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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..
13 Feb 2009
Donizetti's Don Pasquale from the Ravenna Festival
The CEO of the Ravenna Festival, one Cristina Mazzavillano Muti, understandably takes top billing at the top of this DVD booklet's three - count 'em, 3! - pages of credits for the Festival, not counting the single page of credits for the production of Donizetti's Don Pasquale itself.
Mrs. Muti also gets a respectful if oddly-phrased nod from the production’s director, Andrea De Rosa: “The director thanks to CRISTINA MAZZAVILLANI MUTI [caps from the original] for her continuous and unique carefulness she dedicated to the project.” Wonder what made her carefulness “unique”? Beyond her ability, that is, to snag as conductor one Riccardo Muti.
Filmed for TV at the Teatro di Tradizione Dante Alighieri for the 2006 Ravenna Festival, director Rosa’s Pasquale appears to be set at the time of the opera’s composition, judging by Gabriella Pescucci’s somber formal dress for the men. Set designer Italo Grassi erected wood-paneled doors for entrances and exits; otherwise, the stage backdrop is black cloth. While not high on visual appeal, the drab presentation actually plays well enough, as Don Pasquale’s comedy has always had its troubling aspect, with the title character certainly deserving of some comeuppance but not necessarily the mean-spirited actions of Malatesta and Norina. Pasquale furiously kicks out his nephew Ernesto after the younger man has rejected his uncle’s choice for his bride. Malatesta, ostensibly Pasquale’s friend, concocts a scheme to make Pasquale regret this disinheritance by tricking Pasquale into a marriage with Norina, Ernesto’s true love, who plays along by acting a total shrew. When the trick is exposed and the sham marriage annulled, Pasquale forgives his nephew out of relief.
Donizetti’s charming and tuneful score provides the spoonfuls of sugar to help this somewhat sour comedic medicine go down, and conductor Muti gets sharp, colorful playing from the youthful Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini. Apart from Claudio Desderi’s Pasquale, a youthful cast fits the generational profile of the characters very well. Malatesta shouldn’t be too much older than his “sister,” Norina, and Mario Cassi looks like a successful young gentleman, very much a more professional cousin to Rossini’s Figaro. Cassi’s smooth baritone provides the show’s best singing. Desderi starts hoarse and never clears up, though he acts well, keeping in balance Pasquale’s ridiculousness and essential humanity.
Francisco Gatell makes a handsome Ernesto, but the voice is undistinctive. As actress, Laura Giordano excels as Norina, here an almost literal spitfire who seems to get almost a sadist’s pleasure out of her part in the scheme. In faster music, Giordano’s instrument does well enough; the rest of the time, she has a pinched tone and a fast vibrato that upsets the melodic line.
Your reviewer gratefully acknowledges that the subtitles introduced an unfamiliar word to him, “temerarious.” The DVD prompts a language selection with the first screen, but that doesn’t turn on the subtitles in the selected language, oddly enough.
So the orchestral playing trumps the singing in terms of quality, and the intimacy of the small theater’s stage helps the drama come across despite the unimpressive physical production. Not a great Don Pasquale, but a decent one, so be sure to “thanks [sic] to CRISTINA MAZZAVILLANI MUTI.”