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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.
30 Mar 2009
Magdalena Kožená shines in Martinů’s Juliette at the Barbican, London
Many works by Martinů will be performed in this year’s commemoration of the anniversary of his death, but it would be hard to equal the impact of this performance. Much of its success was due to Kožená, whose presence illuminated the whole opera, even though her moments on stage were fleeting.
A man arrives in a strange village where nothing seems quite right. The
villagers have no memories to bind them to reality, so things unfold without
sense or connection. But what is reality? The opera’s subtitle is
“The Key to Dreams”, which implies a search for meaning, whether or
not it can be unlocked.
From the orchestra emerges a lovely, haunting melody. The man thinks
he’s heard it before, connected to a vague memory - a beautiful woman ?
He’s determined to pursue the dream which seems to fade as fast as it
unfolds. The woman is Juliette, shining bright and golden, “like a star
in the firmament”.
Deeper the man goes, into a dark forest, where he meets a Seller of
Memories, who sells photographs of exotic places. The man buys into the images,
convinced that they show his past with the woman he’s searching for.
Eventually the man finds himself in The Central Office of Dreams which people
enter and leave when they sleep. On ferme! warns the nightwatchman
(who was also the Seller of Dreams). Wake or you’re forever trapped! But
Juliette is such a powerful, seductive dream that the man would rather remain
in eternal limbo than lose her.
Bohuslav Martinů’s Juliette materialized at the
Barbican, London, in a new edition of the urtext, using the French version the
composer wrote on his deathbed in 1959. He lived most of his creative life in
France, so it’s perhaps poignant that he should return to his masterpiece
in this way.
Hardly any staging was needed, for the action unfolds like a dream, utterly
adrift from rules of cause and logic. Indeed, what narrative there is lurks in
the music. The orchestral writing is densely vivid but at critical moments the
density clears and a solo instrument takes centre stage. At first, it’s
an accordion, then horn, clarinet and oboe, then a particularly evocative
melody on piano which surrounds Juliette’s entries. It’s like in
dreams where a single image comes into focus, like symbolic portent. Each time
Juliette’s music returns, impressions deepen and become frustratingly
familiar. Have we heard it before ? And where ? In dreams, the mind fixes on
details and follows their trail. Martinů uses allusions from music as
tantalizing clues. There’s a snippet from L’Histoire du
Soldat, just before the Fortune teller scatters cards. Then, a quotation
from L’Après-midi d’un Faune, evoking a mood of frustrated
love and longing. Similarly, Martinů uses off stage noises and singing.
Even when asleep, the mind hears what’s happening “outside”
so to speak. At any moment the dreamer might be woken, the dream shattered.
It’s psychologically astute, building dramatic tension into the very
fabric of the music.
Jiří Bělohlávek has a specially sensitive feel for this elusive,
mysterious music, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard his
Janaček or Dvořák. This performance was as good as the superlative
Excursions of Mr Brouček last year, which he conducted with the
same forces, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers. This production was also
directed by Kenneth Richardson, who made such magic with the concert staging of
Mr Brouček. Richardson’s intelligent, subtle style
achieves great things by simple means. The forest, for example, is created by
light and shadow, yet feels impressively alive.
Kožená was outstanding. Visually and vocally she glowed. While all the
cast was good, she was exceptional, for Juliette is in an altogether more
exalted league than ordinary mortals. Kožená’s fees might normally
exceed the other singers fees put together, but here she was utterly worth it,
for her presence embodied all that Juliette stands for. The role is so
important that the whole opera rests on how well it is realized. Kožená
has long championed Martinů’s music, so this magnificent
performance was a great tribute.
William Burden sings Michel, the protagonist. It’s a long, demanding
role which he carries off with aplomb. Also familiar to those who loved Mr
Brouček was Zdeněk Plech, who made the relatively small role
of The Old Arab/Sailor so interesting that you wished the composer had
developed it further. Roderick Williams sang no less than four roles, including
the pivotal Seller of Memories. He acts as well as he sings, and is certainly
one of the brightest young British stars of his generation. When will he get
the profile he deserves ? Andreas Jäggi’s Clerk was suitably tense and
There are only two available recordings of Julietta, and the
classic version is nearly 50 years old. Let’s hope this performance,
which was recorded by the BBC, will make it to CD/DVD. Bělohlávek’s
recording of Mr Brouček won the Gramophone award for best Opera
in 2008, so perhaps this new Juliette will do the same.