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Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
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