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The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
in the main, to Elijah Moshinsky’s perennial production at Covent Garden.
Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
19 Nov 2008
Matilde di Shabran at Covent Garden
The rare Rossini opera which brought Juan Diego Flórez to international attention in Pesaro in 1996 was thrown together by the composer at the last minute to meet a deadline in February 1821, with a plot from one source and characters from another, and bits of the score filled in by Pacini.
and structurally, it is unusual; not only does the first act last over two
hours, with a full forty-five minutes before either of the major principals
put in an appearance, but there's barely a solo aria in the piece; the score
consists almost entirely of duets and ensembles. At Covent Garden over a
decade later, the prospect of such an opera (mounted as a star vehicle for
Flórez) was enough to provoke a certain amount of trepidation despite the
house being sold out months in advance.
But the opera's principal message is a familiar one: no man stands a
chance when pitted against a talented and resourceful woman. It's an idea
reminiscent of two of the composer's better-known operas, L'italiana in
Algeri and Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Matilde drives
the point home so unequivocally that rather than feeling formulaic it comes
across at times as a Rossinian self-parody. The characters are
two-dimensional and limited in range, especially Flórez's character, the
tyrannical Corradino whose motiveless misogyny is such that he barricades
himself away from the world to avoid having to deal with women, but who melts
like a lovesick puppy the second he's confronted by the feisty Matilde.
There's plenty of catty business between Matilde and the Contessa d'Arco (the
noblewoman with her own legitimate claim on Corradino), pathos from
Corradino's young prisoner Edoardo and the father who is searching for him,
and a convenient ending made possible by the verbal cunning of an omnipresent
itinerant poet called Isidoro.
As Matilde comprehensively conquers the war-hungry Corradino, so the young
Polish soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak, upstaged the mega-star tenor whose
availability was responsible for the opera's rescue from obscurity. Kurzak
brought an air of confident modernity to Rossini's heroine, with a pert,
confident stage presence and pinpoint accuracy in the fiendish coloratura
which she delivered with a crystalline tone. The flexibility in Flórez's
upper register was as show-stopping as ever, but the small size of his voice
was shown up by the strength of the female leads (not just Kurzak, but
Enkelejda Shkosa as a fiery Contessa d'Arco) and he sounded a little dry at
times. His music just doesn't have the same potential as the women's; he's
not even destined to be the voice that stays in the memory at the end of the
night, as Matilde concludes with a triumphant rondo a show in which Corradino
has had no real solo at all.
Carlo Lepore as Ginardo, Alfonso Antoniozzi as Isidoro and Juan Diego Flórez as Corradino [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
In the trouser-role of Edoardo, Vesselina Kasarova was disappointing, her
top register sounding disjointed from the rest of her voice, though it's
always a warm sound, and the reunion with father Raimondo (Mark Beesley) was
very affecting – a serious sub-plot in an opera which is otherwise a
sharp comedy. Alfonso Antoniozzi was endearing as the poet Isidoro, and those
in the minor roles all contributed to a surprisingly well-integrated ensemble
performance considering the opera's hybrid pedigree.
Mario Martone's production was constrained by Sergio Tramonti's austere
set design, consisting of two enormous concentric spiral staircases snaking
up into the flies, and a ramp leading up to an aperture at the back. Though
it gave three dimensions to the movement on stage, it was excessively
limiting, not to mention colourless. It was left to the principal singers to
maintain interest throughout a long evening, a feat which they more than
achieved with snappy assistance from Carlo Rizzi in the pit. But really
– with this classy a vocal cast – it would have worked just as
well as a concert.
Ruth Elleson © 2008