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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
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