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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
24 Oct 2008
Falstaff at Pimlico Opera, Cadogan Hall
Pimlico Opera is based at the Grange in Hampshire, home of the Grange Park opera festival, but pre-dates its sister company by a decade and has been giving national tours of popular operas since the 1980s as well as doing some pioneering opera and music theatre projects in UK prisons.
There are many concessions which have to be made when touring on a budget, and nothing about this Falstaff was as big as it normally is. The score, which had several cuts, was performed in an (uncredited) arrangement for an orchestra of fewer than 30, and no chorus (the principals making up the vocal ensemble wherever appropriate). At London’s Cadogan Hall there is nowhere to put a backdrop, and all that survived of the adaptable touring set was a versatile set of blocks which transformed into the various different settings with the addition or subtraction of panels or furniture. The scene changes — given that Cadogan Hall has no curtain — were entertaining to watch, almost little scenes in their own right.
Daniel Slater’s production (revived by Hazel Gould) was performed in modern dress, and Act 1 Scene 2 used one of the favourite generic settings for contemporary productions, the luxury health club complete with sun-loungers. It was colourful but not very original, and the possibilities of the setting were ignored — why couldn’t Act 2 Scene 2 be set there too, with Falstaff being dumped in the swimming pool at the end? But no, for that scene we were in the traditional setting chez Alice, with the Thames running past the back door as per the original stage directions. At least there was one bit of business which utilised the unusual layout, with the orchestra to the right of the stage area; Falstaff hid from Ford by crouching next to the band and attempting to blend into the violin section.
Falstaff himself was also on a smallish scale, with minimal padding, but while the young Swiss baritone David-Alexandre Borloz lacked physical bulk, there was nothing insubstantial about his vocal resources, which were if anything a size too big for the intimate venue. James Cleverton’s Ford was also impressive. Rebecca Cooper’s neat, classy Alice was vocally secure, but dramatically she was upstaged by Emma Carrington’s sardonic Quickly and Margaret Rapacioli’s Meg with her wonderfully expressive eyes.
As Fenton, Patrick Ashcroft’s tenor was rather monochrome and lacked bloom in his lovely Act 3 aria, but he had a natural and charming stage manner, while Verity Parker’s Nannetta was a vocally appealing and believably youthful girl-next-door (though I couldn’t work out why was she made to wear a black cloak over her white fairy costume — she would have looked far more effective without).
David-Alexandre Borloz (Falstaff) and James Cleverton (Ford) in The Garter Inn. Pimlico Opera 2008.
Alice Farnham conducted with vigour, but the limitations of the reduced score were evident throughout — the lack of richness in the opera’s musical texture was a significant loss to the piece. It was just as well that Verdi’s final opera (not, as the programme stated, his only comedy) is virtually indestructible, and that the cast was a more than solid ensemble. The joy of the final fugue could not have come across more effectively on the stage of a major international house.
Regrettably, the audience, too, was pared down — the small hall was far less than half full.
Ruth Elleson © 2008
(L-R) Verity Parker (Nanetta), James Cleverton (Ford), Rebecca Cooper (Alice), Patrick Ashcroft (Fenton) and Margaret Rapacioli (Meg) Act 3, Scene 1. Pimlico Opera 2008
Click here for an excerpt via YouTube.
[Editor’s Note: It is with deep regret to note that David-Alexandre Borloz (age 32) died in his sleep on 19 October 2008]