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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..
13 Nov 2008
A powerful, poignant Elektra at the Royal Opera House, London
“This won’t be a total Schlacht of sound” said the director, Charles Edwards, of this production. Instead, it’s a strikingly intelligent interpretation, focusing on the deeper aspects of the drama.
Despite his extensive experience, this is Mark Elder’s first
Elektra. He was adamant that the characterization should reflect the
music. Elektra’s part is surprisingly tender at times. Twisted by fate,
she’s become wild, but beneath the madness still lurks the real woman
Elektra might have been. This makes her tragedy all the more poignant. The
real drama here doesn’t lie in decibels. Orchestrally, this was superb.
Elder understands the inner dynamic of the music, grasping the fine detail
sometimes lost in the vast sweep. Harsh, dry percussion punctuates the
beating of the maids. They, too, are victims of the brutal regime. The fifth
maid, who protests, is destroyed, as Elektra will be. The playing was so well
judged that this would have made a superb recording, even without the
Yet what visuals ! A monstrous Bauhaus monolith is set at an awkward angle
against a Greek temple. These architectural fault lines remind us that
Elektra is powerful political commentary. Klytemnestra murdered Agamemnon to
seize his kingdom, but she can’t enjoy power, her nightmares pursue
her. Elektra is duty bound to avenge her father, but she’s irrevocably
warped by it, and cannot live past retribution. As for Orestes, who will now
be king ? Neither Strauss nor von Hofmannsthal make this explicit in the
opera, but they knew, and their audiences knew, Orestes continues to be
punished by the Gods. This production was conceived at the start of the Iraq
war although it references that turning point in European history, just
before the collapse of the Austrian, German and Russian empires. If anything,
recent events like the failure of the banking system, reinforce the point
that power is an illusion, easily destroyed. Nothing’s stable : Aegisth
whirls round, dying, in a revolving door.
In this palace, family values are dysfunctional. There are disturbing
sexual undercurrents in all relationships. Perceptively, however this
production doesn’t play up the kinkiness, but places it firmly in the
context of the power crazed society around the palace. Everyone is trapped in
this brutal situation. Hence the production accentuates the importance of the
maids and subsidiary characters, expanding them as silent roles.
Susan Bullock as Elektra is outstanding. Because this interpretation makes
her sympathetic, Bullock can develop the more subtle aspects of
Elektra’s personality. She’s no screaming mad harpie. There are
many traces of the woman she might have become. She mocks the maids for
having children, yet understands why Chrysothemis wants babies. The dynamic
between Elektra and Chrysothemis (beautifully realized by Anne Schwanewilms),
is lucidly defined. “Ich kann nicht sitzen und ins Dunkel starren wie
du “, cries Chrysothemis. It helps explain why, at her moment of
triumph, Elektra deflates. She has nothing to sustain her but vengeance and
must die when she achieves it. Her final dance is slow, barely perceptible,
as if she’s sinking into the very ground, carrying the “burden of
happiness” which no longer has meaning.
A scene from Elektra [Photo by Clive Barda]
Orestes is the finest part I’ve seen Johan Reuter play so far, and
it suits him well. So much more can be made of Klytemnestra and Aegisth than
Jane Henschel and Frank van Aken presented, but in theatrical terms this was
no real loss, as it didn’t pull focus away from the sisters and
Orestes, and the wider drama around them. Rarely does lighting merit a
mention, but this time it was exceptionally effective. Agamemnon features
prominently as a silent role, his “ghost” projected onto the
walls of his palace. When Elektra sings to Orestes of “Der milchige des
Monds”, a faint, but persistent light shines on the corrugated panoply
above her. It’s a tiny detail, easily missed, but that moment of beauty
throws the tragedy into high relief. This Elektra becomes more
profoundly moving, the more it unfolds.