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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..
16 Nov 2008
Wozzeck stands ankle deep in water on the flooded stage of the Bavarian State Opera, above him hovers a huge, movable box – the dingy apartment he shares with Marie and their adolescent bastard – and he is surrounded by a freak-show worthy of a George Groszian nightmare and worse.
Michael Volle portrays Georg Buechner’s and Alban Berg’s
character with unparalleled intensity, such a beautiful baritonal sound even
in the most harrowing moments, and such ease beneath the tortured surface,
that it is almost too good. He did everything as one could hope for in a
Wozzeck on stage, but he never elicited much pity and never seemed quite as
helpless-hapless as Wozzeck probably should. In a way, his great musical and
dramatic strengths came at the expense of the character.
Something similar could be said about Andreas Kriegenburg’s
direction – or more specifically the phenomenal lighting of Stefan
Bolliger and how it works with the continuously fascinating set of Harald B.
Thor and Andrea Schraad costumes: It is so absorbing, so good and stimulating
to look at, it might distract from the psychological development of the
characters. On Monday night, it also distracted from some so-so singing
(Jürgen Müller underpowered and underwhelming as Drum Major and Clive Bayley
with an average night as the Doctor) and in doing so, it unleashed the drama
unto the audience in a visceral way that even Wozzeck-lovers might not have
Because with this would-be quibbles taken care of, the fact remains that
this was a stunning premiere, a spectacular performance, and indeed a
striking success for the Munich Opera’s second new production under the
new general director Klaus Bachler. Kriegenburg, a theater director, had done
only two operas before (which I have not seen), but here he hit a nerve in
just the right way. Instead of exerting a willful personality, ideology, or
aching modernization on Wozzeck, he gives us an internalized picture (set
roughly in the time of the play’s premiere) where the world as Wozzeck
sees it is how the audience sees it. Except for Marie and his son, the
characters are distortions of their personalities, one more disturbing than
the next. The crowds are hordes of unemployed, shadows in the world of
Wozzeck’s steadily slipping sense of reality. When the
apartment-within-the-stage begins to very subtly shift left and right, the
visualization of this losing grasp on reality becomes so perceptible,
it’s as if you could touch it. I felt like I needed a splash of cold
water or a slap in the face myself.
Amid this Michaela Schuster’s Marie altered between pleasurable
cantabile and appropriate crudeness, Wolfgang Schmidt earned merits with his
cleanly sung, morbidly obese captain, and Munich’s tenor-for-everything
Kevin Conners delivered a fine, sonorous Andres. Wozzeck was also a good
night – to the hesitant surprise of the Munich critics – for
music director Kent Nagano.
Speculations about his contract not being renewed are only slowly
residing, discussions about a rift between the music- and general director
are still indulged in with tabloid-like diligence by the feuilletons. But
this performance was one for a mark in his supporter's good books.
Nagano’s strengths emerge best in modern works where clarity is part of
the musical success.
The orchestra, apparently well rehearsed, gave the music
an elastic, clear treatment; the score sounded taut and diaphanous. Only very
occasionally was the orchestra too loud; more often it was very sensitive.
When Nagano waded onto stage, barefoot and his trousers rolled up, he
received as warm a reception as I’ve heard him get in Munich. Only
Kriegenburg and his team got more – wholly absent of boos, too, perhaps
a novelty for a premiere of a modern production in Munich.
If any Wozzeck production can convince the hesitating masses to listen to
this difficult 20th century masterpiece, it would have to be this one.
Jens F. Laurson