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Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
16 Nov 2008
Lucrezia Borgia at the Washington National Opera
After a somewhat shaky start to the season, as my recently posted review of La traviata attests, Washington National Opera has added considerable luster to its roster this November with the infusion of spectacle and star power in two new productions.
My subject today is the
first of these, Donizetti’s perpetually underperformed 1833 masterpiece
Lucrezia Borgia. The next installment, to appear in a few days, will
comment on the second – Bizet’s perennial favorite, the 1875
Lucrezia is a fiendishly difficult work for all involved.
Spectacular settings of Renaissance Venice and Ferrara require the expensive
kind of luxury in staging – luxury without ostentation. The director
must create a sympathetic figure out of a legendary mass murderess, whose
grit Donizetti evidently admired enough to make her a soprano, a victim, a
mother, and a girl with a heart – most of the time… Meanwhile,
the lead singer has to survive the endless bel canto lines and the
head-spinning coloratura of her dramatic role written for a lyrical voice,
all the while staying “in character” – and a character that
psychologically is barely comprehensible to most of us. This was a tall
order, and the result was worth the price of admission, which at the
Washington National is always memorable in and of itself.
Vittorio Grigolo as Gennaro, Kate Aldrich as Maffio Orsini.
A major ingredient in the production’s success was the fact that it
was a Gesamtkunstwerk of sorts, with both stage direction and visual
design in the excellent hands of the admirable John Pascoe. The stunning
visuals, a fusion of old-world luxury with edgy and abstract modern lines,
were sophisticated yet not overbearing. Central to the design were gigantic
stone walls, first parting in welcome to the carnival atmosphere of Venice,
the endless party town, then closing ominously to lock the characters and the
audience in. Together with the fabulous lighting, a persistently excellent
WNO feature (designer Jeff Bruckerhoff), these sets enhanced the complex
psychological drama woven by Mr Pascoe the stage director. His reading of the
libretto explained (if not entirely justified) Lucrezia’s bloodthirsty
nature and reputation for promiscuity by casting her as a victim of incest
and sexual abuse – an interpretation for which there is a valid
historical precedent, as well as some veiled hints in the Donizetti score.
Just to top it off, the historical heroine’s fictional son, Gennaro, is
torn between an oedipal passion for his mother and a homoerotic one for his
best friend Orsini – it is almost hard to believe Lucrezia has
not yet joined The Tudors as a prime-time show on Cinemax!
Renée Fleming was billed as the star attraction of the show, and so she
was. The singer’s famously buttery voice was on full display, even in
Donizetti’s inhumane coloratura passages, which not only seemed easy,
but were – a rare treat indeed – musical. Ms Fleming’s
formidable acting skills served her best through the sections of the drama in
which Lucrezia comes across as a sympathetic victim, fighting desperately for
survival and the remaining shreds of her feminine dignity. It was harder to
appear sympathetic in her Act 3 Scene 2 entrance, clad in male warrior attire
(an unfortunate costume choice, in my opinion) and rejoicing in having just
poisoned a group of admittedly foolish but basically harmless young men.
Kate Aldrich as Maffio Orsini, Vittorio Grigolo as Gennaro, Renée Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia
Vittorio Grigolo as Gennaro had an easier task. His character’s
sexual ambiguity is defined situationally, in relation to others throughout
the opera, while Gennaro himself essentially remains unchanged – a
young, passionate, straightforward (if not totally straight) macho warrior.
Mostly what is required to strike the right tenor here is, forgive the
obvious pun, the right tenor. Mr Grigolo is in a possession of a fantastic
one: sonorous, yet crisp and metallic, a highly appropriate timbre for
Donizetti’s character. Despite his youth, the singer was a worthy
partner to Ms Fleming. Then again, he started performing professionally at
age thirteen, and his first solo gig was at the Sistine Chapel – not
your average résumé!
Vittorio Grigolo was not the only young singer in the cast. He was
partnered with mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich in the travesti role of
Maffio Orsini. One of the least experienced members of the ensemble, Miss
Aldrich did an admirable job, which under normal circumstances would have
garnered her well-deserved accolades. However, she was cursed by proximity.
She simply could not quite hold her own in this all-star production and came
across, undeservedly perhaps, as only adequate. On the other hand, the
performance of the most venerable member of the line-up, the legendary
Verdian bass-baritone Ruggero Raimondi, demonstrated both the advantages and
pitfalls of experience. The 67-year-old singer appeared in a role with a
significantly lower tessitura than those he performed in his early years. The
part was shorn of most of its coloratura in an effort to accommodate the lack
of flexibility in the voice, particularly conspicuous against Ms
Fleming’s nonchalant virtuosity. Yet, unencumbered by the customary
technical fireworks, Mr Raimondi was free to unleash his impressive dramatic
talent, arguably more important than vocal prowess in the role of villainous
Duke Alfonso. It was an honor to watch the old master at work.
Another master, Raimondi’s old partner Placido Domingo, was also
involved in the production as the conductor of the performance.
Unfortunately, on that front I have few laurel wreaths to award. Just as
visual spectacle has consistently been one of the strongest elements of
WNO’s productions, the company’s orchestra is almost always the
weakest link. Donizetti’s score for Lucrezia Borgia is quite
difficult for its time and genre; it contains, for instance, an unusual
amount of brass writing, both in the pit and off-stage. Mr Domingo did a good
job as a conductor, and the orchestra sounded better than the last time I
heard it (in La traviata), but that is a very low bar to hurdle. In
comparison with the level of artistry displayed by the singers and the
director-designer in this production, the orchestral performance was barely
passable, and I wish Mr Domingo, as the artistic director as well as
conductor of the Washington National Opera could do something to improve a
situation that surely cannot satisfy him. Other than that, Lucrezia
is a world-class production, and the company is to be congratulated on its