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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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
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