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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.