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“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
In the first of pianist Julius Drake’s three-part series,
‘Perspectives’, our gaze was directed at Gustav Mahler’s eclectic musical
responses to human experiences: from the trauma and distress of anguished love
to the sweet contentment of true friendship, from the agonised introspection of
the artist to the diverse dramas of human interaction.
The Los Angeles opera company marketed its spring production of Rossini's La Cenerentola as Cinderella though there is no opera by that name. The libretto of La Cenerentola is not the Cinderella story we know.
The Paris Opéra has not staged a full Ring Cycle since 1957, but its current season will conclude with a correction of this grand operatic gap.
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