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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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?
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.