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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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
30 Oct 2008
Portraits of Domingo and Pavarotti
While the tributes and retrospectives continue to appear for the late Luciano Pavarotti, his sometime-colleague (if not rival) Plácido Domingo maintains a top-rank career, even including a contract with Deutsche Grammophon for new studio work.
Both tenors were blessed with distinctive, appealing instruments, and if the inclination might be to find Pavarotti’s voice more beautiful, Domingo often got the credit for being the more dramatic, impassioned performer.
Decca’s The Pavarotti Story covers the singer’s career amply, with one disc dedicated to his studio recordings of the great tenor arias, another full of Italian song and such sacred favorites as the Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria.” Two “bonus” discs fill out the set; one is a 37 minute interview with a John Tolansky, whose obsequious style can be deduced from the first track quotation, “Luciano Pavarotti, you have been a legend in your lifetime…” The second bonus disc begins with the first 5 recordings Pavarotti made in a studio, released on an EP in 1964 (Decca had already released these tracks on the earlier compilation, “For Lovers Only.”) That disc is comprised of tracks, mostly duets, that don’t do Pavarotti’s “legend” much credit. The “Pearlfishers” duet with Nicolai Ghiaurov should have been a winner, but the slow pacing makes for a lugubrious tone. “Nessun dorma!” with Carreras and Domingo, from the first “Three Tenors” affair, becomes a scream fest. And better to pass over the tracks with U2, Elton John, and even Frank Sinatra (at the end of his career) in silence.
Ah but the first two “non-bonus” discs confirm the legend. In Bellini and Donizetti, the voice has a delectable sweetness, whether punching out the high C’s in the Fille du Regiment aria or silkily spinning out the long legato lines of “A te o cara.” The Puccini arias have a sensuous masculinity; the Verdi selections showcase Pavarotti’s beefier side (including a credible “Nium mi tema.” And those who fall asleep in Idomeneo need to listen to the gorgeous, detailed “Fuor del mar.”
True, the arrangements on the songs disc get a bit tacky (especially those with Henry Mancini), but no one will ever quite spin through Rossini’s “La Danza” as Pav did, or make “O sole mio” sound so fresh again.
The set comes with one lavish booklet with a biography and track notes, and another with a full discography.
Domingo’s disc, Pasión Española, presents 13 selections in a popular Spanish song form called “copla,” according to the booklet essay. Although the disc credits 5 composers, no distinctive voice emerges. Most of the tracks feature extensive instrumental introductions, with many a familiar gesture of rhythm and melody, like a cartoon setting up a Spanish locale. The lyrics tend to trite expressions of frustrated or ecstatic love, and much bitter jealousy.
A whole disc of coplas, in other words, goes a long way. But if listeners were to hear a track or two individually, they might well be caught up in the conviction Domingo brings to the project. No, he doesn’t sound like a young man, but age seems to have only deepened the bourbon-hue of his tenor (often called “baritonal”), and for sheer vocal production Domingo makes the disc enjoyable.
Miguel Roa and the Orquesta de la Communidad de Madrid provide the professional accompaniment.
If somehow an opera lover needs one set of Pavarotti at his best, they can be satisfied with either “For Lovers Only” or this “The Pavarotti Story.” For all but his most devoted fans, there are better recordings in the Domingo library to enjoy than Pasión Española.