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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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