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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..
27 Feb 2009
A restrained Flying Dutchman at the Royal Opera House, London
This Der fliegende Holländer was eagerly awaited as it hasn’t been heard at the Royal Opera House, London, since 2000. With Bryn Terfel’s return to Covent Garden as the Dutchman guaranteed a full house.
Terfel’s admirers would not have been disappointed. His voice boomed
with authority, impressive for its strength, even when he had to sing
dragging a heavy rope across the stage and wade through the real water at the
front of the platform. Terfel’s vocal power always impresses, and he has
done interesting Dutchmen elsewhere. However, in this production, by
Tim Albery, he was not called upon to develop the character. Not long ago,
Albery presented Boris Gudonov as stolid, mild-mannered bourgeois.
This Dutchman was no more ravaged than Daland. When the women and
Daland’s sailors call out to the doomed souls on the haunted ship, they
face the audience and shine lights into the auditorium. When the Dutchman’s
crew do appear, they’re neatly dressed in uniform, as if they’d never
been to sea. Maybe there’s some deep meaning in this, but it could have
been thought through with more focus.
Anja Kampe as Senta
The performance was more interesting, though, for what it brought out in
the music. That glorious overture is a marvel of dramatic scene-painting,
setting the mood for the entire opera. How it’s staged reflects on the
whole production. Here it unfolded against a backdrop of green light and
projected images of rain, with shadowy figures flitting from left to right.
This was interesting, but hardly enough to sustain interest for that period
of time. Nor did it vary, although the score itself is characterized by
distinct developmental phases. This was disappointing because Marc
Albrecht’s conducting shaped these changing themes very clearly, for they
define the duality that is fundamental to the whole opera.
Albrecht’s approach revealed the underlying structure. Wagner wields
leitmotivs like weapons. By juxtaposing the sailor’s cheery love songs with
the savagery of the music associated with the storm and the Dutchman, he
draws contrasts, between stability and chaos. Particularly brilliant are the
crosscurrents in Act Three, throwing the music of the village against the
music of the haunted sailors. This act depicts a “storm on land”, just as
the first depicts a storm at sea. Keeping the different ensembles distinct is
important here, and takes some sophistication. But the Royal Opera House
Chorus excels in intricate ensemble. At last the production sprang to life,
animated by the sheer vitality of the singing.
A scene from Der fliegende Holländer with Anja Kampe (Senta) in the foreground
Indeed, the role of the chorus in this opera is sometimes underplayed
since attention usually centres on the Dutchman and on Senta. The influence
of Weber still hung heavily on Wagner. Some of these choruses are reminiscent
of Der Freischütz, another tale of demonic forces. Thus
Albrecht’s vignette-like focus reflects episodic “aria” opera tradition
rather than the overwhelming sweep of late Wagner in full sail. Der
fliegende Holländer is only the first stage of the saga.
Bryn Terfel may have been the big draw, but perhaps this production will
be remembered as the moment Anja Kampe made her name. Anyone who can steal a
scene from Terfel is worth listening to. From Kampe’s small frame emanated
a voice of great power, enhanced by an understanding of Senta’s role. Even
before she meets the Dutchman, she fantasizes about him. The other women work
in a factory, but Senta is by nature a non-conformist, drawn to the wildness
that the Dutchman symbolises. No wonder she knows right away she wants him,
not Erik. Senta is the prototype of Wagner’s later heroines who equate love
with death, and who find fulfilment in redeeming others. This does reflect in
many ways Wagner’s own predicaments, but the archetype becomes wilder and
more cataclysmic. Kampe probably has the ability to make much more of such
heroines in the future, given the productions that make more of the extreme
intensity - madness, even - in these roles. She’s singing Isolde at
Glyndebourne this summer, which will be something to look forward to.