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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..
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]