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The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
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Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
14 Dec 2008
Riders to the Sea — English National Opera, London Coliseum
Back in June, in my review of The Pilgrim’s Progress at Sadler’s
Wells, I wrote about the valuable and unsurpassed work being done by Richard Hickox to champion the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams in the composer’s centenary year, a project of which this rare staging of Riders to the Sea for ENO was to be the culmination.
Nobody could have anticipated
that the 60-year-old conductor would suffer a fatal heart attack only four
days before ENO’s opening night.
The show went on in Hickox’s memory, led by ENO’s Music Director Edward
Gardner, who had the difficult task of taking on the project in such sad
circumstances. And Vaughan Williams’s opera, based on a play by J.M. Synge,
is a grim work by anybody’s standards. A peasant woman, Maurya, lives in a
coastal hut in the Aran Islands and has had two daughters and six sons; four
of the sons, along with their father and grandfather, have already had their
lives claimed by the sea. The fifth is missing, believed drowned, and fate
dictates it is only a matter of time before the sixth is similarly lost. In
the space of forty-five minutes, both are confirmed dead.
This was an impressive opera-directorial début by the actress and
theatrical director Fiona Shaw, who created an emotionally-intense dynamic
within what’s left of Maurya’s family. Their house is delineated by lighting
only; there are no walls, so there is never any escape from the elements.
Huge, shadowy upturned boat-hulls descend from above the stage, surreal and
coffin-like. Tom Pye’s wonderfully bleak, craggy set is suggestive of a place
which exists outside of the progress of time; a primaeval wasteland where
nothing ever changes and all human life is in thrall to the will of
In her final monologue, Maurya finds her anticipated devastation
supplanted by a sense of relief and comfort that her life is no longer
burdened by the certain knowledge of the destiny which awaits all of her
menfolk; in one sense it is a small personal victory over nature, albeit in
the context of an acknowledgement of human powerlessness. Mezzo Patricia
Bardon was extraordinary in this scene, imbuing the music’s lyrical lines
with an radiance that contrasts vividly with the terseness of her earlier
Sopranos Kate Valentine and Claire Booth, both making their ENO débuts,
portrayed Maurya’s two daughters with emotional intelligence and excellent
diction. Leigh Melrose — too long absent from the stage of the Coliseum
— was ideal as the angry, burdened Bartley, the last surviving son.
The opera is well under an hour in length, and rather than staging it as a
double bill with another short work, it was done with a curtain-raiser
— Luonnotar, Sibelius’s 15-minute monologue for solo soprano, in a
simple staging against the backdrop of Dorothy Cross’s unnervingly beautiful
video projections. Singing in the original Finnish, and suspended in the
centre of the stage in an eerie monolith which transpired to be one of the
fateful boat-hulls, Susan Gritton was wonderful as the eponymous air-spirit
who becomes trapped in the sea and inadvertently gives birth to the moon and
stars. It was an inspired choice of opener, introducing the relationship
between the sea and the eternal themes of birth, life, death and maternal
grief which Riders goes on to explore further.
(left to right) Patricia Bardon as Maurya, Leigh Melrose as Bartley and Kate Valentine as Cathleen
The production integrates the two works fully, joining them into a single
piece with a specially-commissioned interlude by John Woolrich, an
organic-sounding progression of abstract chords. Not only does the pregnant
Luonnotar open the performance — she closes it too, re-emerging onto
the stage outside Maurya’s empty home, seemingly ready to give birth once
more and perpetuate the cycle of motherhood.
Susan Gritton as Luonnotar
The orchestral playing was powerful, lyrical and atmospheric in what is
mostly very subtle and understated music; the standard was a fitting tribute
to the late Hickox. It was a superb performance by a fine cast in an
excellent production — but it was never going to be a cheerful
Ruth Elleson © 2008