Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
21 Oct 2008
Idomeneo in San Francisco
Munich in 1781 was hardly the big city, not an enlightened Paris where Gluck had recently turned the opera world on its ear, not a European capital like Vienna where Italian operatic imperialism was unassailable.
was certainly aware of operatic life in the big city, and did its best to
compete, doing so by the commission of an opera called Idomeneo to a
bright young composer, an ascending star, W.A. Mozart.
Alice Coote as Idamante
No one would know then that this little opera with its big aspirations
could become a mainstay of current big house repertory, though truth to tell
it sits there a little uncomfortably. While it has the big chorus scenes
Paris loved, even the sine qua non ballet that opera companies do not even
attempt these days, not to mention the scenic spectacular that universally
wows, it inevitably also has the Mozart genius that goes well beyond these
old opera stories and their splendid vocalism. It is music that heads
straight for the heart and the mind. The Marriage of Figaro is just
beyond the horizon (five years away) as immediately after Idomeneo
Mozart begins exploring the more nuanced world of comedy first with a
singspiel and then two small, unfinished buffa’s.
But meanwhile the serious Idomeneo is built on an already dead operatic
irony. To save his own life Idomeneo must sacrifice another life,
and to save his people he really has to do so, even though Idamante, his son
and his victim, has saved the people from the terrible sea monster that
Neptune unleashed when Idomeneo was reluctant. Opera seria is big
and bold and improbable. Rossini would again make it so only a few years later, but not the Mozart of Idomeneo, a valiant child of the Enlightenment.
This early Mozart indulges the women who love Idamante in delicate and
passionate personal expressions of their love. Mozart places his father in
quiet, deep torment, and even his son (in Mozart’s Munich the castrato
Vicenzo dal Prato) voices real grief in his often above-the-staff,
male-soprano showpiece. And these are only the seeds of discovery for the
exposition of human souls in his greatest masterpieces, the Da Ponte comedies
— these Idomeneo creations soon enough will become his Countess and
Elvira, his Count and his tongue-in-cheek castrato, Cherubino.
Kurt Streit (Idomeneo) and Alek Shrader (Arbace)
San Francisco is no longer the big city operatically speaking, certainly
not the New York of the renewed Met, or even Munich for that matter, and in
the case of the current edition of Idomeneo, San Francisco does not
even try to compete with big operatic thinkers, as it did in the 1977 when
Jean Pierre Ponnelle made the first San Francisco Idomeneo. Instead
San Francisco Opera dusted off its twenty year-old John Copley production,
cast it with relatively unknown stars-in-the-making, and entrusted it to the
broad musicality of its music director, Donald Runnicles.
The Copley production does indeed provide a comfortable background for
this minor Mozart masterpiece. Its settings designed by John Conklin
delicately reference antiquity, its costumes coolly incorporate tunics and
togas for its choruses with rich, courtly seventeenth century dress for its
protagonists. Mr. Copley makes his actors’ movements flow with the music in
naturalistic ways, motions that are continuously choreographed, that echo the
naturalness of the music rather than illustrate or impose the artificiality
of the opera seria genre. Mr. Conklin’s visual images flow in
the same fashion, seemingly in continuous movement as the aria follows aria.
The entirety of the staging was like a beautiful wallpaper that surrounds
voice and music.
Maestro Runnicles brought the entire second act to a timeless, sublime
musicality, the departure trio dangling its hopes and fears, the arias
melting with emotion. The great third act quartet unfolded grandly, then four
graphically magnificent horses rose gracefully from the sea (masking any sort
of terrifying sea monster). And the music never faltered. Well, only once — a
small moment of real drama when the cue for the deus ex machina was
a trifle late and we all had a fleeting moment to laugh at the ridiculousness
of such things. This evening in toto was like a perfect recording,
we knew the music need never end.
Tenor Kurt Streit provided a fine Idomeneo, his well-produced, clear voice
able to encompass the huge range of emotions inherent in this difficult role.
The Idamante of mezzo-soprano Alice Coote amply filled the musical, vocal and
even histrionic needs of this complex role, a perfect Idamante for this
Copley exercise in musical flow. Genia Kühmeier sang beautifully as Ilia,
glorious pianissimos flowing into passionate outpourings. Even the smaller
scale of the spurned Electra of Iano Tamar seemed perfectly at home in the
calm flow of this production. Bass Robert MacNeil was adequate as the High
Priest of Neptune, less so the Arbace of Adler fellow Alek Shrader.