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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..
25 Mar 2009
Jenůfa — English National Opera, London Coliseum
Janáček enthusiasts in London have been spoiled this month: opening the day before English Touring Opera’s Katya Kabanova, David Alden’s staging of Jenůfa made a welcome return to the Coliseum following its original double Olivier Award-winning run in 2006.
One of the awards on that occasion was for Amanda Roocroft’s
assumption of the title role, and it was thus a luxury to have her back here
for the revival, heading a cast which was otherwise largely new. Clad neatly in
bright blue, this sunny golden-haired Jenůfa is, from the outset, a
contrast both with Charles Edwards’s Act 1 set, dominated by an ugly grey
workshop against a pale sky, and with the gaudy immodesty of
Števa’s hangers-on. Such is the impression made by her initial
good cheer that it is all too painful to follow the effect of the series of
personal tragedies that befall her. One would never think at the outset that
this was a girl who would end up getting married in a plain black dress
(against which her dead child’s red knitted cap is thrown into
particularly poignant relief).
Roocroft’s singing, too, is full of light at the outset, but by the
final curtain has given way to a measured, introverted luminosity. And in
between — well, after hearing of the death of baby Števuška
her voice is as drained and forlorn as the drab wallpaper in the
Kostelnička’s living-room. She had a strong partner in the
Norwegian conductor Elvind Gullberg Jensen — in his ENO debut — who
showed unfailing sensitivity in these moments of personal reflection, even if
he had a tendency to lose the shape of the music in the bigger, public
Jenůfa’s initial sunniness presents just as sharp a contrast
with the Kostelnička, sung by the American mezzo Michaela Martens; though
her singing was powerful and at times gut-wrenchingly intense, barely a word of
the English translation (by Otakar Kraus and Edward Downes) was decipherable,
and her tone had a tendency to spread out at the height of the second-act
monologue. This production makes her rather severe; it is a shame we
didn’t see more of the internal struggle with her own human nature as the
realisation dawns that only she has the means to dispose of
Robert Brubaker’s Laca is quite outstanding, so alive with repressed
anger and frustration that he seldom even stands still. There was a wildness to
some of the louder moments which concerned me slightly at the time, but which
in hindsight I’m convinced must have been an intentional part of his
characterisation; in the final moments of Act 3, his passionate declaration of
love for Jenůfa was delivered in a full-blooded, secure, radiant
fortissimo — and with both feet firmly on the ground. Thomas Randle was
equally ideal as the irresponsible Števa, looking every inch the alpha
male, his bright, cocksure tenor making every note count.
Tom Randle as Steva Buryja and Mairead Buicke as Karolka
Iain Paterson (the only survivor other than Roocroft of the original 2006
run) was quite outstanding as the Foreman, every word delivered with precision
and sensitivity — and Susan Gorton made much of Grandma Buryjovka, her
wordless but telling reaction to the crass insensitivity of Karolka and family
supplying a rare but welcome moment of comic relief in Act 3.
David Alden’s staging has a few incongruous details; neither the
motorcycle on which Števa makes his first entrance, nor the
colourfully-clad village girls who dance for Jenufa prior to her wedding, seem
appropriate to the time and place. And the production bothered me more second
time around than it did when new. In the dreary surroundings of a small
industrial plant in the 1940s or thereabouts, the insistent staccato of the
opening orchestral theme is accompanied by flashes of light from welding tools
rather than the turning of a mill-wheel. The indoor setting of the second and
third acts is no more attractive, with slabs of old cardboard keeping out the
world in the place of closed shutters. Is the sadness, frustration and violence
in these people’s lives an inevitable result of miserable surroundings,
and not a product of their personal circumstances? It’s a valid
interpretation, if not one that makes for visually striking stage pictures.
Ruth Elleson © 2009