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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
12 Dec 2008
Der Fliegende Holländer — London Lyric Opera, Barbican Hall
Much has been promised of London Lyric Opera. The newest company on the capital’s opera scene, it will collaborate with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to specialise in full-scale concert performances with high-profile soloists.
Plans are afoot for a Fidelio at Cadogan Hall in February
2009, and after that, Die Fledermaus and Der Freischütz.
It is unclear whether there might be an intention in the more distant
future to broaden the company’s scope beyond the German language, but perhaps
there shouldn’t be. Although LLO is selecting well-known operas, it is also
actively seeking out unusual and historically-valid performance editions. The
UK is virtually flooded with companies doing the same for Baroque opera, and
for Italian bel canto rarities, but there hasn’t really been anybody around
to take an equivalent interest in the core German repertoire — until
The company’s founder and mastermind is the Australian baritone James
Hancock, and this inaugural concert was the fulfilment of his long-held
desire to perform the title role. Hancock used to be a tenor, and his voice
remains higher-lying than the role demands; more worryingly, his voice simply
dried out as the evening went on, and by the end of Act 2 there was really no
‘juice’ left. Though it is the fashion these days to preserve the dramatic
flow of the opera by going straight through without intervals (as Wagner had
intended at the outset), the two breaks in this performance were a practical
necessity. Karl Huml seemed somewhat too high for Daland, too, and I couldn't
help wondering whether he would have fared better in the title role.
The performance’s unquestionable highlight was the British soprano,
Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, making her role début as Senta. Lyrical and muscular of
tone, with an assured stage presence and innate sense of drama, she captured
the supreme emotional focus of Wagner’s early heroine in her desperation to
break out of her downtrodden existence. This ‘authentic’ performance edition
has the Ballad in its original A minor, a tone higher than the familiar key,
and it fit Jeffers’s athletic soprano like a glove.
Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts is neither a natural Wagnerian nor a natural love
interest, but his psychologically intense and highly-charged Erik was a
fitting foil for Jeffers’s Senta. Their pairing was a highly intelligent
piece of casting, and their scenes together were in a different league to the
rest of the opera. If only there had been such chemistry between Senta and
Tenor Richard Roberts’s dopey characterisation of the Steersman was
engaging, though his opening song was something of a struggle; he was quite
plainly suffering from a cold, though no announcement was made.
The soft lyrical passage at the end of Senta’s ballad defeated the ladies
of the Philharmonia Chorus, but their male colleagues were a strong and lusty
Norwegian crew; I’m sure there was nothing wrong with those who supplied the
voices of the ghostly Dutch crew, but there was some nasty distortion on the
amplification system which piped their rousing chorus through from offstage.
Veteran conductor Lionel Friend — who was responsible for the research
into the performing edition — made some strange tempo choices, but the
RPO generally sounded full and energetic, a few cracked brass notes aside.
All in all, the performance would have benefited from better-balanced
casting; Jeffers was just so good that she showed everybody else up. And
better marketing would help ticket sales and thus financial viability; the
Barbican Hall’s stalls were quite full, but there was plenty of space in the
Circle and they didn’t even bother to open the Balcony. If they can sort
these things out, London Lyric Opera could be an enduring success.
Ruth Elleson © 2008