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Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
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]