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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.’
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.