Recently in Reviews
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.’
05 Mar 2009
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)
Recorded on 9 November 1959 at Symphony Hall (now Symphony Center), this recent issue of a classic performed of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde translates the then state-of-the-art RCA “Living Stereo” sound for the LP vinyl medium to the enhanced sound currently available in SACD format.
As John Newton comments in the notes about the audio technology used in this new release, the quality of the original record was excellent from the start, and that allows for enhancements, rather than restoration in bringing the almost legendary American recording to the twenty-first century. The razor-blades that sound engineers used in 1959 to edit tapes were the best tools available then, but such physical means have given way to digital ones, and the results are evident in this fine issue.
When RCA originally released this recording of Das Lied von der Erde, relatively few recordings were available on LP, but those included the monumental performance of Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Walter. Comparisons of these two great recordings are futile, but they represent two of the finest performances of Das Lied von der Erde on disc. Ferrier’s performance is unquestionably moving, and Forester represents another impressive interpretation of the part. It is fortunate to have the fine recording with Ferrier and Patzak conducted by Walter, the musician responsible for the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde after Mahler’s death. With Reiner’s recording, though, both singers would continue with their careers for years to come. Forester and Lewis would appear again in Das Lied von der Erde in a concert on 16 April1960 at Carnegie Hall, in a performance of the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra led by Bruno Walter. That performance is available on CD, but does not have the sonic presence of the one with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Almost a decade later, in 1967, Forester and Lewis would also recording Das Lied von der Erde with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Georg Szell, but those later performances are not esteemed as highly as the one with Reiner and now reissued in SACD format.
While Reiner’s name is not often included with others of his generation when it comes to performing Mahler’s music, his interpretation of Das Lied von der Erde stands out among his efforts as an impressively persuasive. He brought to the score the virtuosity of the Chicago Symphony and with it came the fine sonic ambience of Orchestra Hall and the recording techniques of RCA, which were the most advanced of the day. The result is a vibrant orchestra sound, with the individual colors of the ensemble emerging readily under Reiner’s leadership. Without a question the Chicago Symphony has a fine blend, but it is possible to hear more distinctly some of the specific sounds in Mahler’s score. From the outset the sound is vibrant, with the horns in the opening passage ringing out the repeated notes that signal the gesture with which the piece begins. Likewise, the characteristic hollow sound of the woodwinds that follows demonstrates the reason that Mahler used those colors in the passage. The eighth-note figures that underscore the vocal line are articulated cleanly, with appropriate separation between them, and the sudden entrances that punctuate some of the phrases in the first piece have a nice resonance. With Lewis, his performance of the ”Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” is impressive, with his diction matching his fine expression, with the descending slide that occurs near the end of the movement beautifully executed. It is unfortunate that some passages of “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (mistranslated in the liner notes as “Wine in Spring” as is “Der Einsame im Herbst” as “Autumn Loneliness” rather than “The Lonely One in Autumn”) show some strain. With the middle of the three tenor pieces, “Von der Jugend” (“About Youth”) the understated tone is entirely appropriate to this number and Lewis conveys the sense of youthfulness implicit in the text.
Maureen Forester brings a full, rich, dark sound to the contralto pieces, and her vibrant voice never blurs. The open tones at the beginning of “Der einsame im Herbst” are engaging, as she blends well with the orchestra as if she were part of a smaller ensemble. This recording captures the sound well so that it is difficult to mistake her distinctive voice in this setting from Hans Bethge’s Chinesische Flöte. Yet with “Von der Schönheit” (“About Beauty”) Forester captures the sense of drama by differentiating so well between the introverted opening section and the more assertive central portion of the song. The full rein of the Chicago Symphony is evident in the middle of the movement, which stands out for its bold statement of exoticism. Yet both Reiner and Forester restrain the ending appropriately and masterfully. In many ways, though, “Der Abschied” poses musical and interpretive challenges for even the finest performers, which Reiner and Forester meet with remarkable style and conviction. After the percussive opening of the movement, Forester is almost subdued in presenting the text. She builds on that opening gradually, and as the first part of “Der Abschied” ends, she is fervent, with a warm, rich approach that stands in contrast to the earlier portion of the movement. In the second half of the movement Forester moves away from this and makes audible the sense of confident resignation found in the text. Her intonation of the final portion of “Der Abschied” is convincing, with Reiner’s command of the Chicago Symphony evident in the finely played conclusion.
With over 50 recordings of Das Lied von der Erde available on CD, a number of fine performances are available. The release of this particular one, though, makes a classic interpretation available for new audiences to enjoy. The already fine sound of the original LP is reinforced in this newly issued CD, which does not merely present what was on the famous LP, but is a reshaping of the original recorded sound. As familiar as the LP may be to some, the CD merits attention, not only as a classic recording, but as a perpetually effective one.
James L. Zychowicz