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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..
09 Nov 2008
Ernani and I Capuletti e I Montecchi on Dynamic DVD
Both these performances come from mid-2005. Teatro Regio di Parma presented the Ernani in May of that year; August saw I Capuletti e I Montecchi on stage at the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca.
Sound and picture are excellent for both, and the performances, while not first-class, feature solid singing and tasteful productions. Despite those merits, neither DVD makes for a truly satisfying experience. Verdi’s early hit should be more exciting; Bellini’s take on the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet could use more style. The catalog doesn’t exactly run over with these two titles, on the other hand.
As seems to be typical of most of the productions Dynamic chooses to film, the sets tend to the spartan - neither of these have much scenery or even props. The budget, apparently, goes to costumes. For Ernani, Pier’Alli’s gorgeous designs put the ladies in satins of metallic red and gold, while the men wear form-fitting tunics of coordinating leather. Beautiful to look at, they also inhibit easy movement, as well as expressing much more of the creator’s taste and imagination than anything about the drama or the characters.
Not helping matters is a cast of strong voices but little stage personality. In the heroic tenor lead, Marco Berti manages the notes with an able but colorless instrument. If he sang with greater individuality, perhaps your reviewer wouldn’t mind so much his bland appearance and stiff stage deportment. Susan Neves shows a little more life as the love interest, Elvira, but why she inspires such mad lust from every man who sees her remains a riddle. Her singing is unsubtle but when she pours out the volume, she makes some impressive sounds. Carlo Guelfi and Giacomo Prestia, as the dark-voiced “bad guys,” Don Carlo and Silva respectively, growl and bluster appropriately. Pier-Alli really needed to spend a little less time with the needle and thread and more getting some inspired movement on stage. The elemental passions of this early Verdi work are done no favors here. Conductor Antonello Allemandi has the right ideas, however, in the pit with the Parma forces.
For the Bellini, director/designer Denis Knef decided to update the tale of the star-crossed lovers to some vaguely early 20-th century setting. The unchanging backdrop of worn stone edifices suggests a plaza in Verona. The men wear caps and fedoras, with dark suits, and some carry rifles. The aim simply seems to be to put a fresh spin on the timeless tale (albeit one told with some key differences from Shakespeare’s version). In the end, the updating is harmless but meaningless. Bellini’s music never quite reaches the heights of his masterpieces, with only the last scene really touching deeper emotional levels. Nonetheless, the two leads, including a mezzo in the pants-role of Romeo, get many opportunities to shine, and both Patrizia Ciofi (Juliet) and Clara Polito (Romeo) make the most of them. As the tenor bad guy Tebaldo, Danilo Formaggio impresses with a handsome, sizeable mid-range and able top. It’s unfortunate to note that if he were better looking, he might have a lot more opportunity to expand his career. Luciano Acocella and the Orchestra Internazioale d’Italia support the singers admirably.
Perhaps if director/designers had been switched, we could have had a rougher, more scintillating Ernani and a lusher, more entrancing I Capuletti e I Montecchi. What we have instead is decent but not all that exciting.