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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..
07 Dec 2008
Glyndebourne on Tour — Theatre Royal, Plymouth
Glyndebourne Touring Opera has long been bringing its wares to the further reaches of the southern United Kingdom and its current package of Hansel und Gretel, Carmen and The Magic Flute has been drawing good crowds from Norwich in the east to Plymouth in the south-west.
GTO is all about looking to the future: many of the young singers in the
principal roles are getting their first chance to sing with a company of this
standard, knowing that from here they may, if good enough, progress to not
only the Glyndebourne Festival itself but also other major houses. Also, the
operas are supported by the excellent GT Chorus, and a quick look back
through their rosters over the years will reveal both in the Chorus and the
supporting singers some well known names — the likes of Felicity Lott,
Jill Gomez and Ryland Davies, to name just three who have gone on to
The other great thing about the Glyndebourne “brand” is their
reputation for musical quality and long hours of essential rehearsal time,
both assets that many similarly-sized outfits struggle to achieve in these
straightened times. Young singers need nurturing, and given time to develop
their technical and dramatic skills; I this regard I can think of few better
companies than GTO. What a touring company can also do is teach them the
other vital skill of the successful singer: working to the highest standard
in testing circumstances. Long miles on the road, strange theatres, sometimes
inadequate facilities, unknown audiences and, for many, the need to learn two
or more parts from scratch — and then there is the singing itself.
All these skills were on display recently at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth
where this writer caught both Flute and Carmen playing to
full enthusiastic houses at the end of GTO’s Autumn Tour. Each was
expertly directed, idiomatically conducted and played, and offered a high
standard of vocalism. If Mozart’s renowned pot pourri of fairy-tale,
panto, myth and Masonic ritual relied almost entirely on elegant 18th century
costumes and a clever lighting rig for its effects, GTO brought the versatile
set of guardroom/factory with them for Bizet’s Carmen, plus
the full chorus in traditional Spanish costume. Each worked well, and if the
Plymouth stage seemed a trifle cramped for the latter opera, it was perfect
for Magic Flute. As with many of England’s modern
“one-size-fits-all” theatres, the needs of versatility can
sometimes work against the opera ideal — the Theatre Royal is a good
medium-sized hall, comfortable and modern in its facilities both front and
back stage, but acoustically offers some challenges to unamplified voices.
This showed up most in the recitatives — in both operas — where
more projection was needed than was sometimes supplied. Interestingly, this
was not a problem once the singers actually sang with orchestra in their
With so many excellent young artists on show over the two nights, one
hesitates to mention particular names, as there were absolutely no
“duds” in either pack, but this writer was not alone in noticing
the fine, resonant, easy tone of the South Korean baritone Yonghoon Lee as
Don José in the Bizet. From a hesitant first scene his voice blossomed into
something quite special as he mixed bravura passages with finely-wrought
pianissimos — a name to watch.
Theatre Royal, Plymouth. [Photo courtesy of thisisplymouth.co.uk]
Douglas Boyd (Flute) and Jakub Hrusa (Carmen) directed
the excellent GT Orchestra who never seemed to put a foot wrong in either
ensemble or obbligatos; fine playing on each night.
Sue Loder © 2008