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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..
08 Feb 2009
Magic Flute at ENO
‘Back by popular demand’ claimed ENO’s publicity material for the
21-year-old production which had its supposed swan-song last season – though it remains questionable whether the company ever really intended to get rid of it.
Although Nicholas Hytner’s staging takes more of a ‘family
entertainment’ approach than some more psychologically searching productions,
with overt jokes and a pantomime-villain Monostatos, it is one of the
company’s greatest assets; a well-established rite of passage for many of
ENO’s promising young singers, an ideal first night at the opera for a child
or adult beginner, and the sort of show which it seemingly isn’t possible to
Robert Lloyd as Sarastro and Sarah-Jane Davies as Pamina
On this occasion, Sarah-Jane Davies and Robert Murray were well-cast and
well-partnered as Tamino and Pamina. Davies sang in the last revival here,
and she has become a really lovely Mozartian singer, her beautifully
controlled soprano subtly imbued with pathos and emotion. Murray’s elegant
tenor was ideal for the high-born, high-minded youth, and he was eloquent in
his delivery of the English words. It was a shame that both seemed nervous
and tentative in their characterisation.
As the Queen of the Night, Emily Hindrichs’s small, brittle and
cleanly-placed soprano was initially impressive, but in the Act 2 spoken
dialogue her rage had little sense of a noblewoman’s wounded pride, and she
came across merely as petulant and shrill. Her subsequent aria had some
lapses in accuracy. Robert Lloyd – a rare sight on this stage, having
spent so much of his distinguished career at the Royal Opera – brought
gravitas and a fatherly presence to Sarastro, with bottom notes of rich
Jeremy Sams’s gently humorous colloquial dialogue was delivered in a wide
range of regional accents, some more real than others. In the case of the
Three Ladies (guest principal Kate Valentine and chorus-members Susanna
Tudor-Thomas and Deborah Davison) whose glamorous feather-trimmed
midnight-blue costumes demand a certain amount of upper-class bearing, the
use of various accents was a misjudgement; I wondered whether perhaps one of
the three had been unable to disguise a genuine accent, and the other two had
been obliged to affect accents of their own to compensate.
Papageno was played once again as a genial Yorkshireman by the very
likeable Roderick Williams, though through no fault of his own he had trouble
living up to his job description on this occasion. Two of the four real white
doves, whose behaviour when they appear on stage during the Bird-catcher’s
Song is usually impeccable, got uncharacteristically overexcited and decided
it might be fun to evade capture. It took an additional pair of hands and a
good two or three minutes to round them up, amid much audience mirth. The
joys of live theatre!
Emily Hindrichs as The Queen of Night and Robert Murray as Tamino
If the birds were intent on demonstrating the wisdom of the oft-repeated
advice never to work with children or animals, trebles Charlie Manton, Louis
Watkins and Harry Manton were here for the defence. They were quite the
finest trio of boys I can recall hearing, perfectly in tune and impeccably
Conductor Erik Nielsen (Kapellmeister of the Frankfurt Opera), in his
house debut, was rather stately and mannered in a heavily Baroque-inflected
overture, but from then on his reading had a poised and even pacing that
Sarah-Jane Davies as Pamina with the Three Spirits (Charlie Manton, Louis Watkins & Harry Manton)
The company has been strangely quiet on the subject of whether the staging
has now been officially retired, or whether it has been granted a more
permanent reprieve. But now that opera companies have a bigger challenge than
ever in competing for audience spending power, it would surely be a waste to
scrap such a sure-fire hit as this. It keeps those doves in work,
Ruth Elleson © 2009