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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
05 Mar 2009
La bohème — English National Opera
Jonathan Miller's new production of Puccini's wintry opera was denied its planned opening night on Monday 2nd February by a bout of unusually heavy snow which brought most of London's transport services to a halt and turned it into a virtual ghost town (thus, up the road at Covent Garden, the cancellation of a performance of Korngold's 'Die tote Stadt' was equally ironic).
As a staging, it has all the hallmarks of a future classic of the ENO repertoire. Isabella Bywater’s naturalistic set is as easy on the eye as Amanda Holden’s fluid new translation is on the ear, while Jean Kalman’s lighting handsomely sets off the wide attic windows and silhouetted rooftops. Fast-forward a couple of seasons to an above-average revival; the rough edges of the staging will have been smoothed over, the perfect cast will be engaged, and everything will ‘click’. The previous production - which was less distinctive than this - was memorable thanks to a succession of lively and well-matched ensembles of soloists.
That, alas, was what this new production lacked. As Mimì, the sweet but pallid soprano of the American soprano Melody Moore lacked warmth and passion; Alfie Boe was a fine Rodolfo a few years ago at Glyndebourne, but that’s a much smaller house, and his is not a large voice - he was frequently swallowed up by the orchestral texture. But a much greater problem was their credibility as a couple, with almost no chemistry between them. Admittedly the costumes were unhelpful: Moore has youth on her side, but a dowdy wig and unflattering dresses made her matronly and plain, not to mention improbably strong and healthy for a fragile heroine whose very identity is defined by a diminutive pet-name. In comparison to the small-framed Boe’s amiable and boyish Rodolfo, Moore’s Mimì seemed like a sensible elder sister.
Hanan Alattar (Musetta)
Alfie Boe (Rodolfo)
Musetta, Hanan Alattar, somehow failed to dominate Act 2, and her sharply focused soprano remained pert and hard-edged right up to the end, though her characterisation gained in warmth and was quite touching. Best among the soloists was the congenial, warm-voiced Roland Wood as Marcello, and Pauls Putninš’ distinctive bass brought considerable pathos to Colline.
The set - with buildings that revolve into various configurations to create the various locations - evokes a down-at-heel 1930s Paris. Appropriately, the garret scenes take place on an upper level, which caused a few acoustic issues from where I was sitting in the Stalls. The cast were sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestra, particularly in the fast-moving banter of Act 1. It wasn’t until Act 3, when the soloists are at ground level and not lost in the ensemble, that the vocal projection was really satisfactory. The split level creates a dramatic issue too, with the staircase up to the Bohemians’ doorway forming the focal point of the set: none of the entrances are a surprise, from Benoit’s in Act 1 to Musetta’s in Act 4. The sole purpose of its central placement seems to be to throw focus on Schaunard (David Stout) towards the end as he leaves Rodolfo and Mimì alone.
Alfie Boe (Rodolfo), Melody Moore (Mimì), David Stout (Schaunard), Pauls Putnins (Colline), Roland Wood (Marcello)
In his house debut, conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya gave a musically competent, lucid reading, but it was short on warmth and there was little sense of connection between pit and stage.
I mustn’t ignore the positives: Simon Butteriss’s sleazy Benoit was a highly entertaining cameo, and Act 3 was really well-staged, with well-directed cameos from members of the chorus and (finally) some believable emotional interplay between the two couples. But at the end of the evening, though I found myself sorry for Mimì’s death, I was quite indifferent to Rodolfo’s loss. If only I could have believed they were ever in love.
Ruth Elleson © 2009