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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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