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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..
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