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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..
29 Mar 2009
Farinelli — Il Castrato
Naïve re-releases the soundtrack to the film Farinelli here in a handsome “book” casing, appending a second disc of highlights from the discography of Christophe Rousset’s recordings with Les Talens Lyriques, the artists also responsible for the soundtrack.
This is not, however, the typical film soundtrack of a sort of overture, perhaps a song or two, and various musical cues that don’t convey much out of the context of the film. Disc one consists of eleven complete performances of arias and overtures, from composers as famous as Handel and Pergolese (as the Naive booklet spells it) to the relatively obscure, such as Broschi and Idaspe (a particularly lovely piece, Ombra fedele anch’io).
A brief booklet note titled “Reinventing a castrato’s voice” details the unique feature of this soundtrack: the producers, in conjunction with the Institut de Recherches et Coordination Acoustique Musique, found a way in the studio to meld the voice of a counter-tenor (Derek Lee Ragin) with that of a soprano (Ewa Mallas-Godlewska). The intention was to capture something of what a true castrato sounded like, with an extraordinary range and a timbre that, at least supposedly, retained masculine authority while climbing stratospheric heights. Technically, IRCAM produced a seamless blend; it is not easily apparent when and where the two voices separate or shift primarily to one or the other singer. Nonetheless, there are many moments where Ragin’s counter-tenor, a somewhat reedy instrument, clearly predominates, and others where the feminine sound Mallas-Godlewska produces come to the fore. As an aural experience, then, your reviewer did not find the vocals suggesting any true sense of a castrato sound — with the big caveat that it is not entirely possible to know what that sound might have been, especially in the case of a superstar of his time, as Farinelli was.
The two tracks of arias from Handel’s Rinaldo exemplify the problem of the recording. In music as familiar as “Lascia ch’io pianga” or “Cara sposa,” listeners may well have heard superior versions by singers such as David Daniels or Maria Bayo. The innovation of a recording process that ostensibly captures a castrato sound can’t make up for the fact that the vocal performances captured here just aren’t all that special.
Rousset and his band play immaculately, and listeners who prefer the leaner, tauter sound of historically-informed performances will surely enjoy their efforts. While respecting the musicianship, your reviewer often longed for a richer string sound and more body overall.
Somehow, the selections on the second disc, covering many other Rousset and Les Talens Lyrique recordings, didn’t produce the same dissatisfaction. Overtures and other brief instrumental pieces by Lully, Johann Sebastian Bach and his son Carl Philip Emanuel, Purcell, Salieri, and others receive joyous, exuberant performances. Naïve makes its reason for the inclusion of this disc along with the Farinelli soundtrack clear, with the last pages of the booklet dedicated to cover shots of the CDs from which the music was taken.
In your reviewer’s memory, Farinelli was a very entertaining film. If a high-quality DVD of the film were available, that should receive due consideration, as the performances work very well in conjunction with the visuals. But the set does offer handsome packaging and that enjoyable second disc of material.