01 Dec 2008
Verdi's Aida at La Scala
Can this truly be the production of Verdi's Aida that earned world-wide headlines in December 2007?
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Can this truly be the production of Verdi's Aida that earned world-wide headlines in December 2007?
The La Scala audience - or rather, members thereof - booed Roberto Alagna’s “lyrical” Radames after his use of an alternative, softer ending to “Celeste, Aida.” The outraged tenor stalked off the stage, and a stand-by tenor rushed on stage within a few moments to help the show go on. A little excitement such as that would make this DVD a lot more enjoyable.
Decca’s DVD packaging gives no information that your reviewer could find as to the exact source of this video, but since Alagna sings all the way through, it must mostly come from the premiere evening. The big news to that point had been the return to La Scala of Franco Zeffirelli as director/designer. The uncredited author of the booklet essay acknowledges the Hollywood attributes of Zeffirelli’s typically lavish traditional production, yet goes on to claim that it is “tastefully realized,” apparently because it “left enough room for chorus and principals.” How thoughtful of Zeffirelli!
Actually, the hugeness of the sets comes mostly in the height and width of the backdrops. Zeffirelli provides more than ample space. In the opening confrontation between Radames and Amneris, a herd of elephants could pass between them. A director concerned with the essential intimacy of the opera’s drama could still inspire the singers to give committed, natural performances. Zeffirelli apparently decided to let the sets and costumes do the work. Violeta Urmana in the title role, Roberto Alagna, Ildiko Komlosi as Amneris and Carlo Guelfi as Aida’s father all act as if from a manual of stock operatic gestures and poses. The singing, though unimaginative, is thoroughly professional (yes, even from Alagna), and Riccardo Chailly manages to evoke a fresh, invigorating reading of a score so familiar to the La Scala musicians. Yet the enormous cost of the production can’t dispel the feeling that this is a cheap substitute for an Aida that would really honor the complexity and majesty of Verdi’s masterpiece.
TV director Patrizia Carmine annoyingly inserts fuzzy close-ups of prop details, often at the oddest moments. But it is not Carmine’s fault that zooming in on a shield pattern here or a dusky hand clasp there can’t really pull the viewer into the action. After awhile, your reviewer began to search the three pages of credits in the booklet, to see who plastered all that bronzer on the singers (Oscar del Frate and Cristine Isac). Alagna looks orange in some scenes.
Some people go for this sort of thing, so those people should, well, go for it. But there is another Zeffirelli Aida worth checking out, with a cast of mostly unknown younger singers, staged in the relatively tiny Verdi theater in Busetto. There the famed director found a way to indulge his taste for old-fashioned trimmings while keeping a focus on doing the detailed work that makes a performance come to life.