonist to counter balance the musical and dramatic
personalities of the production’s protagonists. The Brigitta of
Katharine Tier was similarly out of balance. The well-performed
commedia scene added enormously to the many pleasures of this