Recently in Reviews
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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?
15 Feb 2009
Kurt Weill’s Der Kuhhandel at Volks Oper Wien
The Kurt Weill-composed operetta Arms and the Cow premiered in 1935 under the title A Kingdom for a Cow, according to Erwin Berger’s booklet essay for this DVD of a 2007 VolksOper Vien staging of David Pountney’s production.
Berger, in a “traduction” by Uwe Lukas Jäger, doesn’t go on to explain the change in title, nor does he comment on the most alluring bit of music in Weill’s score: a strong foretaste of the melodic material that would become the standard “September Song,” which Weill would compose after his move to the USA to start his career as a Broadway composer. Try track 22, “Juans Lied.”
A failure in its initial run, Arms and the Cow may have been a bit too pointed in its satire for an operetta - even relevant, of all things, in that frequently frivolous genre. Set in a very Teutonic-inspired version of Latin America, the story revolves around corrupt leaders and the arms salesman who profit off them, with poor Juan and his intended bride caught up in the machinations when Juan’s cow, his one claim to property and success, is taken by the government as a tax penalty. Read that line as many times as possible and then just shrug it off. Everything ends happily, at any rate.
How much of the operetta seen here resembles the original production can’t be easily judged. A brief note in small font on the back cover of the DVD case credits the libretto to Robert Vambery “in a revised text by Reinhard Palm.” That would explain the references to Botox and the axis of evil. Pountney doesn’t lay on the politics too heavily, thankfully, letting the cartoonish characterizations and frequently incomprehensible plot developments bubble along, comically enough. The most amusing character is the arms salesman Mr. Jones, in a performance by Michael Kraus primarily delivered in German, with the odd English exclamation and expletive. Kraus somehow manages to convey an “Ugly American” attitude even barking and growling in German. Carlo Hartmann spends most of the staging in a suspended divan, portraying the lazy and ethically dubious President Mendez. Most every operetta has at least one role for a comic actor to sink his/her teeth into and tear it into gruesome shreds (think Frosch in Fledermaus). Here Wolfgang Gratschmair provides the dental workout, chewing the scenery as Ximenez, an aide to the president. The young lovers, as is also often the case, are a fairly dull pair, and neither Dietmar Kerschbaum as Juan nor Ursula Pfitzner as his love Juanita have impressive voices, both being uncomfortably edgy in the top range.
Weill’s score has too little of his inimitable voice, but the music is still the best part of the show, from the mock national anthem that serves as the curtain raiser, through the romantic laments and comic patter numbers, to the toe-tapping ensemble finale. Christoph Eberle and the Volksoper forces serve it up with energy and style.
The packaging leaves much to be desired, with the cast listing and other credits only found on the back of the jewel case. Some sloppy editing results in misspellings in the subtitles. In fact, the menu screen offers the option to “select titel” (sic).
At about two hours and twenty minutes, Arms and the Cow is overlong, and while always at least mildly entertaining, only Weill completists or indiscriminate lovers of operetta may want to spend that much time fretting about Juan’s kuh.