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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..
26 Jan 2009
Dvořák: Kate and the Devil
On this 1955 recording of Dvořák's folk-tale based comic romp Kate and the Devil, conductor Zdenĕk Chalaba offers a lighter, faster approach than that heard on the modern studio version Supraphon released in 1981, under conductor Jiří Pinkas.
Pinkas keeps the energetic sections moving, while finding streaks of drama and unease elsewhere, not unlike that found in the grim tone poems the composer would soon compose, such as “The Noon Witch.”
The tracking of the two sets, helpfully identical, tells at least part of the story, with Chalaba’s earlier performance several minutes shorter on each of the two discs. The only clear advantage one set has over the other is the clear, clean sound of the more modern recording. Pinkas’s darker shadings work well, especially in the second act, set in Hades. But Chalaba’s cast of charismatic singers and the bumptious atmosphere make the opera seem a lot more fun. The singers under Pinkas have fine voices, but without the tang of personality of those in the 1955 recording.
Neither set, unfortunately, can make a case for Kate and the Devil as a lost masterpiece. Dvořák could not really compose dull music. His melodic gift, though strangely better exhibited in his symphonies than his operas, continually contributes to a stream of well-designed and colorfully orchestrated music.
Reading - and probably of necessity re-reading - the plot synopsis suggests the opera’s problem. In essence we have a story of a shrewish woman who manages to trick her way out of hell by intimidating the Devil himself. Mixed in with this are a shepherd and a princess, prompting some slams at the ruling class. It might seem refreshing that there is no real love story, and that even in her third act victory, Kate comes off with a cottage but still no husband, as she had hoped. However, there is no character for an audience to truly sympathize or identify with. It’s rather a shaggy dog story, maybe one that has just come in from the rain…
Even Dvořák’s most successful opera, Rusalka, can’t truly be said to be part of the standard repertoire. But those of us who love the warm-hearted generosity of this composer’s music will want to explore any work of his maturity. Either of the two Supraphon sets of this opera probably belong in such a fan’s collection, but both? Doubtful. Go for modern sound with Pinkas or old-school charm with Chalaba.