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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..
22 Dec 2008
PAISIELLO: I Giuochi d'Agrigento
Dynamic offers devotees of classical era opera a rare and quite rewarding opportunity to hear I Giuochi d'Agrigento, a little-known opera by Giovanni Paisiello, best known as the man who composed a popular Barbiere di Siviglia before Rossini came along and eclipsed his predecessor.
Giovanni Battista Rigon leads the Orchestra Internazionale in a performance of Paisello’s music that has both refinement and energy to spare. Though not a memorable melodist — surely if he had been, his operas would be performed more frequently — Paisello orchestrates with flair and imagination. Timpani thwacks fire off the lively sinfonia. A moody harpsichord, instead of isolating itself in the recitatives, offers sparkling commentary in some of the arias. Fine choral writing makes the contributions of the Slovak Chamber Choir highlights of the set. The live recording from 2006 captures this all in decent sound, with little stage noise.
Unfortunately, the singing of the soloists ranges from the acceptable to the lame. In the latter category, Razek Francois Bitar encompasses many of the criticisms laid against countertenors. He either hoots or squeaks, frequently sings out of tune, and most often sounds like a superannuated soprano. As he is a lead, this severely hampers the recording’s success. His character, Clearco, wins an athletic contest but turns down the reward of the hand in marriage of the king’s daughter Egesta, as Clearco loves another — Aspasia, his own sister! But of course Aspasia is not really Clearco’s sister. In fact, he is Egesta’s brother, due to a plot twist straight out of the Oedipus story. And a happy revelation of that secret, very much unlike that of the Oedipus story, brings the opera to its close. In the other major male role, that of Eraclide the king, some wonderful music gets battered by the leathery lungs of tenor Marcello Nardis. The sopranos — Maria Laura Martorana as Aspasia and Mara Lanfranchi as Egesta — may not be exciting new signing discoveries, but at least they aren’t the tests of endurance that the men are.
However, it would be foolish to wait around for a better sung performance of I Giuochi d’Agrigento. If it happens, great. In the meanwhile, anyone who enjoys operas from this era should be willing to listen through some unsatisfactory vocalising in order to enjoy the riches of Paisiello’s score.