Recently in Reviews
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.
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.